PITTSBURGH -- Roberta Bryant lives across an apartment-complex parking lot from her son, a 23-year-old, game-breaking Pittsburgh Steelers receiver. Most nights, Roberta saunters over to make dinner for him. Among his favorites are the T-bone steak and the fried chicken.
But Martavis Bryant’s mom is living in Pittsburgh for the foreseeable future not to keep her son's stomach happy, but to make sure he follows through on the promises he made after his four-game suspension for what a source calls multiple failed drug tests for marijuana use.
Bryant is Roberta’s only child, and she’s seeing this through. She’s pleaded with him to put God and family first. He’s working on it.
“He worked hard to get where he’s at -- it’s not worth giving up for drugs,” Roberta said.
Anyone who has followed Bryant’s frequent trips to the end zone knows that’s the truth. Bryant was the 19th wide receiver taken in the 2014 draft, yet with 13 touchdowns in 15 NFL games, he’s outplayed the top receiver selected in that class, former Clemson teammate Sammy Watkins.
Bryant has been on a tear in five games this season, averaging 20 yards per catch for 440 yards and five touchdowns. He’s the rare combination of size (6-foot-4, 220 pounds) and speed (sub-4.4 40-yard dash at the NFL combine).
But those close to him got the sense he was trying to waste that raw talent. Ever since his Clemson days, the native of Calhoun Falls, South Carolina, has let negative influences invade his life -- what Roberta calls “being around the wrong crowds.” The breaking point came Aug. 27, when an ESPN report surfaced that Bryant faced a four-game suspension with the league, prompting a four-week trip to Houston, where noted substance-abuse counselor John Lucas runs a treatment facility that has supported several professional athletes.
Lucas, a former NBA guard who struggled with addiction, frames the battle well: Sometimes the game is easy; life, not so much.
“We all get to the journey to find out who we are,” Lucas said. “In [Bryant’s] case, sometimes it takes a minute.”
Roberta knew nothing about the failed drug tests until the reports surfaced and Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert called to organize a meeting at the Steelers’ South Side complex with himself and coach Mike Tomlin. They’ve been supportive of the Bryant family throughout the process, Roberta said.
The news shook Roberta to her core. For years, she had worked in a textile facility, where it was cold in the winter and hot in the summer. She always told him: You never want to go to a place like that.
In the days immediately after the reports were released, Roberta remembers, Bryant was a humbled man. He had already made Roberta cry when Clemson suspended him for a bowl game after the 2012 season for not studying, prompting Bryant to tell the Post and Courier (South Carolina) he "can’t accept going through that again.”
“I got sick from it,” Roberta said. “No one wants to hear something like that going on with her son. He knew he needed to find himself and grow more than where he was.”
He was also frustrated he wasn’t helping the team. But in Houston, Lucas emphasized that accountability was what he needed to focus on. The two had spoken a few times in the past through mutual friends, and Lucas reached out around the time Bryant got in trouble.
Bryant’s first step was talking with Lucas face-to-face. The second step was a big one, Lucas said -- Bryant realizing his role in the problem and “forgetting about the but” that fuels excuses.
The two talk once a week now. Upon his return to the team in Week 5, Bryant said he learned from his mistakes and “I want to move on from it.”
“He seems to be the Martavis he’s always wanted to be,” Lucas said. “He’s much more than No. 10.”
According to those observing Bryant in Pittsburgh, this model of Martavis is a good father and good teammate.
Steelers receiver Markus Wheaton has seen a guy that’s learning how to be a pro. For example, the receivers group fines one another for being late to meetings or practices. When asked whether Bryant is fined less nowadays than he was as a rookie, Wheaton said, “I guess you could say that. ... He’s taking things a lot more seriously.”
He's working on his off-the-field life, too. Bryant has two daughters, Brooke, 5, and London, 3. Both live back in the Carolinas, but Bryant will see them soon, and Brooke is coming to Pittsburgh for Christmas.
Pittsburgh is home for Bryant, who is a potential long-term complement to Antonio Brown at receiver. And at least for the next year, Pittsburgh is home for Roberta, until she knows the job is done.
“He wants to be a better man than his father was,” Roberta said. “His father was never there. [Martavis] wants to be that guy.”