There is a new normal for Dez Bryant in Dallas.
After a tumultuous offseason for the embattled yet supremely-talented receiver, Dallas owner Jerry Jones has instituted new rules to ensure Bryant's off-the-field conduct stays above reproach, out of the newspapers and, most importantly, as far away from police headquarters as possible.
Bryant has reportedly agreed to adhere to a midnight curfew, avoid alcohol and strip clubs (or any nightclub not approved by the team) and be accompanied by a rotating corps of team security personnel when he does go out on the town. Bryant will have the security team transport him to practices, games and official team functions, and he must also attend counseling sessions twice a week.
While the off-field rules for Bryant seem rather restrictive for a 23-year-old millionaire with the world at his fingertips, Jones wants to make sure things stay that way as long as Bryant remains in Dallas. The more Bryant is left to his own devices, the more likely it is that the Cowboys will be the ones to suffer.
If this is now the new normal for Bryant, it certainly fits within the new normal of Roger Goodell's NFL. Goodell rules over the NFL with an iron fist, and if the lord decrees a player be suspended for conduct detrimental to his fiefdom, a team has little recourse but to comply. Jones and Bryant having reportedly agreed to these personal conduct rules could be a savvy, preemptive way to avoid the future wrath of Goodell, as well as a smart business decision to ensure the biggest return on a costly investment.
This begs the question of why more NFL players—players in any professional sport, really—shouldn't welcome these new rules as well. The Dez Bryant new normal should be the new normal for every athlete.
Players would certainly complain if the league suddenly banned strippers and alcohol, and the NFL Players Association would be flooded with more than 1,000 grievances if teams tried to institute a league-wide policy that curtailed such indulgences. We talk so much about the newsworthy cases that we often forget most NFL players live rather pedestrian lives off the football field. They shouldn't be punished because a few outliers can't stay out of trouble.
Still, perhaps we should look at this situation a different way. What if, say, my boss told me he would give me a contract that would make me a millionaire in three years, but part of the stipulation was that I had to agree to stay out of strip clubs and stop drinking alcohol? (Note to my bosses: I'm totally cool with that deal.) What if he told me that in addition to becoming a certified millionaire for doing a good job and staying out of trouble, they would provide me a protective detail that would chauffeur me to and from all work functions?
All I had to do was stay out of trouble, stay away from alcohol and strippers and be home by midnight, and I would be a multi-millionaire by the time my contract ends. Oh, and after my contract is up and I feel I have made enough money under these suddenly-restrictive new rules, I am free to leave the job, retire from the field for other opportunities and become a professional pitch man or TV personality.
From there, I can go back to drinking in every strip club on the planet if I please.
That sounds like a pretty easy decision, doesn't it? Sure, being told what do to and where to go by an employer seems unfair, but given the investment the employers put into their product—let's not kid ourselves, the NFL players are the product—it stands to reason that they would want to protect that commodity as best they can.
Professional athletes shouldn't ingest poison anyway. Would a race-car driver pour a bottle of vodka into the gas tank and expect the same results as proper fuel? This is not the 1950s where players would drink and smoke and barely work out and just show up on game days three sheets to the wind from the night before. (Yes, it still happens, but it shouldn't, and it's certainly not getting tacit approval from the teams like it was in previous generations.)
Being a professional athlete is a year-round job. Why would any athlete want to drink anything to make the tank sputter?
The only real restriction in Bryant's list of "cannots" is the stipulation to curtail drinking alcohol. Being banned from strip clubs certainly doesn't mean Bryant can no longer have sex. It doesn't even suggest that he can't hire strippers for private parties (though I would assume boat rides are frowned upon in the NFL offices), and the midnight curfew can be relaxed if he has a good reason to be out late. Plus, the rides to events and practices would be awesome for any player.
This is not that much of a hardship for Bryant—or any player in the NFL—to endure for a few years.
The average length of an NFL career is between three and seven years, depending on whether you believe statistics from the Players Association or the league office. Suggesting that players stay out of trouble and away from alcohol for their entire career isn't even that much to ask given the percentage of their lives they play in the NFL. If an NFL player lives to age 70 and plays five years in the league, these restrictions would suggest that player refrain from imbibing for less 10 percent of his adult life.
Again, if an employer told you that they would make you a millionaire if you worked hard and promised to stop drinking for 10 percent of your adult life, who on the planet would say no?
The million-dollar payoff isn't just based on staying dry, as players have to work hard and be talented enough to stay in the league. That said, even practice squad players in the NFL make nearly $100,000 a season. Rookies make upwards of $390,000 their first year, with players on injured reserve making close to a quarter-million bucks for standing on the sidelines in track suits. If the average length of an NFL contract is just three years, there is a good chance those players are still clearing close to a million bucks by the time they are out of the league.
That sure would buy a heck of a lot of of Ciroc after they retire. In fact, one year at the rookie wage scale (before taxes) would buy 12,791 bottles of Ciroc. Those are French grapes, people, and the top NFL rookies can buy nearly 13,000 bottles of the stuff in just their first year to store and enjoy after retirement! That's 9,593 liters—nearly 2,500 gallons—of top-shelf liquor. One dry year in the league and someone can drink forever.
(Please don't make me do the equivalent math on lap dances.)
It seems so simple. Yes, athletes are entitled to unwind and relax after games or during bye weeks or, especially, in the offseason. No, athletes are not machines. However, contractually obligating professional athletes to stay away from life's ills that they should be staying away from anyway seems to be a prudent protective measure for the athletes and the teams they play for.
Everyone in the NFL should be part of the new normal.