In 2007 a long list of witnesses told Fort Worth Weekly they’d seen Texas Christian University football player Matty Lindner threaten two Fort Worth men with a gun stuck in his waistband, after an argument outside Fuzzy’s Taco Shop on West Berry Street.
The owner of a nearby bar called police, but when Lindner left, the owner called back and told officers they didn’t need to come. No police report was ever filed, and Lindner declined to comment for the story.
A month ago, Lindner called the Weekly. He was looking for the two men — Gregg Mulholland and Jordan Roberts — to apologize. He said he hadn’t read the Weekly story about that night until 2011 — and was horrified at what it said.
“My father didn’t raise me to be a gun-flashing, gun-toting gang-banger,” he said in that conversation. “When I read that story, I felt like that’s the way I made myself look, and I have to live with that.”
After the incident, Lindner told his coaches it was a cell phone case he had flashed to the two men. This time, he admitted to the Weekly that it had been a gun stuck in his waistband that night six years ago. He was also willing to talk about how drunk and out of control he’d been that night and what has happened to his life and a promising NFL career in the years since then.
He’s been off drugs and alcohol for three years, and he’s turned his life around. And, although he wasn’t looking for news coverage when he called the Weekly, he does want his tale of redemption to be an inspiration to other troubled athletes, to let them know that there is a life beyond football.
Lindner is happily married with two children and works for his family’s business in his hometown of Comfort in the Texas Hill Country. But the road between there and his TCU days ran through some dark places. He’s battled an addiction to pain pills and alcohol, used banned performance-enhancing drugs, saw his NFL dreams dissipate, alienated friends, and hurt people along the way.
In 2004 Lindner, an offensive lineman, received a scholarship to play football at TCU. He moved to Fort Worth during the summer, a month before football practice started, so he could get to know the coaches and get in shape. But what seemed like a good idea turned into an injury that changed his life: He fractured his wrist while lifting weights.
He had to have four surgeries, and by the time his wrist was solid enough to resume working out with the team, he had missed several months of weight training and practice. And he had been introduced to serious pain medications.
After that, “I did what I felt I had to do to make that up,” he said, “and unfortunately that was using steroids. I would have done anything to get to where I needed to be. In all honesty, I didn’t need to do it. I was good enough without it.”
The football team was riding high in those years, and Lindner and his teammates were deified by other students. Plus, coming to a big city from a small town, he went overboard with partying.
“There was a lot of emotion from being away from home,” he said. “I personally drank because of that.”
In his sophomore year, the drinking and partying accelerated. “We’d had a winning season [the previous year], and I felt even more untouchable,” he said, adding that his coaches and teachers didn’t treat him differently from any other student.
Although he was abusing pain medication and steroids, he never failed a drug test.
“We got tested all of the time, but we tried to know when the drug tests were coming,” he said. “We got that information from other students. I want to make it clear that our coaches never condoned that.”
Lindner had a breakout season in 2006, his junior year. He was named to the second team all-Mountain West Athletic Conference, and the Football Writers Association of America put him on the watch list for the 2007 Outland Trophy, honoring the nation’s best interior lineman.
But during TCU’s victory in the Poinsettia Bowl that year, Lindner tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. It meant another surgery. He was devastated, and his use of pain pills accelerated.
“I rode the pity wagon pretty hard after that,” he said. “I took pain pills all of the time” — but not as prescribed. “It said take one pill every six hours; I took 10. At the end of the day I’d consumed 20 to 30 pain pills, and it was like nothing.”
Once again he spent the summer recovering from an injury and again found himself lagging behind his teammates. He wasn’t as strong or as fast as he’d been the previous season.
On one hand, his status as a well-known Division One athlete made him feel on top of the world. On the other, he was angry and bitter about his setbacks and allowed his vices to consume him.
It was in that emotional state that he encountered Mulholland and Roberts outside Fuzzy’s in the wee hours of a July morning.
When two of Lindner’s teammates made lewd comments to the women who were with Mulholland and Roberts, a testosterone- and booze-fueled argument broke out. During the argument, Lindner lifted his shirt to reveal a gun tucked into his waistband and threatened the two men, saying he would “make them bleed.”
Lindner had been drinking at the Aardvark; he’d taken pain pills and the anxiety medication Xanax. He said he doesn’t remember many details about that night, only that he was sticking up for a fellow football player.
“One of the players got into a verbal argument, and I felt like I had to protect him,” he said. “You add drugs and alcohol into the mix, and you’re no longer in your right mind.”
Lindner had a disappointing senior season with TCU and went undrafted by the NFL. He tried out with the Dallas Cowboys, who turned him down. He then tried out for the Kansas City Chiefs and was signed to a $250,000 deal — but the offer was withdrawn the next day.
“The next day I was pulled into the [coach’s] office, and they said they couldn’t accept me,” he recalled. “ ‘Your lifestyle is not becoming,’ is essentially what they told me. I was on pain medicine and other performance-enhancing drugs.”
Lindner took the rejection hard, believing no other NFL team would give him a shot. He gave up on his football dream and moved back to his hometown. He spiraled into depression, and his drug habit got worse.
“I felt like my life was over,” he said. “I know that I had my dream job right there in front of me. I couldn’t be like my dad and stay straight and work hard and not feel sorry for myself.”
Though his rejection by the Chiefs was devastating at the time, Lindner believes it may have saved his life. “If they would have accepted me that way, I feel like I’d be dead now,” he said. “I wouldn’t have met my wife, I wouldn’t have my kids, and I wouldn’t have cleaned up the way I did.”
Ultimately it was his future wife who convinced him to change his life. Lindner checked himself into a rehabilitation facility in 2010 and stayed for 30 days. After getting out, he began attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. He said he’s been clean ever since.
Lindner didn’t reach out to the Weekly to pitch a story. Part of his recovery is making amends to the people he hurt, and Lindner wanted to apologize to Roberts and Mulholland. “If nobody else but those two read [this story], it would mean the world to me,” he said.
Contacted a few days ago, Mulholland said that Lindner has already apologized to him once. He and Roberts were at The Aardvark a few weeks after the incident when Lindner approached, carrying beers.
“I’ll forgive a lot if you buy me a beer,” Mulholland said.
Roberts said he bears no ill will toward Lindner.
“I’m glad he got his life together,” he said. “He seemed like a really nice guy who was just young, dumb, and trying to look like a badass in front of his friends –– basically behaving like every guy since the dawn of time.
“I’m happy to hear he’s doing well,” Roberts said. “I wish him all the best.”
Lindner said he hopes his story will also resonate with other troubled athletes — like maybe current TCU quarterback, Casey Pachall, who was arrested for drunk driving in October 2012 and was suspended from the team.
“I have a [bond] with him, because I know what it is to feel like you’ve messed up so bad you [feel like you] can never recover,” he said. “But you can recover.”
Lindner said his life is now dedicated to his faith and family, and he’s trying to atone for all of the things he did in the throes of addiction.
“I had to accept that I’m an addict,” he said. “I have to live with my past, and I am not happy about it.
“But, from the bottom of my heart, I am sorry.”