Miami Dolphins tackle Jonathan Martin talked of quitting football earlier in his pro career before leaving the team last week to undergo counselling for emotional issues, two people familiar with the situation said Wednesday.
One of the people said Martin considered giving up the sport because he was mistreated by other offensive linemen on the Dolphins. That person said Martin now plans to continue his career.
Both people spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the organization has said little about his departure.
Martin's agent last week made allegations of day-to-day harassment over an extended period, prompting an NFL investigation and the suspension of veteran guard Richie Incognito. Commissioner Roger Goodell appointed a New York lawyer with experience in sports cases to prepare a report that will be made public.
The case attracted more than 100 reporters and cameramen to the Dolphins' complex Wednesday, and when the throng entered the locker room after practice, a player pushed the button on a boom box sitting at Incognito's stall.
Circus music began to play.
And then the Dolphins, clearly weary of the circus atmosphere, opened up. They passionately defended Incognito and insisted they didn't see the blowup coming that led Martin to leave the team, saying he and Incognito were friends.
"The whole thing, it's kind of mind-blowing to me," quarterback Ryan Tannehill said. "It's kind of mind-blowing to most of the guys on our team right now."
While players interviewed were unanimous in rallying behind the embattled Incognito, they were less vehement in their support of Martin.
"I don't know why he's doing this," offensive tackle Tyson Clabo said. "And the only person who knows why, his name is Jonathan Martin."
Martin, a 24-year-old second-year pro, was briefly hospitalized after he left the team and is now with his family in California.
Tannehill said he was shocked when Martin departed.
"It's tough for me, because you can't help a situation that you didn't know existed — that no one on this team knew existed," Tannehill said. "We have a bunch of good guys in this locker room. To be put in a situation where everyone's attacking the locker room saying it's such a bad place, such a bad culture, no leadership to stand up and stop the situation — no one knew there was a situation to be stopped."
Incognito's alleged harassment of Martin included voicemail and text messages that were racist and threatening, but several players said the two were close.
"If you had asked Jon Martin a week before who his best friend on the team was, he would have said Richie Incognito," Tannehill said. "The first guy to stand up for Jonathan when anything went down on the field, any kind of tussle, Richie was the first guy there. When they wanted to hang out outside of football, who was together? Richie and Jonathan."
Guard John Jerry said he never heard Incognito use the racist term included in one voicemail and wouldn't have objected anyway.
"I would have just laughed it off," Jerry said. "I know the type of person he is, and I know he doesn't mean it that way. Everybody's got friends that when you're out, they say those type of things. It's never made a big deal."
Incognito, 30, was kicked off his team at Nebraska, and has long had a reputation as one of the NFL's dirtiest players. But he has been universally praised by his teammates this week.
"Does he like to give guys a hard time? Yes. Does he like to pester guys and have fun? Yes," Tannehill said. "But he brought a lot of laughter to this locker room, he brought a lot of cohesiveness to this locker room and he was the best teammate that I could ask for."
For Martin, the final straw was a lunchroom prank at the team complex, and he then left the squad. Tannehill and Jerry said the same prank has been pulled on many other players.
Hijinks are especially common among the offensive linemen, Clabo said.
"We have a system of basically it's just a big joke, basically," he said. It helps camaraderie. It keeps things light in the room. Everyone participates. No one is exempt and so I don't see how ... we would all be guilty of bullying."