On Friday morning, students at the Harvard-Westlake School, a prep school in Los Angeles, were told not to come in for the day.
The alarming announcement came after officials learned that an alumnus, former NFL lineman Jonathan Martin, had posted a threatening message the prior evening to his private Instagram account.
The post contained a photo of a shotgun laying on a bed surrounded by shells. Martin, who was taken into custody by the police, added the names of his school and his former team, the Miami Dolphins, on the weapon.
“When you’re a bully victim & a coward, your options are suicide, or revenge,” Martin wrote.
Also included in the post were the Instagram accounts of his former tormentors: ex-NFL teammates Richie Incognito and Mike Pouncey. James Dunleavy and T.J. Taylor, who both attended Harvard-Westlake with Martin, were also tagged.
But the disturbing social-media post directly connects to the year and a half Martin spent as the victim of a brutal, racist, and homophobic bullying campaign—one that was led by Incognito. He was relentlessly mocked and subjected to physical threats and acts of violence, some of which were reportedly encouraged by Dolphins staffers, who saw it as a means to “toughen up” Martin. The bullying drove Martin to attempt suicide more than once, leave the team, and eventually quit professional football altogether.
The first inkling that Martin was dealing with something far beyond bog standard—but still unnecessary and sophomoric—locker-room hazing came at the end of October 2013, when Martin reportedly “kind of flipped out” in the team’s dining room. After Martin sat down to eat, his teammates all began moving away from him as a “joke” because he was sick and therefore somehow contagious. In response, he smashed a dining tray.
Martin was held out of the Dolphins’ next game with a non-specified injury and checked himself into a mental health facility. Reports began to surface about bullying and a few days later, a tape was leaked to ESPN in which Incognito, who previously had brawled with a security guard and was considered a vicious, dirty player going back to his high school days, was heard calling Martin, who is biracial, a “half-nigger piece of shit.”
“I’ll shit in your fuckin’ mouth,” Incognito said in a voicemail message he’d left for Martin in April 2013. “I’m gonna slap your fuckin’ mouth, I’m gonna slap your real mother across the face [laughter]. Fuck you, you’re still a rookie. I’ll kill you.”
It was far from the only instance of harassment and abuse Martin suffered. The NFL launched a full investigation led by Ted Wells, a criminal attorney who would later be called upon by the league to delve into Deflategate. In Wells’ final 144-page report, he determined that Incognito, along with Pouncey and lineman John Jerry, had not only abused Martin, but also an assistant team trainer from Japan and an unnamed offensive lineman, creating a toxic environment and a sustained pattern of targeted harassment.
Over the course of his rookie year, Incognito called Martin a “cunt,” “pussy,” “my bitch,” and “faggot.” Further, Incognito repeatedly suggested that Martin emitted a foul odor, referring to him as a “stinky Pakistani” and Jerry and Pouncey told him he wasn’t “black enough.” When Incognito wasn’t belittling Martin, he targeted his sister, boasting that he planned to sexually violate her. In one instance, he told Martin, “I’m going to bang the shit out of her and spit on her and treat her like shit.”
Andrew McDonald, the linemen who is referred to as “Player A” in the report, was also subjected to homophobic slurs by Incognito and his cohorts, and Naohisa Inoue, a Japanese-American assistant athletic trainer was referred to as a “Jap,” a “Chinaman,” and a “fucking chink.” Because racist taunting wasn’t enough, they demanded that the trainer provide “rubby rubby sucky sucky,” using a racist Asian accent to do so.
What’s more, on Pearl Harbor Day in 2012, they donned “traditional Japanese headbands” which had been given to them by the trainer, and in another mocking accent, physically threatened him, promising that they would get revenge on behalf of America.
Though Martin’s issues with mental health and self-medication were deemed a contributing factor by Wells, the constant stream of abuse only worsened his anxiety and depression. In a text message he sent to his mother in April 2013, Martin said he was “miserable” in the NFL, and neither therapy nor medication had alleviated his emotional distress. He blamed himself for his inability to stand up to bullies, which he said had begun when he was still in middle school and continued through stints at Harvard-Westlake and Stanford University.
“I’m a pushover, a people-pleaser,” he wrote. “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.”
While on an outing with teammates on a yacht, he ended up in a bathroom, alone and sobbing. “I’m never gonna change,” Martin told his mother. “I got punked again today. Like a little bitch. And I never do anything about it.”
Initially, the Dolphins’ organization claimed that they were blissfully unaware of all this. And while Wells’ report cleared the bulk of the coaching staff and front office, assistant coach Jim Turner not only participated in the abuse of McDonald and overheard other examples of bullying, he contacted Martin in November 2013 as the story was gathering steam, attempting to pressure him into defending Incognito. “DO THE RIGHT THING. NOW,” Turner begged. The Dolphins were never fined or in any other way disciplined by the NFL.
As an explanation, both to Wells and in an earlier interview, Incognito said the hazing and off-color banter were all part of a normal, well-functioning locker room. (It is not.) He also claimed that much of the racist dreck had been taken out of context, citing Martin’s participation as evidence and apologizing for his use of the N-word. “I am not a racist,” he said.
The conversation had nothing to do with Martin, but in a series of text messages revealed in Wells’ report, Incognito and an unnamed teammate were chatting about guns. One type of gun was ideal “For picking off zombies,” Incognito wrote. “That and black people.”
He would later offer a similar description for a particular rifle scope, which he said was “perfect for shooting black people.” The teammate responded, “Lol exactly.”
Incognito was suspended by the Dolphins in November 2013 and remained inactive for the remainder of the season. He went on to sign with the Buffalo Bills. For his part, Martin never returned to the Dolphins after leaving treatment. He was traded to the San Francisco 49ers, started one game, and retired a year later, citing injuries.
But Incognito’s actions have been relegated to somewhat of a footnote in his career. He’s been selected to three straight Pro Bowls—the NFL equivalent of the all-star game—and was the subject of a largely positive profile by ESPN filled with laudatory quotes from his fellow Bills. ESPN insisted that the bullying should be condemned, yes, but any nagging concerns about racism and targeted harassment were dismissed as unfortunate rough edges. During the 2016 presidential election, he publicly came out in support of Donald Trump.
Meanwhile, his casual in-game use of racist slurs allegedly continues to this day.