Randy Gregory and The Lingering Stigma of Mental Health

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Sports Illustrated NFL columnist Peter King chose his words poorly when assessing Nebraska defensive end Randy Gregory in today’s “Monday Morning Quarterback.”

Gregory, without question, was a top-10 value on talent alone. But he tumbled down so many draft boards because of his character flaws.

King since walked back the words “character flaws” when assessing Randy Gregory’s struggle with anxiety, depression and marijuana use, but there’s a larger point here being missed.

The following isn’t about Peter King — others do a much more thorough job of taking King to task than I ever could. Rather, King opens a window for discussion about something much more important than his poor word choice.

King may take back “character flaws,” but the largely point is made clear with some far more egregious and damning language invoked to evaluate Randy Gregory:

Pick 60, Dallas: Randy Gregory, defensive end/outside linebacker, Nebraska. My first thought after this pick: Rod Marinelli’s going to have Greg Hardy and Randy Gregory in his defensive team meeting room. Hope he’s ready.

In the above passage, King implicitly equates Randy Gregory’s emotional challenges and marijuana use with Greg Hardy throwing a woman he physically assaulted onto a couch covered in guns. If only the NFL had a track record of policing domestic violence as harshly as it does marijuana use. When it comes to marijuana — which, as Mike Tunison points out in the above-linked KSK column, might help Gregory with his anxiety — the NFL is about as hard-line as the producers of Reefer Madness.

The league’s well-documented stance against pot caused some serious hand-wringing in the build-up to last weekend’s draft, as NFL pundits opined that both Randy Gregory and Shane Ray severely damaged their stock.

Ray was selected in the first round after the Denver Broncos actually traded up to select him. Gregory plummeted. Both were contrite when addressing their respective situations: Gregory’s a failed test at the combine, Ray a low-level misdemeanor paper arrest.

So if marijuana wasn’t actually behind Randy Gregory’s slide, what was? Well, an NFL.com report, rife with anonymous sourcing, points to Gregory’s anxiety without doing so explicitly.

At least three general managers view him as a top-five talent. But according to more than a dozen coaches, scouts, personnel chiefs and GMs, there is concern about Gregory’s ability to handle the mental rigors of professional football. And just how far he drops in this week’s draft will likely hinge on the individual psychological profiles (and the results of related testing) put together by each team, according to multiple veteran evaluators. He has been taken off a several team’s draft boards, according to multiple sources.

Jay Glazer also jumped in the fray with a vague warning of “other issues,” as he told Dan Patrick. What those issues are, he didn’t say.

NFL franchises are worthy hundreds of millions of dollars, if not more. Thus, with so much at stake, it stands to reason front offices would be diligent about investing in a player. And yet, Randy Gregory having “the ability to handle the mental rigors of professional football” seems to be weighed a lot more heavily than arrests.

Anxiety and depression are seen as a greater stigma than violence. This isn’t just an NFL problem, either. Common mental health issues like anxiety and depression are seen as weaknesses — or, in other words, character flaws. Perhaps Peter King wasn’t so wrong in his word choice in that it accurately conveyed how these issues are perceived.

It’s easy to dismiss a Randy Gregory. He’s just another faceless, replaceable automaton who puts on pads every Saturday or Sunday for our amusement, wearing a helmet that conceals his face.

Underneath the helmet, however, is a real person with real struggles that millions tackle every day.

  • TideRolls16

    Mental issues are serious and SHOULD be considered by teams.  
    Never forget Jovan Belcher – killed his girlfriend and himself – Chiefs sued for wrongful death because they allegedly knew of his mental issues.

    Another issue you are wrong on:  Peter King did not equate Hardy’s and Gregory’s issues.  He was pointing out that the two both had serious issues that have to be monitored.  The Cowboys had better be ready.

    Now equating Gregory’s depression and anxiety to character flaws was wrong – PK admitted that and changed his column

  • kensing45

    TideRolls16 Sure, teams need to be aware of these things. I completely understand and support that. I’m not against that, but I am against anonymous sources leaking that information out about a player to outlets who’ll run with it without critical analysis. Furthermore, immediately going to the extreme of Jovan Belcher murdering his girlfriend and committing suicide  proves my point: there’s a stigma with depression/anxiety that, despite millions of people in this country suffering from it daily and doing no harm to themselves or others, they don’t admit it because they fear being labeled as a danger. 
    “He was pointing out that the two both had serious issues that have to be monitored.” –> That’s pretty much the definition of equating, by putting two unrelated things on the same footing. Maybe that wasn’t the intent — much like using “character flaws” before it was changed was not necessarily the intent — but that’s the end result. It reads as: Randy Gregory has anxiety, therefore is as much of a handful as someone who was convicted of assaulting and threatening a woman. 

    And that goes along with the entire point: depression and anxiety impact millions of people, and many are scared to seek help because they’ve been taught to believe that it’s a weakness; that depression/anxiety mean they’re crazy or an immediate danger to others or themselves. It’s a whole lot more complex than that, and someone with a public presence like Randy Gregory admitting he battles it might give strength to some football fan out there battling it. 

    Appreciate the feedback.