Starkey: Wrong to demonize Martavis Bryant
Let's look at the Martavis Bryant situation from three sides …
The human side
Some fans are calling for the Steelers to cut Bryant immediately. They see him as a selfish, dim-witted bad guy.
I see him possibly as sick and in need of help.
Bryant's described behavior is profoundly disturbing. Jarring enough to where it should lead any rational person to wonder if the issue is marijuana addiction, brain injury, clinical depression or some combination thereof.
One of his agents, Brian Fettner, told USA Today that Bryant has a marijuana problem, “a coping issue and a depression issue.” He added, “If you talk to anybody's family that has depression, they will be talking about these same things — the (despondence), the withdrawal, the head-in-the-sand despair — just trying to cope.”
Some see marijuana as benign. It can be. But it also can be addictive, destructive (especially with the increased potency strains out there these days) and not altogether helpful to someone already experiencing psychological distress.
If the primary issue is clinical depression, that's not something a person thinks their way out of. Bryant's support system — people who don't have ulterior motives like getting him back on a football field as quickly as possible — need to step up and make sure he is offered the right kind of help.
And, of course, Bryant has to want the help.
The brain injury theory cannot be dismissed. Bryant's behavior makes me think of the late Chris Henry, a troubled wide receiver for the Cincinnati Bengals who died at age 26 and was found to have chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) — a form of degenerative brain damage caused by multiple hits to the head — at the time of his death.
I keep going back to my conversation with Bryant's mother, Roberta, during her son's rookie year. She moved to Pittsburgh for parts of the past two seasons to lend him support.
I think of Bryant's two young daughters, Brooke and London, and Roberta telling me Brooke said “That's my Daddy!” as she watched her father make his first NFL catch — a spectacular, 35-yard touchdown.
“Martavis is my only child,” Roberta said. “I was blessed with that one.”
The cold contractual side
From this standpoint, the Steelers' decision on Bryant should be simple: Keep him.
You make concessions for great talent, especially when it doesn't cost millions of dollars.
Bryant is a transformative talent on an entry level contract that will not tick ahead until he returns. That means the Steelers could retain his services for two more seasons on the same inexpensive deal.
If the Steelers never get another down out of Bryant, he will go down as a good fourth-round pick. They wouldn't have made the playoffs last season without him (think Arizona game) and might not have made it in 2014, either.
Plus, his spectacular touchdown catch against the Bengals helped the franchise win its first playoff game since 2010.
This side of the issue might seem callous, but the Steelers are in business to win football games. They are not qualified to provide rehabilitation services to people with drug issues and/or clinical depression.
The team should support Bryant as best it can, but it must make cold business decisions. This should be an easy one.
Though the Steelers will have a lesser offense without Bryant, they do not need to make drastic moves to replace him.
First of all, Bryant cannot be replaced. Teammates don't call him “Alien” for nothing. His combination of size and speed is freakish. He's a touchdown machine. He makes everyone better just by lining up.
That said, the Steelers drafted Sammie Coates and likely signed Ladarius Green because of Bryant's issues. They planned for this. Le'Veon Bell is a de facto wide receiver, and Antonio Brown isn't going anywhere.
Let's say it's third-and-8, and Todd Haley wants five eligibles. Ben Roethlisberger conceivably could have Brown, Bell, Markus Wheaton, Green and emerging talent Coates (or Darrius Heyward-Bey). That's not bad. There is no need to draft a receiver. Defense should be the focus.
The football business will carry on. Hopefully, Martavis Bryant will, too, with a healthy and productive life.
I hope he can quiet his demons.
Joe Starkey co-hosts a show 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays on 93.7 FM. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.