Criticism of Jonathan Martin in Dolphins' bullying case shows poor attitudes about manhood in NFL

Eric Adelson
Yahoo Sports

Apparently, Jonathan Martin is a "coward."

That's the label from one NFL personnel official who felt the Miami Dolphins' offensive lineman didn't properly handle the alleged assault on his race and character from teammate Richie Incognito.

"Instead of being a man and confronting him," the NFL source told Sports Illustrated, "he acted like a coward and told like a kid."

This reaction to a still-developing situation (and one without full context) is extremely disappointing and dangerous.

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Jonathan Martin (USA TODAY Sports)

NFL coaches and executives crow about doing the right thing and keeping composure in the heat of the moment – both on and off the field – and yet there's vitriol for a man who walked away from what he deemed a toxic situation. Martin didn't bring a gun to work, he didn't break someone's face; he just left. And he's being ripped for it.

How many times have we heard outrage at the Detroit Lions' Ndamukong Suh when he lost his cool or played dirty? If only he would better represent the NFL by staying above his baser instincts and focus on winning above petty battles.

Martin, however, is a "coward."

Being a "man" and "confronting" a perceived threat is often the unhealthiest reaction. Retaliation is often derided by coaches and general managers (and the commissioner), whether it happens during a game or in a bar. One of the most difficult things an NFL player has to learn when fame and fortune set in is how to turn the other cheek when someone is baiting. Confrontations can get a player flagged, suspended, arrested or worse.

If this kind of sentiment is prevalent in league front offices, the NFL is in serious trouble. The tacit message is clear: being a "man" means taking matters into your own hands. The leap from there to violence isn't far.

The personnel officials may feel "confronting" would entail speaking directly to Incognito. We don't know that Martin didn't try that and the implication in these comments isn't peaceful.

"I think Jonathan Martin is a weak person," said another NFL source in the Sports Illustrated story. "If Incognito did offend him racially, that's something you have to handle as a man!"

So instead of Mike Vick calming the waters in Philadelphia by immediately forgiving Riley Cooper for his racist tirade over the summer, the quarterback should have kneecapped his receiver with a crowbar?

Instead of handling things "like a man," Vick and the Eagles worked with Cooper and he was one of the stars of Sunday's big win against the Oakland Raiders. That was a superb example of leadership in a situation where the locker room could have been divided permanently.

There's reason to believe the personnel people quoted in the SI story are in the minority. One NFL executive, reached Tuesday afternoon, said he wouldn't hesitate to bring in Martin.

"It's the culture and environment," the executive told Yahoo Sports. "The leadership of your team is critical. With the right coaches and leaders, he would be fine."

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Antrel Rolle didn't like the way Jonathan Martin handled the situation with Richie Incognito. (USA TODAY Sports) …

Martin's leaders got him to Stanford and the NFL. His father, grandfather and great-grandfather all went to Harvard. The latter was one of only a few African-Americans at the school at that time. So there's a family history of trailblazing, which can take the kind of courage some are saying Martin lacks. Though some wonder if such a brainy player from such an elite family doesn't have the grit to survive in the wilds of the NFL.

That's an outdated notion. Yes, anger and personal pain can motivate a player to be aggressive in the trenches, but controlling and redirecting anger is a sign of an even more advanced player. It's a fairly safe bet that most NFL executives would prefer the post-dogfighting Mike Vick over the version who flipped off a fan in Atlanta, given the same speed and physical skill. Vick showed there's a way to calm down without losing the will to win.

Jonathan Martin's job is simply described: block the rusher and protect the quarterback. He can certainly do that without having a short fuse. He can throttle the opponent without throttling a teammate.

The argument that Martin should have approached head coach Joe Philbin – which he reportedly didn't do – makes sense looking at this situation from afar, but maybe Martin simply got fed up and walked out rather than escalating. The New York Giants' Antrel Rolle told WFAN that Martin "is just as much to blame as Richie because he allowed it to happen. At this level, you're a man. You're not a little boy. You're not a freshman in college. You're a man."

So let's get this straight: Martin is being blamed for allowing the alleged abuse to happen, but also for not going to a coach or the leadership council. If he blew the whistle immediately, he is less of a "man" for not being able to take it. If he dealt with it for an extended period, he should have taken steps sooner. Which is it?

Sure, there's something to be said for "keeping it in the family." This didn't have to become a national story. If Martin went to the head coach or a team official, maybe this would have ended differently. But in a league that's been tarnished by self-destructive and illegal behavior over the past several months, there's several other ways this situation could have ended differently.

Perhaps Martin should be praised, rather than slandered, for that.

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