Wells Report best described as heart-wrenching

Wells Report best described as heart-wrenching
February 16, 2014, 3:30 pm
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Disturbing. Sophomoric. Amusing. Morsels in the Jonathan Martin case that were released and leaked over the past three months have been all those things.
 
After reading the entire 144-page Wells Report detailing Martin’s treatment during his time with the Dolphins, I’d add another adjective. And I'd put it well above the rest.
 
Heart-wrenching.
 
Three months of information leaked fed my belief that Richie Incognito was a complete ****. But it became hard for me to believe Martin could be bullied by Incognito and buddies with him at the same time.
 
The Wells Report explained how that happened and illustrated -- through text messages Martin exchanged with his parents -- the helplessness, isolation and despondency he felt.
 
Because it wasn’t just Incognito beating Martin down. It was John Jerry and Mike Pouncey, too. And it wasn’t just a few mother and sister jokes lobbed at Martin followed by a “just kidding…” It was vile, persistent and -- when Martin reacted -- it escalated. And it wasn't just once in a while. It was, seemingly, constant. With no end in sight.
 
The most enlightening aspect of the Wells Report is that it answered the question we all wondered about.
 
Why didn’t Martin do anything to stop it? The answer? He didn’t know how.
 
According to the report On April 22, 2013, Martin texted his mother, saying,
 
“I figured out a major source of my anxiety. I’m a push over, a people pleaser. I avoid confrontation whenever I can, I always want everyone to like me. I let people talk about me, say anything to my face, and I just take it, laugh it off, even when I know they are intentionally trying to disrespect me. I mostly blame the soft schools I went to, which fostered within me a feeling that I’m a huge *****, as I never got into fights. I used to get verbally bullied every day in middle school and high school, by kids that are half my size. I would never fight back, just get sad & feel like no one wanted to be my friend, when in fact I was just being socially awkward. Most people in that situation are witty & quick with sarcastic replies, I never have been. I’m awkward around people a lot of the time because I simply don’t know how to act around them.” (Page 14, Wells Report).
 
A week later, after Incognito referred to Martin with the word n***** while out to dinner in Fort Lauderdale, Martin texted his father saying, “I wish I had your toughness Dad.”
 
When Martin’s father assured his son that Jonathan did have toughness at his core, along with compassion, Jonathan Martin replied, “People call me a n***** to my face. Happened 2 days ago. And I laughed it off. Because I am too nice of a person. They say terrible things about my sister. I don’t do anything. I suppose it’s white private school conditioning, turning the other cheek.”
 
Martin’s father responded:
 
“They think n***** is okay because black people use it. Tell them you don’t use it and it is never okey and if they do it again then they can kiss your black ass. Likewise say that your sister is a Madonna. If they say it again they can kiss your ass. If they do say either again then just stare at them give them and give them your finger
 
“Just so you know, I punked out many times including over n*****. Also over just being black. Not proud of it in the least. It is just a matter of understanding your own strength. Had 3 white boys outside of a bowling alley calling me n*****. I backed down. Had a Harvard a****** talk about my suntan. I backed down. Just stay who you are. Also, I learned how to pop a bully in his mouth and kicked one in his balls.”
 
Step back and look at this exchange from the viewpoint of Martin’s parents. Your high-achieving, Stanford-grad son -- a compassionate kid -- has had his self-esteem crushed because he is being referred to as a n*****. Not in a bar or on the street by racists he’s never met before but by a veteran teammate and leader in a $9 billion per year industry.
 
Oh, and your daughter’s being slandered as well. Martin didn’t share with his parents how vile and persistent the mocking of his sister was, it appears.
 
Martin’s parents already knew he was in a bad way because he confided in them three months earlier. In a text message on January 27, 2013, Martin wrote to his mother.
 
“I have really severe depression. There are many instances where I can’t get out of bed. I’m really embarrassed to talk about it with anyone in person, I tried to with you when I was home but I couldn’t do it. I’ve managed to keep it under control for the most part on my own. Anyways, I really do wanna take care of it, because it is debilitating & keeps me from reaching my potential in all facets of life."
 
In his report, Wells did allow for the unique dynamics that exist in an NFL workplace. He wrote,  
 
“We also understand that context matters. We accept that the communications of young, brash, highly competitive football players often are vulgar and aggressive, and that these players never expected their private communications with each other to be made public.

"We did not approach this assignment expecting to discover behavior that society might anticipate in, say, an accounting firm or a law office. For better or worse, profanity is an accepted fact of life in competitive sports, and professional athletes commonly indulge in conduct inappropriate in other social settings. We also recognize that good-spirited goading often contributes to team bonding.”
 
Wells also addressed the notion that, while scores of text messages between Incognito and Martin show a close (albeit crude) friendship, Incognito toggled between being Martin’s friend and -- along with Jerry and Pouncey -- tormenting past the point where they knew Martin was bothered.
 
Wells wrote that, “The text messages between Martin and Incognito are highly probative evidence and demonstrate that -- as Martin acknowledged -- the two players seemed to be friends. Were these communications the only available information for us to consider, it would be difficult to reach the conclusion that Martin truly felt harassed by Incognito and others. But these messages are not the only significant evidence we reviewed. The additional relevant information here includes Martin’s contemporaneous text messages to his parents and the witness statements and documents showing that Player A and the Assistant Trainer also were harassed.”

Despite the friendship, the fact that Incognito knew Martin was vulnerable (he confided in Incognito that Martin had suicidal thoughts earlier in the offseason) and that his needling was intended to “get under (Martin’s) skin” and that Incognito assessed a $250 fine to himself for “breaking JMart” after Martin left the team all show that Incognito understood he was beating on a mentally fragile teammate.
 
And nobody wanted to stop it because Incognito had tenure, toughness and alpha-male status even over the coaches.
 
Said Wells, “To the extent that certain players believe that the locker room should have regulated itself, there is a fundamental problem with self-regulation when the very perpetrators of the harassment are in fact leaders of the team.”
 
There is no way you can tilt your head, look at this situation and conclude it was “good.”
 
You can, however, see it as potentially instructive.
 
For a head coach who doesn’t want to be like Joe Philbin -- interested but unobservant.
 
For an assistant coach who doesn’t want to be like offensive line coach Jim Turner -- protecting dysfunctional men that are tormenting a player you KNOW is struggling mentally because of some hackneyed code of behavior.
 
For the teammate that hesitates to say “Cut the ****...” to the loudest, toughest, crudest, most lovable veteran as the veteran takes it over the line.
 
For the scared, insecure player like Incognito who’s always masked his terror with brawling bravado and shock humor so much so that it becomes a persona you can’t escape.  
 
I go back to the word heart-wrenching.
 
Read Jonathan Martin’s words, again from April 22 in a text to his mother.
 
“This past year I’ve spent more and more time by myself, as I have felt increasingly different from people... I thought college would be a good chance to grow and mature as a person, but I still find myself lost. Sometimes I very badly want to quit football, as I feel like it has ‘forced me’ to act a certain way, to hang out with certain people, & prevented me from fully taking advantage of the social and cerebral advantages of college & experiencing new things and meeting new people.
 
“But it is the one thing that has kept me going, given me focus. One day I want to disappear, travel the world, and hopefully find myself, because as of today I don’t know who I am. I am deeply troubled, I have been lying to myself saying that eventually I’ll get over it. I won’t.
 
“I just want to be alone. Where I can’t embarrass myself all the time, where I can feel normal. Everywhere I go, I get punked. I have a disagreeable personality, people are always annoyed by me. And I don’t know how to stop it. I don’t. High school still and will forever haunt me. I always wonder why I have these feelings.
 
“I’m unbelievably blessed, I am living a dream that I have had my entire life, that most people would die even for the opportunity to be where I am. I have an amazing family, had a great upbringing. Why do I always feel this way? I really am getting increasingly tempted to just get in my car and leave Miami, live by myself for months or a year or two off the grid. But something holds me back every time, because part of me still loves football. But I am losing touch with that part more and more every day.”
 
Carrying that cross of despondency almost everyday for two years, a country away from his family, isolated and unable to be himself, this story could have ended with the ultimate tragedy: Martin’s suicide.
 
He was brave to walk away. He’s brave to level his finger at Incognito, Jerry and Pouncey and say, “You, you and you helped make my life a living hell.” And the courage Martin showed hopefully won’t have to be shown again.