Lawyer: Martin left because of persistent bullying, not lack of toughness

Posted at 9:34 AM, Nov 08, 2013
and last updated 2013-11-08 11:34:37-05

By Greg Botelho

(CNN) — Vulgar comments, some laced with racial epithets. A physical attack. Threats to him and his family.

All of this and more — stretched out over a season and a half — proved too much for Jonathan Martin to bear, which is why he left the Miami Dolphins last week, his lawyer said.

“Jonathan endured harassment that went far beyond the traditional locker room hazing,” the attorney, David Cornwell, said in a prepared statement. “… These facts are not in dispute.”

The comments, through the intermediary, break an extensive silence from the offensive lineman who walked out after an incident in the team’s cafeteria and hasn’t been back since, according to Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin.

Days later, Miami suspended Richie Incognito for conduct detrimental to the team. Rumors and news stories flew quickly in the days to come, including a well-publicized voice mail in which Incognito reportedly calls Martin a racial epithet and threatens his life.

Some also questioned the toughness of Martin, a Stanford University graduate who was in his second NFL season, especially as it came out that he might be seeking help for emotional issues.

But Cornwell stressed: “Jonathan Martin’s toughness is not an issue.”

“Jonathan started every game with the Miami Dolphins since he was drafted in 2012,” he said of the second-round draft pick. “At Stanford, he was the anchor for Jim Harbaugh’s ‘smash mouth’ brand of football and he protected (then-Stanford, now Indianapolis Colts quarterback) Andrew Luck’s blind side.

“The issue is Jonathan’s treatment by his teammates.”

Cornwell then outlined some of that treatment, including Martin’s reaction to it.

Martin tried “to befriend … teammates who subjected him to the abuse with the hope that doing so would end the harassment” — something that Cornwell called “a textbook reaction of victims of bullying.”

It didn’t work, the lawyer said. Instead, there was more taunting, “a malicious physical attack on him by a teammate and daily vulgar comments” — including one threatening to have unprotected sex with Martin’s sister.

“Eventually, Jonathan made a difficult choice,” Cornwell said of Martin leaving the Dolphins. “… Jonathan looks forward to getting back to playing football. In the meantime, he will cooperate fully with the NFL investigation.”

Martin on leave; Incognito suspended

That investigation is one part of the still evolving saga centered on Martin and Incognito, plus more generally on the Dolphins team and the culture in NFL locker rooms.

Commissioner Roger Goodell has tapped veteran lawyer Ted Wells — who participated in a 2012 probe looking into alleged sexual abuse at Syracuse and one that led to the change earlier this year in who heads the NBA players union — to lead the NFL’s investigation.

Cornwell, Martin’s lawyer, also has a lengthy background in sports and law. That includes five years working for the NFL, being part of a top sports agency and serving as a top official for the Upper Deck trading card and memorabilia company.

Besides continuing to work in the Gordon & Rees law firm’s Sports, Media and Entertainment division out of Atlanta, Cornwell is also the executive director of the NFL Coaches Association, which represents “the interests of nearly 500 assistant coaches” according to his official profile.

His client, Martin, is still on the Dolphins roster.

Incognito is the lone player suspended as a result of this ordeal, though Cornwell’s statement alleges multiple players mistreated Martin.

CNN reached out multiple times to Incognito but hasn’t received comment. But he did talk to CNN affiliate WSVN outside a doctor’s office in Weston, Florida, on Tuesday, saying, “You know, I’m just trying to weather the storm right now. And this will pass.”

Incognito has a history of run-ins. They include a much-reported suspension from the University of Nebraska football team and his release by the NFL’s St. Louis Rams in December 2009 after an in-game argument with then-head coach Steve Spagnuolo.

More recently, in 2012 a volunteer at a golf tournament accused Incognito of inappropriately touching her with a golf club, according to a newly disclosed police report.

No charges were filed, according to CNN affiliate WPLG-TV, which first obtained the police report.

Teammates: Martin, Incognito seemed close

Cornwell’s comments about Martin seeking out friendships with some of his alleged tormenters didn’t come from nowhere. Rather, it is an apparent explanation for why a man would appear friendly with the same people who were allegedly abusing him.

Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill said Wednesday that Incognito considered Martin a “little brother” — one who “messed with him but … was the first one to have his back in any situation.”

And the closeness appeared to be mutual.

“I think if you had asked Jon Martin a week before who his best friend on the team was, he would have said Richie Incognito,” Tannehill said.

On the field, Incognito would be “the first guy to stand up for Jonathan,” the quarterback said. And “outside of football, who was together? Richie and Jonathan.”

Describing Martin as a quiet guy who made a few jokes but was mostly business, Tannehill said “there were no warning signs” that something like this — which he called “mind-blowing” — was happening.

Tyson Clabo, another member of Miami’s offensive line, similarly said he saw Incognito and Martin as buddies, not bully and victim.

“They hung out together,” Clabo said. “They did a lot of stuff together. So if (Martin) had a problem with the way that (Incognito) was treating him, he had a funny way of showing it.”

Dolphins owner Stephen Ross has publicly insisted the team takes “this situation seriously” and that he is “committed to creating a professional (work) environment.”

And Philbin, the club’s coach, says he’s ready to implement change if the NFL investigation finds his staff at fault.

“If this review reveals anything that needs to be corrected,” he said, “we will take all necessary measures to fix it, to ensure that this doesn’t happen again.”

CNN’s Ed Lavandera and Quand Thomas contributed to this report.

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