It has been a long five years for new Cowboys receiver Martavis Bryant. It was December 2018 that Bryant was suspended by the NFL after repeated violations of the league’s substance abuse policy, including all of the 2016 season when Bryant was banned for missing multiple drug tests.
Statement from NFL: “Effective immediately, Martavis Bryant has been returned to the Reserve/Commissioner Suspended list indefinitely for violating the terms of his April 2017 conditional reinstatement under the Policy and Program for Substances of Abuse.”
— Matt Schneidman (@mattschneidman) December 14, 2018
Bryant had been a fourth-round pick by the Steelers out of Clemson in 2014, and made an impact as a rookie in Pittsburgh, scoring eight touchdowns on just 26 catches and averaging 21.1 yards per catch. He was eventually traded to the Raiders before his suspension, but all along, he was held back by substance abuse.
But after a grueling process to be reinstated by the NFL, Bryant is back in the league, albeit as a practice-squadder in Dallas. He was asked where the suspension took him in the past five years.
“To places you can’t even imagine, man, some really dark places and times,” he said from the team’s practice facility. “I really would not like to talk about it, you know, because I worked so hard to get through those moments. But it was a dark time for me.”
Cowboys’ Martavis Bryant Journey Began With Sobriety
For Martavis Bryant, getting back to the NFL started first with sobriety, then with deciding whether a return to football was even possible.
“I went through a lot in those years I didn’t play ball, you know,” he said. “Getting down on myself, wanting to give up on football, but at the end of the day, I had to look myself in the mirror, face my own demons and get myself together.”
Then came hard work in low-level leagues that were not NFL-caliber—the Arena League and the XFL. His Arena League experiment was short-lived. He did not much like the fact that as a receiver, you can run into a wall when going out of bounds.
Veteran WR Martavis Bryant, who last played in the NFL in 2018, has been reinstated by Commissioner Roger Goodell and is drawing interest from teams, per his agent James Peterson.
Bryant, 31, has been training for a comeback and played in the XFL last summer. pic.twitter.com/2jDHNCiN6e
— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) November 4, 2023
“I started in the Arena Football League, it was different for me. I ran into the wall so I had to give it up, I was like, I can’t do this,” he said.
After a stint in the XFL, Bryant said, he first had to clear a path to a return through Roger Goodell’s NFL office. That involved a trove of meetings, as well as a focus on his sobriety.
“I had a process I had to go through, steps I had to do, maintaining my sobriety,” Bryant explained. “Meeting with my counselor. Doing the things I was supposed to do to show that I changed. I put the work in, man, and I’m proud of that. First off, it started with the NFL, I had to go through six months of testing, you know, counselors, doing a lot of things they asked me to do.”
‘Sky’s the Limit, Man’
Once the league was satisfied that he had changed, it was time to get Martavis Bryant’s name back into NFL circles. The Cowboys were among the first teams interested.
“My agent reached out to a lot of teams, let them know I was gonna be reinstated soon. And Dallas was interested,” he said.
He still has a long way to go to get back on the field during an NFL game—again, he is only on the practice squad as of now and he says he still needs to get into “football shape.” When that happens, he can be the same explosive downfield threat he was before the suspension, he said.
“Sky’s the limit for me, man,” he said. “I know I’m 31 but, still fast, still big, still want to play football. I haven’t lost anything, you know? More of a proving point to me, I got a lot of doubters out there, it’s more me proving to myself that I still got it.”