Professional athletes and sports writers have always had a tense relationship. Which is how it should be. It’s our job to report on the athletes’ shortcomings as well as their heroics. No one personifies this duality more than Dez Bryant. Unless it’s his Dallas Cowboys teammate, Greg Hardy.
Dez during the past two weeks has been at his dizzying worst. After making a rather lame return from a knee injury, catching just two passes in a close loss to Philadelphia, the Cowboys’ Pro Bowl receiver was in no mood to talk to reporters. He shouted at them to “get out of here,” which they quite properly refused to do.
OK, Dez. No problem. You have every right not to speak. Your words can and will be used against you. It’s not like you were the essence of the story.
But after an uneventful Thursday practice, Bryant made himself the story, going into a rant in front of the media working the locker room in the designated period that follows the workout. Bryant proceeded to argue with individual journalists when not shouting at the entire group. He accused a long-time Cowboys beat reporter, Jean-Jacques Taylor, of calling him the N-word.
Metroplex media scoffed at that accusation, as Taylor is African-American. But some who cover the team say you can’t assume a black person would never use the N-word. Whether or not they should (and frankly, I wish they would not), some black people call each other “nigger.” Which is hardly the same thing as white people calling them that.
Is it possible Taylor may have muttered something under his breath that Dez heard and others did not?
When the media throng did not flee from his invective, Dez called out to the team’s PR director to “fix this.”
The situation was fixed by veteran tight end Jason Witten and then coach Jason Garrett speaking softly but emphatically to Bryant and the player receiving further counseling in the coach’s office.
You had to give the Cowboys credit for defusing a potential explosion. I’ve been in scenes like this one where the publicity staff sided with the misbehaving players rather than reprimand them.
There have been days in the past when Bryant would erupt at mediafolk during the week and then play one of his greatest games. He’d fake a cornerback into the bench or streak past him, then outjump the safety and outfight him for the ball. He would bring the team a succession of first downs and an inevitable touchdown or two.
But Sunday in Tampa was not one of those days. He appeared distracted, unfocused.
Early in the third quarter he dropped a pass on 2nd-and-10 near midfield. You forgive him, because it’s not yet crunch time in a close game. But with the Cowboys clinging to playoff contention and a 6-3 lead. 5 minutes left in the fourth quarter, you count on your best receiver to catch what’s catchable and fight hard for what’s not.
Instead, Bryant dropped a third-down pass that would have been a first down.
“Should have had that,” he admitted, quite gallantly, after the game.
Following that drop, the Buccaneers drove 56 yards on 9 plays to lead 10-6 with 54 seconds left.
One more chance for Dez. Matt Cassel lofted a pass from the Tampa 45 to the end zone, where Bryant was escorted by safety Bradley McDougald, who slightly bumped him in the back as he twisted toward the ball. Bryant was so certain of the penalty that he did nothing to prevent McDougald from securing an interception.
Alas, there was no flag.
“I know the ref saw it and know he’s going to call it, but he didn’t,” Bryant, being at his most charming, told the media. “I was too busy worrying about a call.”
Right. He counted on the ref to do his job instead of making a play himself. “I’m supposed to fight through situations like that,” he admitted. “I didn’t because I was expecting something, and that’s on me.”
Garrett agreed: “You can’t let them intercept it.”
Whatever his failures on the field, Bryant on Sunday behaved perfectly on the sidelines and in his media conference afterward.
But there was Hardy on the sideline, jawing with fellow defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence. They refused to disclose to media what the dispute was about. Another Dallas defensive end, Jeremy Mincey, said, “That’s just brotherly camaraderie, that’s all.”
Other observers saw it as something else, and anything but a positive development. Hardy is playing after being suspended four games for assaulting and bruising his former girlfriend while he was with the Carolina Panthers.
Before Bryant joined the Cowboys five years ago as their first-round draft pick, he had a record of unsavory behavior. Since joining the team he’s had to contend with a police report of his mother claiming he hit her.
But ever-active owner Jerry Jones remembers when his team passed on drafting another talented, yet troubled, receiver, Randy Moss, who became an All-Pro his first year for the Minnesota Vikings.
Since then, Jones has never let off-the-field issues influence his personnel decisions.
The result is you get players who are emotionally unstable. So you don’t know what you will get with the season on the line.
The Cowboys are 2-7 and done, just as they’re about to get their No. 1 quarterback out of sick bay. It’s too late.
Time to think about next year.
Fox announcer Terry Bradshaw, the Hall of Fame quarterback, had this take on it: “If there is one thing I would change in Dallas, it’s that they need a head coach that people fear a little bit. Someone they are scared of getting on the wrong side of.”
Some are saying that if Bill Parcells were still coaching the Cowboys, he would straighten out Bryant and Hardy. He’d keep them from being a media distraction.
I don’t think so. Parcells would never have allowed them on the team in the first place.