- Associated Press - Friday, November 8, 2013

To his Miami Dolphins teammates, Jonathan Martin came across as someone who needed “toughening up.”

But what does that mean, exactly, when you’re talking about a 6-foot-4, 320-pound guy who already had proven he was tough enough to play a violent, brutal sport at the highest level?

We suspect the ugly episode in south Florida is more about Martin being different from those around him _ quiet, aloof, maybe a bit of a gentle giant who had never been subjected to real bullying because he was always the biggest guy in the room.

All around the NFL, there are those who can’t figure out why Martin didn’t retaliate with insults or threats or even fisticuffs if indeed he was harassed mercilessly by teammate Richie Incognito and perhaps other Miami players.

“My mom taught me and my dad taught me how to get rid of bullies,” said Antonio Smith of the Houston Texans. “They used to always say, “You hit a bully in the mouth.’”

Martin took a different tack.

He kept turning the other cheek, allegedly enduring a pattern of cruel insults and hurtful slights that very likely came with the tacit approval of a coaching staff that really didn’t understand Martin, either.

Finally, when Martin couldn’t take it anymore, he walked away.

In the NFL, with all its bravado and macho overtones, that made him look weak _ like he needed toughening up.

How unfair.

“Things like that have got to change,” said Roddy White, a star receiver for the Atlanta Falcons. “You can’t really go out there and make a guy feel that way, where he doesn’t want to be in the locker room with his teammates.”

More than being about rookie hazing or the rigid hierarchy in an NFL locker room _ two factors that aren’t likely to change, no matter what the league finds in its investigation _ this case points to the need for those in football and all sports, really, to be more tolerant of those who don’t necessarily conform to the mold imposed by the majority.

While there are many uniform traits that go into the making of an elite athlete (intense focus, devoted work ethic, extreme competitiveness), they don’t come in a one-size-fits-all package.

Martin certainly doesn’t fit the standard image of an NFL lineman. He is both brawn and brains, the son and grandson of Harvard graduates, someone who majored in the classics at Stanford while protecting Andrew Luck’s blind side.

But he struggled as many rookie linemen do in the NFL, and by his second season he had picked up a reputation for being “soft” _ the worst of all four-letter words for a football player.

Story Continues →