Jonathan Martin, victim of ugly, pernicious bullying by teammate Richie Incognito that forced him to leave the Miami Dolphins abruptly in 2013, revealed via Facebook and Twitter this past week that he has tried to commit suicide multiple times.
It was abundantly and painfully clear from Martin’s postings that the now-retired 6-foot-6-inch, 300-pound offensive tackle has lived with a world of hurt for years.
“Your self-perceived social inadequacy dominates your every waking moment and thought,’’ wrote the former Stanford standout. “You’re petrified of going to work. You either sleep 12, 14, 16 hours a day when you can, or not at all. You drink too much, smoke weed constantly, have trouble focusing on your job, playing the sport that you grew up possessed with.’’
Martin also noted not being “able to overcome the demons you carry with you from your middle school and high school experience.’’
Martin’s overall story is unique, and troubling on many levels, and particularly worth keeping in mind now with schools reopening and bullies scoping out weak, easy marks. Maybe there isn’t another Jonathan Martin walking through those doors, but there are unquestionably scores of kids of all ages who are hurting, struggling with all sorts of stuff, real and imagined, their confusion, loneliness, and often their inability to assimilate in group and academic culture making them vulnerable to bullying.
“This is all about fitting in, right?’’ said Rusty Sullivan, executive director of the Sports Museum, which is now in its third year of bringing its anti-bullying campaign, Boston vs. Bullies, to Massachusetts schools. “We all want to fit in early on in our lives. You go from wanting to fit in to wanting later to stand out. But you don’t want to stand out in fifth, sixth, seventh grade . . . you want to fit in. If you feel like you don’t fit in, that’s the worst feeling in the world. Other kids sense that and those are the kids that end up getting bullied for whatever the reason.
“The pain is very real.’’
So real for Martin, now 26 years old, that it took him until this stage of adulthood to make an attempt to unburden himself of long-festering woes. As he wrote on his Twitter account: “If you don’t know . . . now you know.’’ He sounds like a man seeking peace, or an escape, at the very least a new beginning, one unfettered by the pressures of surviving as a professional athlete.
The museum’s Boston vs. Bullies campaign, according to Sullivan, has been rolled out free of charge to some 25,000 public school children, including such districts as New Bedford, Fall River, Brockton, Lowell, Everett, Quincy, and Dartmouth. The target group is fifth- and sixth-graders, who are shown a video, featuring a number of Boston athletes, educating them on the subject and defining ways to deal with bullying and help eradicate it.
In recent weeks, said Sullivan, the program’s key video has been updated, because previous advocates, including Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Brandon Bass, moved on to other teams. In the new version, Olympic gymnast Aly Raisman and soccer standout Kristie Mewis of the Breakers have been included, building on a drumbeat aimed at helping kids steer through their psychological clutter, perhaps prevent another Jonathan Martin from getting buried in depression and despair.
“They’re not caught up in coolness and there’s no aloofness,’’ said Sullivan, noting how fifth- and sixth-graders have proven to be the age group most receptive to the message. “There’s no, ‘Oh, I’m too cool for this.’ When they see Patrick Chung and all these other athletes in uniform, on the video, talking about bullying, they pay attention. We live in an area where kids pay attention to uniforms and athletes.’’
In general, said Sullivan, schools have been welcoming, though it can take some diligence to get through the doors. “It’s not like schools have a bullying department,’’ he said. School superintendents have proven the best point of contact, and then Boston vs. Bullies usually works directly with the guidance department or health or gym teachers to roll out the program. Again, no charge to the schools, thanks in large part to funding provided by the likes of the Highland Street Foundation and New Balance, as well as grants from the Red Sox, Patriots, Bruins, and Celtics.
“We see ourselves as a tool these schools can use,’’ said Sullivan, a Yale grad who has worked tirelessly to make Boston vs. Bullies the museum’s key community outreach instrument. “We’re not out to force this on anyone, or be their one and only answer to bullying. We know there are a lot of programs. But we’re here, we’re free, and we want to help, and that’s usually in a supplemental role.’’
Sadly, not everyone hears the message. Sullivan said he has made repeated calls to the superintendent of one large city in Central Mass., never to hear back. Which could mean that city has bullying nailed and the superintendent figures kids there won’t benefit from, say, a booster shot on the subject. If so, a CNN crew led by Anderson Cooper should be on those schoolhouse steps first thing in the morning to chronicle that bit of the Massachusetts miracle.
Martin, who played last year with the San Francisco 49ers, ended his Facebook post on an encouraging note. In the same spirit of Boston vs. Bullies, he wrote that he hopes his message finds an open ear.
“You let your demons go,’’ he wrote, “knowing that, perhaps, sharing your story can help some other chubby, goofy, socially isolated, sensitive kid getting bullied in America who feels like no one in the world cares about them.’’
Let those kids know, Martin added, “that they are not alone.’’
For more information on the Sports Museum’s efforts to end bullying, visit bostonvsbullies.org.