DAVIE, Fla. — In a culture that fosters conflict, Jonathan Martin sought to avoid it.
Upset by treatment he considered abusive, the Dolphins tackle let the situation fester for months before leaving the team last week. Martin’s agent then complained to the Dolphins, who suspended guard Richie Incognito.
The NFL is investigating whether Incognito harassed or bullied Martin, and whether their teammates and the organization mishandled the matter.
Some say Martin, a Stanford graduate who went about his business quietly, handled the situation well. But football is a macho world, and some believe Martin should have responded more firmly.
‘‘Is Incognito wrong? Absolutely. He’s 100 percent wrong,’’ Giants safety Antrel Rolle said. ‘‘No individual should have to go through that, especially in their workplace.
‘‘But at the same time, Jonathan Martin is a 6-foot-4-inch, 320-pound man. I mean, at some point and time you need to stand your ground as an individual.’’
Dolphins players have robustly defended Incognito, long considered among the NFL’s dirtiest players. He’s now a notorious national villain, but teammates praise his leadership and loyalty.
They've been less passionate in their support of Martin, saying he and Incognito behaved like best friends.
‘‘They did a lot of stuff together,’’ tackle Tyson Clabo said. ‘‘So if he had a problem with the way he was treating him, he had a funny way of showing it.’’
Martin is in California to undergo counseling for emotional issues.
A senior partner in a New York law firm was appointed by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to investigate possible misconduct and prepare a report. DeMaurice Smith, executive director of the NFL Players Association, said Thursday he continues to be in touch with those involved.
‘‘The NFLPA has taken steps to ensure that every one of our affected members is represented,’’ Smith said in a statement.
The alleged bullying saga engulfing the Dolphins has shed a light on how damaging perceptions can be in the violent world of the NFL.
A Pittsburgh native, Martin is the son of Harvard graduates. At Stanford he protected Andrew Luck’s blind side, and also majored in the classics.
Taken in the second round of the 2012 draft, Martin has what it takes physically to be an NFL player — size, skill, athleticism, intelligence. He won praise from the Dolphins for his diligent study of game and practice video.
But while he has been a starter since the first game of his rookie season, Martin developed a reputation 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 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.’’
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, 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.