But while has been a starter since the first game of his rookie season, Martin developed a reputation in the NFL for lacking toughness. That impression might have been reinforced by the way he handled his issues with Incognito, current and former teammates acknowledge.
“A lot of people might look at Jonathan Martin and think that he’s soft because he stepped away from the game, and say, `Why don’t you just fight him?’” said Seattle Seahawks receiver Doug Baldwin, who played with Martin at Stanford. “Well, if you look at it with common sense and being logical, what options did Jonathan Martin have?
“He could fight Richie Incognito. He could go and tell on the players, which we know in the football locker room doesn’t go over too well. Or he could remove himself from the situation and let the proper channels take care of itself. And I think he made the intelligent, smart choice without putting himself or Richie Incognito’s physical abilities in danger.”
Houston Texans Antonio Smith, who has accused Incognito of dirty play since they went against each other in college, said Martin should have responded more forcefully. Smith drew a three-game suspension this year for taking Incognito’s helmet and hitting him during an exhibition game.
“I don’t think that in my opinion a grown man should get bullied,” Smith said. “And I think that if you’re realistically getting bullied, there’s only one way my mom taught me and my dad taught me how to get rid of bullies. They used to always say, `You hit a bully in the mouth. It will stop him from bullying, no matter what you hit him with.’”
Incognito’s harassment of Martin included text messages that were racist and threatening, two people familiar with the situation have told The Associated Press. Incognito is white, while Martin is biracial.
Two other people familiar with the situation have said Martin talked of quitting football earlier in his pro career before leaving the Dolphins. One person said Martin considered giving up the sport because of the way he was being treated by other offensive linemen on the team. The person added that Martin now wants to continue his football career.
The Dolphins (4-4) play for the first time since the scandal broke Monday night at Tampa Bay (0-8). At least 75 reporters and cameramen tracking the case were in the locker room after Thursday’s practice, but receiver Brian Hartline said the scrutiny won’t prevent the team from playing well.
“It almost heightens your awareness,” he said. “You know it’s going to take away from your focus, so it does the exact opposite. You overcompensate to make sure you stay aware of the game.”
AP Sports Writers Tim Booth in Seattle, Tom Canavan in East Rutherford, N.J., and Kristie Rieken in Houston contributed to this report.
Follow Steven Wine on Twitter: http://twitter.com/Steve_Wine