- As the Steelers move through the playoffs, the receiver that had been emerging as a star in the making prior to this year is barely paying attention. Instead, Martavis Bryant is focused on learning from the mistakes that landed him a one-year suspension for substance abuse and returning to the NFL as a new player and person.
While the Steelers prepare for the Chiefs’ ballhawking defense, one of their most explosive weapons is working out 2,500 miles away, a full year removed from the football field. Since being banned from the NFL for at least one season due to multiple violations of the league’s recreational drug policy, 25-year-old Martavis Bryant has sought to reinvent himself in the shadow of the city of lights. From a temporary townhome in Henderson, Nev., he has learned to live without marijuana, worked out like never before (which, you’ll find, isn’t exactly saying all that much) and looked forward to the day when he can begin proving that he is a changed man. He sat down with SI to clear the air about his past transgressions and lay a road map for the future.
Jacob Feldman: Did you watch the Steelers last Sunday?
Martavis Bryant: I caught glimpses of the game. I ain’t going to sit there and watch the whole game. This year I haven’t watched that much football. I don’t want to. It makes me feel bad since I wasn’t playing.
JF: What had been your reaction to past fines and suspensions?
MB: I never really paid it no mind. It was what it was. I made my mistake. During the four-game suspension I went to Houston with John Lucas for about four weeks, but I didn’t really take it that serious.
JF: Why has this one been different?
MB: I know I’m on my last chance. I’ve been watching what happened with Josh Gordon, Manziel, Justin Blackmon.
JF: So what have you done?
MB: My way got me in trouble. I cut my circles down. I hadn’t really been paying attention to how many people were around me. It feels really quiet now. I love that.
The hardest part was losing my house in Hermosa Beach. It took about a week to move out. My agents recommended I get away from L.A. and refocus. I was against it at first but it turned out to be a great thing. I was so stuck on L.A. Here, there’s not much to do, I don’t go to the Strip that much, mainly just spending time with my girl and my dog.
JF: When was the last time you smoked marijuana?
MB: About eight months ago.
JF: Was it hard to quit?
MB: At first quitting was hard. I couldn’t sleep for four days. I would get frustrated. Mad. I’d yell, “Why can’t I sleep!” but after about four days it got better.
JF: Why did you smoke?
MB: I smoked because I was able to. I’d do it whenever.
JF: Who did you feel you most let down with your behavior?
MB: My mom. She raised me by herself, working in a plant for almost 30 years. I owe everything to her.
When I got suspended, I called my mom and my grandma and told each what happened. It really hit hard for my mom when it came out. Because people don’t just go at you, they go at your family too. Everything said on my page online was said on hers too. That was the hardest call but I’ve made that call before. It’s like, “I’ve got to call and tell her because I don’t want it to come out on TV.” It’s my mom. She told me, she was like, “Ah man, I can’t believe this happened.” She wanted me to learn from my mistakes. It got down to, she didn’t think I was ever going to stop smoking. It took to this point for her to believe me.
JF: Will you say anything to the team if you go back?
MB: No. What happened happened. What’s done is done. There’s nothing for me to say. Just move on and show with my actions. They’ll see on the field. I’m not going to go back and say nothing. They’re grown men.
JF: Last year, when you were banned, Ben Roethlisberger said you had lied to him. Are you worried about your relationship with your quarterback?
MB: I’m a grown man and he’s a grown man. I’m not going up to another grown man and explain my business to him. I understand he’s my teammate and I love my teammate and he’s a leader. But I have my own life and he has his own life.
JF: You’ve also gotten to see the coach’s perspective this year, teaching the wideouts at nearby Green Valley High. What did you get out of that?
MB: Seeing those guys smiling every day when I came out there. I needed that to remind me of where I came from, where I started at, where it changed for me. It was good to see that. I just didn’t like being called Coach. I’m 25 years old.
JF: And tell me about your training.
MB: I used to just show up on Saturday and ball out. Show up on Sunday and ball. I never trained in the off-season. Maybe like once a month. My first year, I went to L.A. in the off-season and I was good during that first week. Then there wasn’t any more training.
I was skinny when I got here. I was 205. I added 10 pounds in my first few months here. I feel different now.
JF: You’ve accrued quite a collection of tattoos over your career, including an NFL shield on your stomach from after you were drafted. Have you gotten any meaningful ones this year?
MB: I get tattoos almost every couple of weeks. The last one I recently got was on the back of my head almost; it kind of hurt a little bit. I just get tattoos depending on how I feel that day, or if I want to go get one, I just get one based on my emotions or how I feel. I don’t never get a tattoo saying that it’s like redemption or something like that, because in my heart I know what time it is and what I got to do. When I get tattoos it’s just all about how I feel that day.
I got my son’s name right here [pointing to his face]. I just got my whole leg done. I got my birth year put on my kneecaps. I been getting tattoos so much. I got a lot of tattoos. It’s ridiculous.
JF: What goals do you have if you return to the league?
MB: Just to be the best I can be and leave everything in God’s hands. If I work hard, I know what the outcome will be.
JF: What would that outcome be?