Like you, my two teenage sons and I were shocked and dismayed to hear that Martavis Bryant is facing a full year suspension for either failing to take, or failing, multiple drug tests. My first reaction is that he has had his chance, it is time for the Steelers to cut ties with this talented, but troubled, young man and move on. After all this is the Steelers, they don't put up with this kind of behavior.
It is easy to say the Steelers are loaded at wide out, and now with Ladarius Green at tight end they won't miss Bryant quite as much, but that is wrong on a couple fronts. You can never have enough quality depth in the NFL. No one on that team has the freakish package of talent, size and speed which Bryant has. But beyond that, we are talking about a 24-year-old young man who is obviously very disturbed. As someone who has coached young adults and kids, it bothers me that we have a young person with such a bright future willing to throw it all away because of the black loneliness of depression and mental health.
As his agent said, Bryant may not have even been using drugs. He just didn't bother to show up for drug tests. He just withdrew from his responsibilities, stuck his head in the sand. I am sure some of you have wanted to do that at some point in your life, but did you? If you did, how did you snap out of it?
There is an excellent article from the HuffPost called "Beyond the Game: Athletes and Depression". It highlights some of the famous athletes who have suffered from depression and even those who have committed suicide, the ultimate withdrawal from life. Yes some of the NFL players like Junior Seau and Dave Duerson, who suffered mental health as a result of CTE, are included. But other athletes not from the NFL have suffered depression and worse.
Not all of them have killed themselves. Deion Sanders is one such former NFL player who suffered from the demons of depression. Metta World Peace of the NBA is another one. In fact, as many as 17-percent of professional athletes have exhibited symptoms of depression.
That is probably higher than the population at large. There are reasons for this. The constant injury, rehab cycle of pro athletes. The fishbowl existence of being in the public spotlight, the pressure of performing up to expectations or being cut. All of this leads to this higher level of mental health problems.
I know there are some of you out there who are going to say, "Give me a break, the guy makes a fortune and all he has to do is not do drugs." Hey, I get it. On the other hand, don't dismiss the seriousness of mental health and depression. None of us wants to read the next headline that this gifted athlete did something harmful to himself.
This is where the NFL and the Steelers have to put Martavis Bryant's life above the game. They need to get him the help he is crying out for. Cutting him loose isn't the answer. If he is suspended for the year, the Steelers can toll his contract time. The league and the NFLPA need to make sure he has the best help money can buy.
I couldn't think of a better organization than the Steelers, and the Rooneys, to make sure that this is the case with Bryant. Frankly, whether he ever plays another down in the NFL or not isn't the issue. The issue is, will he be able to break out of this torturous cycle he is living in?
You can give up on a player, but you shouldn't give up on the person. I hope Martavis gets the help he needs. I do hope one day he can come back and be a productive member of the team, but to do so means getting healthy, and that comes first. Mental health is as important as physical health.
I discussed this point with my own kids and the 14-15 year old team I am coaching now in basketball. It is important that we don't hide mental health in some dark closet. We shouldn't lump mental health in with drug problems, though they often go hand in hand. I have tried to emphasize that if you are battling these kinds of issues, you don't have to fight that battle alone. The first step is asking for help. There is nothing to be ashamed of in asking for help. Perhaps if Martavis Bryant had asked for help earlier he wouldn't be in the place he is now.
Look at Brandon Marshall of the Jets, and what he has gone through over the years battling his own demons. The good news is he appears to have broken through to the other side and is a positive role model for those who are suffering. Maybe he can help Bryant, or at least lend support.
I don't know what the ultimate resolution of Bryant's situation will be. We don't even know all of the facts, but what we do know that it appears this young man is screaming out for help. If the NFL, the Steelers, the NFLPA don't respond appropriately, part of the responsibility has to lie with them.