Randy Gregory has simple advice on the issue of mental health: 'Speak up'

GREGORY: In this July 2021 file photo, Dallas Cowboys defensive end Randy Gregory takes the field for training camp at River Ridge Complex in Oxnard, Calif. Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images/Tribune News Service

OXNARD, Calif. — Seldom does a pro athlete owe his team more than anything beyond what the contract states. And then there is Randy Gregory.

You can combine every player in the NHL, MLB, NFL, MLS and NBA and you won't find a team that has done more for a person who has produced so little in return for them than what the Dallas Cowboys have done for Gregory.

He is 28, first joined the NFL in 2015, and has started one game. He still has more season-long NFL suspensions than he has NFL starts.

"I'm the vet now," Gregory said Wednesday after the Cowboys' final real practice in Oxnard. "It's weird."

He's right. That is weird.

The root of the suspensions have to do with a substance that is no longer banned by the NFL (weed), but that's not only issue. We are also talking about depression, and anxiety.

If you spend 10 minutes with him you'd understand why Jerry Jones, Stephen Jones, Charlotte Jones and everybody with the Cowboys just keeps trying to make this work.

You want to believe this will work, and we should, but Randy Gregory is in a trust-but-verify state.

He is an ideal player to speak on the increasingly visible issue of mental health awareness, provided he remains issue-free.

Provided he remains where he is now when it's the middle of the season, and the job gets hard.

"Speak up," he said when I asked him what advice he would give to a young athlete who is going through some things. "That's probably the most simple answer I can give you from my own experience. I just was never the best at speaking up and asking for help, and probably didn't want to receive it, if I am being honest."

His honesty is so candid, raw and genuine it's endearing.

"Now it's a little bit different if you speak up and tell people what you really need and take a very honest and genuine approach to your needs you can get a lot of stuff figured out. At least at this level there is a lot of stuff being demanded of you day in and day out, and a lot of times we are seeing it more people are talking about it.

"A lot of times in the past the mental health aspect of it was kind of pushed off to the side and all of this other stuff building up and you kind of crack," he said. "Speaking up and getting in front of it when you can, and taking a serious approach to it."

With the likes of tennis star Naomi Osaka and gymnast Simone Biles bringing more light to mental health awareness in sports, there is an increased acceptance to acknowledging that not everything is perfect all the time.

Football is not a sport, however, that tolerates anything that is remotely perceived as a weakness, or an excuse. Football is a sport whose traditions include scolding players who needed water breaks.

Things change, and veteran NFL coaches are accepting that this is something they have to acknowledge. Doesn't mean they like it.

If Randy Gregory just remains an average player for five more NFL seasons and goes on to enjoy a peaceful life, Jerry should feel good about the commitment to his "ugly baby."

The Cowboys did this with Gregory because they think he has the talent to be more than average. (He does.)

He's going to be a starter, and coach Mike McCarthy and defensive coordinator Dan Quinn have given Gregory more responsibility.

"I've never been the biggest follower, but I would never consider myself a leader and so now stepping in that role I'm trying to find the best way to lead the way I know I can," Gregory said. "Definitely speaking up more in instances, but in the past I probably wouldn't have."

Randy Gregory is in a place where he can be a good NFL player, and a spokesman to speak on mental health in sports.

Now he just needs to make it work.