A Facebook post from former Wolverine football player Jonathan Martin ’08 revealing that he attempted suicide multiple times during his NFL career and felt unable to fit in at John Thomas Dye and Harvard-Westlake will cause the athletic department to increase its focus on the wellbeing of student athletes, Athletic Director Terry Barnum said.
As a mixed race student enrolled in a predominantly white high school, Martin pointed to his struggle to fit in with both white and African-American students.
“You learn to tone down your size and blackness by becoming shy, introverted, friendly, so you won’t scare the little rich white kids or their parents,” Martin wrote. “Neither black nor white people accept you because they don’t understand you. It takes away your self-confidence, your self-worth, your sanity.”
Martin’s comments reinforced the athletic department’s need to work towards its goal of making athletics at Harvard-Westlake diverse and inclusive, Barnum said.
“We want students to feel welcomed and included in our community,” Barnum said. “We have noted that this is an ongoing journey, and it is not a destination that you get to and you are done.”
The athletic department was not aware of Martin’s feelings towards the school while he was a student at Harvard-Westlake, Barnum said.
“A lot of the feelings that he had were internal, and I think that his statement kind of said that,” Barnum said. “Just because it was not overt or readily known by any of us, obviously it was happening, but he felt that way, and we are trying to do a better job of checking in with our student-athletes to make sure that they are feeling good about being members of our community. I think that we will continue to try to improve upon that.”
Martin retired from the NFL this summer due to a back injury that would have sidelined him for the 2015-2016 season. In 2013, he was in the national spotlight for publicly accusing fellow Miami Dolphin Richie Incognito of extensive bullying both in the locker room and outside of team activities.
He was voted into the Harvard-Westlake sports’ Hall of Fame as a member of the 2014 class. However, his induction ceremony was postponed because until this year, he was still an active player in the NFL.
Martin’s Facebook post is a chance for the athletic department to move forward, Barnum said.
“It gives us an opportunity to look inward and look for ways to make our community more inclusive so that kids in the future feel included and welcomed,” Barnum told the Los Angeles Times.