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Former First-Rounder Wendell Bryant Is Hoping For A Second Chance

Wendell Bryant realizes that he represents the ultimate cautionary tale, a prime example of how to squander a golden NFL opportunity.
Drafted in the first round by the Arizona Cardinals with the 12th overall pick seven years ago, the former Wisconsin star and two-time Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year ruined his NFL career by running afoul of the league’s substance abuse policy due to testing positive for marijuana and alcohol and dabbling in the party drug Ecstasy.
Ultimately, he was cut by the Cardinals in 2005 and was suspended for a year by the league for yet another strike in the drug program.
Now, a repentant and contrite Bryant says he has been clean and sober for nearly a year through devotion to a 12-step program.
Engaged to be married and the father of a 16-month-old daughter, Bryant tried out for the Buffalo Bills two weeks ago.  He said he has been reinstated to the NFL and is regularly drug-tested by league officials, with clean results.
In an exclusive interview with PFT, Bryant detailed his efforts to put his life and football career back in order.  He said he’s willing to play anywhere, whether that’s the NFL, UFL, or CFL, and just wants to prove something to himself and his family.
“What I would tell any NFL team is that I know I have a checkered past and I would just want to let them know what I’m doing to keep myself clean and that I can definitely be trusted,” Bryant said during a recent telephone interview from his home in the Phoenix area. “I know it’s scary territory for a team to delve into and they worry about, ‘What if this guy relapses or he takes a drink again?’  The main thing I would want to let them know is I haven’t had any drinks or done anything involving drugs in a long time.
“I don’t plan on ever going back to that.  I’m not about running around or any kind of mess like that.  For me, it’s all about being a father, getting married and holding it down and doing the right things.  If anybody gives me a chance and lets me get that foot in the door, they won’t be sorry.  I’m a new man, and it feels great to be able to say that.”
Bryant, 28, hasn’t played football in years after appearing in 29 career NFL games and recording 28 career tackles and 1.5 sacks. He was cut by the Cardinals on July 31, 2005 prior to a season where he was due to receive $455,000 base salary.
When he was cut, Bryant said the Cardinals were aware that a one-year drug suspension was coming down from the league office.
“I got bounced out for using liquor, marijuana and other dumb shit, Ecstasy pills,” Bryant said.  “I wasn’t focused.  I wasn’t in the proper frame of mind.  I went through a long down period for two or three years, but I’ve cleaned myself up over the past 11 months and have been working in a program or recovery.
“I went to rehab and I learned so much about myself.  My daughter keeps me humble and grounded.  I’m involved in only positive things now.”
After he was cut by the Cardinals, Bryant said he went into a deep funk.
“I went through a period where I just sat on my couch,” Bryant said.  “There was so much embarrassment at being kicked out of the league.  “I went into a depression and didn’t want to do anything but be holed up in my house.  Drinking and smoking pot became my whole existence.  I was in a bad place and I needed help.”
Bryant said his undoing was the traditionally dangerous combination of too much free time and too much money to spend.
Bryant said he would like to speak at the annual NFL rookie symposium to share his story about a career gone awry.
“I didn’t get into many positive things, I was 22 years old and I had a pocket full of money,” Bryant said.  “I’m my own man and it was all my fault.  I would love to speak to the rookies and let them know that you’re going to have a pocket full of money, a bunch of free time on your hands and you’re hanging around thinking you’re invincible.  The key is to surround yourself with good people and to make good choices.”
Bryant’s first brush with the drug program was in 2003 when a positive drug test for marijuana landed him in Stage One of the substance-abuse program.
“I didn’t learn a lesson from that,” Bryant said.  “I had a bad attitude.  All I had to do was make sure I was clean, but I didn’t look at it like that.  I was like, ‘[Screw] the NFL.’ I had a B.S. mentality.”
Bryant said he began to see a psychiatrist and delved into the cumulative impact of a childhood where his father was rarely around and he was raised by a devoted single mother.
Bryant said that drug and alcohol abuse runs in his father’s side of the family, and that his father is in recovery now.
“He wasn’t around for most of my life, but we have a wonderful relationship now,” Bryant said.  “My mother was always there for me.  She has been my Rock of Gibraltar.”
In March of 2004, Bryant said he was “wilding out,” using marijuana and alcohol when a positive test for alcohol triggered a four-game suspension.  He was arrested and charged with a DUI that summer in Wisconsin near Camp Randall Stadium.
During that summer, Bryant said he began experimenting with the club drug, Ecstasy.  He later followed the team’s recommendation that he enroll in a 30-day drug rehabilitation program.
It didn’t take, though.  Bryant simply wasn’t ready to take responsibility and get clean.
“I didn’t take it seriously,” Bryant said. “I didn’t pay attention to the lessons.  I got hammered the first night out of rehab.  I was basically rebelling like a child.”
After the suspension, Bryant was deactivated for most of the year by the Cardinals.  In May of 2005, Bryant said he tested positive for Ecstasy.
“[Former Commissioner] Paul Tagliabue said enough is enough and he suspended me for the year,” Bryant said.  “The Cardinals found out it was coming down, so they cut me.  I can’t blame them.  I forced their hand.  I only have the man in the mirror to blame for that.”
Following the suspension, Bryant said a few NFL teams contacted him to see if he was interested in playing.  He declined, though, and went back to school at Wisconsin to pursue his degree.
“I just didn’t want to do it anymore, didn’t want to play football,” Bryant said.  “I always loved the game, but, at that point in my life, I didn’t want to deal with the rules.  I ended up in that drug-induced, alcohol-induced depression from 2007 to early 2008.  When my daughter was born, I thought that would be the thing that pulled me of my hell, but it didn’t.”
The death of Bryant’s grandfather was a sobering wakeup call.
“That hit me so hard, and I began to get it together,” Bryant said.  “On June 3, 2008, I checked into rehab. T hat was my clean date.  It took a lot of crap and mental hell, but I’m strong now.  I made the call to the NFL to come and test me and I got myself reinstated last fall with the help of my friend, Jason Fletcher, who used to represent me.”
Bryant is 6’4″, 295 pounds after a previous playing weight of 305 pounds coming out of Wisconsin, where he recorded 24 career sacks, 189 tackles, and 41 tackles for losses for the Badgers.  He’s admittedly rusty, but he says he felt good during his workout for the Bills.
“Now, my body feels like it’s at a point where I can still play very well,” Bryant said.  “Playing football is not something that just goes away just like that.  I’m looking forward to a new opportunity and kicking some butt.  I had a really good tryout with Buffalo.  There’s currently no offer, but I’m hoping for a chance.”
Added Bryant’s agent, Marc Lillibridge: “He had a great workout for the Bills.  They were very impressed.”
Bryant is still involved in litigation with the Cardinals.  They are going after some of his bonus money from his five-year, $7.5 million contract.
“I’m not going to have to file bankruptcy, but I am going to have to start a payment plan,” Bryant said.  “I want to pay the Cardinals back the money because I didn’t give them what they deserved and they allowed me to live a great lifestyle.  A man has to face his mistakes.”
Bryant was picked three selections before the Tennessee Titans selected defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth.
Other notable players such as Jeremy Shockey, Ed Reed, Javon Walker, and Lito Sheppard followed Bryant in the 2002 draft.
Now, Bryant wants to build a new reputation after being a colossal bust in Arizona.
“Whoever gives me a chance, they would get somebody that would give them everything that they’re looking for and provide that energy and hunger and be a person off the field who’s willing to set an example,” Bryant said.  “I don’t shy away from my story, and I would try to stop anyone from going down the road I’ve walked.  In hindsight looking back, I gave away such a great opportunity.
“I still have awesome talent and I just want a chance to prove myself and retrieve what I’m capable of doing.  Not everybody is offered a second chance, but I’m praying for one and I have my fingers crossed that someone will give me a chance.”

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5 Responses to “Former First-Rounder Wendell Bryant Is Hoping For A Second Chance”
  1. Stoogie says: May 5, 2009 9:48 AM

    Good article, Aaron. I hope he gets another chance and makes the most of it.

  2. Norseman says: May 5, 2009 10:37 AM

    Sounds like he finally has his head screwed on straight. I hope he finds a team to give him a shot. Maybe someone should send his story to a certain Mr. Vick.
    Side Note: Why is drug abuse/use always referred to as ‘experimenting’? What? He was running an lab analysis of the electro-chemical properties of certain designer controlled substances, i.e. ‘E’ as opposed to Ranch Dressing? No, he was getting loaded, plain and simple. No need to sugar-coat it.

  3. Pea Tear Griffin says: May 5, 2009 3:30 PM

    Good for him. If he makes it (and live up to previous expectations) he could be the NFL’s Josh Hamilton.
    BTW, that draft (especially the first round) is littered with problem players.

  4. Knuts77 says: May 6, 2009 11:10 AM

    Nice story Aaron, this story needs to be told to every rookie. I am hoping he gets another chance, he has earned it. And I am glad he took responsibility and is paying back some of that signing bonus.

  5. azcads24 says: May 25, 2009 5:50 PM

    Anyone who truely knows Wendell knows that he is a grown man that made some mistakes as a young, newly rich 20 year old boy. Bryant did make some mistakes and made them in the public eye. I agree that for any team he is a chance worth taking. He wants to do right by his family and make them proud again and I don’t think there could be any more motivation then that in the world! Good luck WB.

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