The Athletic: Randy Gregory’s road to redemption - Addiction, divorce and all that the Cowboys hope he can overcome

Iamtdg

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Dan Pompei 3h ago 35

The player the Cowboys are most excited about has been suspended for 52 of 96 games since he’s been in the league.

He has failed about 100 NFL drug tests, by his best estimate.

He has spent more than 12 months in seven in-patient rehab clinics over the past four years. He also has been treated at three outpatient clinics.

His irresponsibility led to a divorce and alienation from his children.

There was a period when he lived in his car.

But one thing about Randy Gregory — he’s always had a knack to turn the corner.

The worst fear was Gregory would end up like former NBA player Delonte West: homeless and lost, sharing a secluded area of a downtown street with things with long tails and pointy faces.

The thought kept his ex-wife from sleeping.

He came close to West’s lifestyle for about a week in 2019. Gregory was between places to live and burdened by bills he couldn’t pay, divorce proceedings, custody quarrels, rehab and another NFL suspension. Help was a phone call away, but it was a call he would not make. “I didn’t want anyone to know how bad I was struggling,” he says. So he slept in his black 2014 Maserati Quattroporte with black powder-coated rims.

No one who ever rose to their feet at Nebraska’s Memorial Stadium after one of his big plays would have believed it. He led the Big Ten in sacks in 2013 and was voted an All-American in 2014 even though he was injured for much of the season. It was a given that Gregory would be chosen in the top five picks of the draft.

But then a drug test taken at the NFL Scouting Combine turned up positive for marijuana. Teams started digging deep.

Gregory moved six times during his childhood. He was often trying to fit in with new peers, and often the peers didn’t look like him. He was a victim of bullying, once by a punk half his size. Gregory turned that corner when he decided to fight back, dropping the bully with a single punch, then picking him up and body-slamming him.

When Randy was in his early teens, he cried a lot. His parents suspected he was depressed and sent him for psychological testing. Gregory lied his way through the tests, and the doctors said he was fine. A decade later, he still would be taking the same kinds of tests.

Alcohol never had much appeal to Gregory, but by the time he was 15 or 16, he was taking DMT, acid and mushrooms. He discovered marijuana when he was a senior in high school. He kept smoking through college and failed a couple of drug tests at Nebraska.

When Gregory was in college, his father saw an interview with him that concerned him. “You could tell he didn’t trust the camera, didn’t trust the interviewer,” Ken Gregory says. “He had always been such a good interview that it was kind of shocking. That’s when I first recognized he had discomfort publicly.”

Randy was beginning to show signs of social anxiety, a condition that would worsen.

He would make a friend but then avoid a social situation. He would plan to eat at a restaurant, but upon arriving he would stand at the entrance, nervously looking at the layout of the tables and the number of people. “We would have to leave or I would get a panic attack,” he says. Within the realm of football, he was an uneasy teammate. When he walked into the locker room, he would assess the fastest way to get to his locker while encountering the fewest number of teammates.

The more anxious he became, the more he wanted to self-medicate. “Weed wasn’t the problem,” Gregory says. “It was the solution to my problems, which was another problem in itself.”

Fifty-nine players — including eight edge rushers — were chosen ahead of him in the 2015 NFL Draft. When then-coach Jason Garrett called to tell him he was a Cowboy, he was the last player in the green room.

The Cowboys assigned him an accountability partner shortly after. The partner lived with Gregory, made sure he kept appointments, drove him where he needed to be and paid his bills. Over four years, five accountability partners lived with him, and later with him and his wife and child. It became clear the accountability partners weren’t accomplishing what they were intended to, so eventually the Cowboys let Gregory run.

Marijuana made him feel at ease and always was his first drug of choice. But with the Cowboys, his world expanded.

Gregory says he started dabbling in party drugs — cocaine and ecstasy. However, when he took party drugs, he usually took them at a party of one, in his home.

Every time he failed a drug test, he says, it was for marijuana. His first suspension, for four games, came in his second year in the league. Before he could come back, he was hit with an additional 10-game suspension. He played two games before being suspended for the entire 2017 season. He returned for the 2018 season, but then the following February was hit with an indefinite suspension, with which he missed 22 games.

Everything was a struggle for most of the first four years of Gregory’s NFL career. And all of it, from the way he saw it then, was someone else’s fault.

“He got to a point,” his ex-wife, Nancy Koryga, says, “where he didn’t care about anything.”

It was unsurprising, then, that he did not like himself very much.

“I was talking to myself, calling myself every name in the book, telling myself I amounted to nothing,” Gregory says. “It was all day, every day, to the point there was no chance I was going to be doing anything in my life. During those times when I was like that, if I smoked, the negative talk would go away. I would relax, calm down.”

The skunky, piney stink of weed has followed Gregory.

These days, though, you might notice a hint of the minty, musky smell of sage around him.

Or the fresh, clean, floral aroma of Open Roads incense.

It might be the pungent, crispy-cool smell of wintergreen chewing tobacco. He likes Copenhagen long cut.

Or you could get a whiff of the sweet, rich smell of Black & Milds.

Mostly, though, there is the stale, heavy stench of Marlboro 27s.

Whenever Gregory checked into a rehab center, they took everything from him — Turn your pockets inside out, please — and offered a pack of cigarettes. Counselors typically gave their patients a smoke break every 30 minutes. So while he was becoming less dependent on weed, he was becoming addicted to nicotine. The Marlboros scratch the itch best, but Black & Milds will do. When he’s at The Star, he can’t smoke, so he’ll dip some Copenhagen. It’s so strong, it makes his jaw sore.

He is down to a pack of cigs a day from a pack-and-a-half. Gregory hopes to stop smoking entirely.

Sobriety isn’t always wholly refined or the way we picture it.

He lights up.

“Everybody hates it in my family,” he says. “It’s probably my worst vice, worse than anything I’ve ever done — the absolute worst. And it’s hard to kick.”

It is, without question, the poison to pick for him now.

Gregory walks around his house with a stick of sage. Smudging, or burning sage, is an ancient ritual that Native Americans believed cleared negative energy. “I try to keep some good juju around me,” he says.

It is easier to do now that his ex-wife is back under his roof. Koryga is, as he sees it, “in touch with the universe,” and her spirituality is motivating to him. She plays guided meditations from Spotify and they burn incense. They do breathing exercises and recite affirmations.

I am motivated. I am dedicated. I am empowered. I am abundant. And I am grateful. I release control, and I trust the divine in me. I am a child of the universe. I understand now that life is not happening to me, life is responding to me.

Even while they sleep, Koryga plays affirmations that speak to the subconscious.

On “manifest Mondays,” Gregory, Koryga and their 4-year-old daughter, Sophia, talk about their goals and meditate on how they can make them realities.

“I definitely believe in manifesting, and putting it out there drives yourself to do the right thing so all your actions go accordingly with that goal,” Gregory says. “A lot of people think it sounds crazy, but the more we talk about some of the things we want as a family, the more we keep getting blessed.”

Early rehab efforts had no chance with Gregory because they were forced. It wasn’t until manifestation opened his mind and changed his heart that he had an opportunity to turn a corner.

Therapy happens in white-walled, linoleum-floored clinics. It happens in offices with diplomas on the wall and plastic fig trees beside firm-cushioned couches.

But it also can happen in unexpected places: in the executive suite of the most valuable sports franchise in the world, in a coffee shop that plays yoga music, or in a dimly lit, deep-voiced restaurant with tuxedoed maitre d’s.

For Gregory, it has happened everywhere.

Even on a video call with a storyteller. “When I have low self-esteem, low confidence, low ambition and a fucked-up mindset off the field, it trickles down onto the field,” he says. “And I think it did.”

Formal therapy happens twice a week with Dina Hijazi, a Dallas psychologist who takes a holistic approach to anxiety. Gregory also meets with a group twice a month.

Gregory has been seeing Hijazi for more than three years. Hijazi helped Gregory understand himself by connecting the dots between social anxiety and dependency. “She gets me,” Gregory says. “She can pull back the layers that a lot of people in the past really couldn’t.”

Hijazi gives Gregory back pats when warranted. He needs that. For a long time, he had a hard time forgiving himself for hurting himself and others. With Hijazi’s help, he’s learned to accept what he’s done and tell himself he’s going to do better.

Gregory saw clinicians in the past who were appointed by the NFL. Hijazi is not in the NFL’s network of psychologists.

“There’s something about knowing I have an extra layer of protection from an unbiased clinician when it comes to my mental health,” he says.

Gregory also has benefited from unofficial therapy from others, including his agent, Peter Schaffer, with whom he speaks almost daily. Schaffer, who has been representing athletes for 33 years, helped Gregory develop strategies after making mistakes.

As a child, Gregory believed his father was perfect. He used to say, “My daddy don’t boo-boo,” meaning his father did no wrong. But when Gregory held himself to the standard he thought his father was setting, he was crushed by his failures. What he has realized in recent years is Daddy does boo-boo, like everyone else. He has seen his father make mistakes, and more importantly, he has seen him overcome them.

And if his father could do it, so could he.

“That’s a trait I didn’t have coming into the league, that I struggled with,” he says.

Randy calls his dad his best friend and biggest fan. He says he is becoming more like Ken, who played outside linebacker at Northwestern and flew submarine hunters in the Navy for seven years before becoming an entrepreneur. It’s one of the best compliments he can give himself.

“You have to recognize this,” Ken tells him. “Tomorrow is a chance for redemption.”

Whereas Ken can be an arm-around-the-shoulder kind of dad, his mother, Mary, sometimes takes the shake-you-by-the-shoulders approach. And that has served a purpose too.

“Sometimes I try to inspire people and help them see where they can be,” Ken says. “My wife will tell you where you need to be. She is brutally honest.”
 

Cowboysrock55

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And by the way, fuck the NFL for this. Gregory clearly has mental health issues and all they saw was MARIJUANA BAD. They should be ashamed of themselves.
Guy has bad anxiety, you know what helps with this? That the USA and the NFL has been trying to prevent him from doing? Smoking pot.
 

ravidubey

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I will say, it will become evident, very soon, if he can handle the pressure of starting.
True. He appeared fine last year, but yeah, probably a mistake projecting or assuming anything beyond what we’ve already seen.

I’m glad he seems to have found a system that works for regular life though.
 

Simpleton

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He was really good last year in the half a season or so that he played, generally speaking I'm not worried about his availability with the weed stuff not a concern anymore, but I think this year he'll be even more on the straight and narrow given that it might be his last chance to cash in.

I'd look to re-sign him either way (even right now if it comes at a discount) but it'd have to be short-term (roughly 3 years) and structured to where we could get out of it relatively easily.
 

Cowboysrock55

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He was really good last year in the half a season or so that he played, generally speaking I'm not worried about his availability with the weed stuff not a concern anymore, but I think this year he'll be even more on the straight and narrow given that it might be his last chance to cash in.

I'd look to re-sign him either way (even right now if it comes at a discount) but it'd have to be short-term (roughly 3 years) and structured to where we could get out of it relatively easily.
Yeah there is a part of me that thinks he could sniff double digit sacks this year. With that being the case I'm with you on a new contract now. If you wait until after the guy does something like that the price is going to go way up. Seems like the Cowboys are always late with these contracts and then next offseason he isn't affordable anymore. And of course the guys we do get done contracts on early are the Ezekiel Elliotts and Jaylon Smiths of the world who I would have never done early and now are stuck overpaying.
 

Shiningstar

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He was really good last year in the half a season or so that he played, generally speaking I'm not worried about his availability with the weed stuff not a concern anymore, but I think this year he'll be even more on the straight and narrow given that it might be his last chance to cash in.

I'd look to re-sign him either way (even right now if it comes at a discount) but it'd have to be short-term (roughly 3 years) and structured to where we could get out of it relatively easily.

this is fair, and agreeable

however hes not someone to get excited over anymore. sad to say. he could have had a good career
 

p1_

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Yeah there is a part of me that thinks he could sniff double digit sacks this year. With that being the case I'm with you on a new contract now. If you wait until after the guy does something like that the price is going to go way up. Seems like the Cowboys are always late with these contracts and then next offseason he isn't affordable anymore. And of course the guys we do get done contracts on early are the Ezekiel Elliotts and Jaylon Smiths of the world who I would have never done early and now are stuck overpaying.
You left off the most egregious of the early contracts. One guess
 

1bigfan13

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And by the way, fuck the NFL for this. Gregory clearly has mental health issues and all they saw was MARIJUANA BAD. They should be ashamed of themselves.
I thought the same thing. And you could argue that the NFL's stance pretty much forced him into taking up a far worse vice, cigarettes.
 

Genghis Khan

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I thought the same thing. And you could argue that the NFL's stance pretty much forced him into taking up a far worse vice, cigarettes.

YES.

Marijuana, with no known fatal health ramifications? SUSPEND THIS DEVIL.

Cigarettes, which make you 5 to 10 times more likely to develop lung cancer? Glad you got your life in order, Randy.

What twisted logic.
 

p1_

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YES.

Marijuana, with no known fatal health ramifications? SUSPEND THIS DEVIL.

Cigarettes, which make you 5 to 10 times more likely to develop lung cancer? Glad you got your life in order, Randy.

What twisted logic.
the same attitude prevails toward alcohol, which is so much worse.
 

NoDak

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Marijuana and tobacco have very similar carcinogens. It's smoke is not a safe alternative to cigarettes.

Sorry.



And for the record, I am in total agreement that the league's stance on weed is retarded.
 

p1_

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Marijuana and tobacco have very similar carcinogens. It's smoke is not a safe alternative to cigarettes.

Sorry.



And for the record, I am in total agreement that the league's stance on weed is retarded.
theres the small matter of nicotine with the cigarette.
 
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