For those wondering, I am an avid Philadelphia Eagles, and I do, in fact, dislike the Dallas Cowboys. Very much. Like, seriously.
So you know that when I write an article regarding a player on a team I don't like whatsoever, I'm really passionate about the issue.
The following article assumes that you, the reader, are familiar with the Dez Bryant "incident" that occurred on July 26, 2010.
If you aren't, please do so before you read this article to make sure that you're informed on the issue at hand, and so that you can come to your own individual conclusion.
Another point of information: when I use the term media throughout this article, I'm referencing exactly that; well, the sports-related media, to be precise.
That means the combined, collected, general sentiments of the major sports news outlets, like ESPN, and the general sentiments of the... well, the general public, i.e. you, the reader.
Because you are a part of the media. Not you, specifically, but you all in general, as whole.
It's wrong to general the feelings of such a large and diverse group of people, but I'm doing it because the thoughts that I disagree with herein I've heard from a wide range of sources, from television reports to message board headlines.
In opening, I admire Dez Bryant for his refusal to carry Roy Williams' pads. I'll get that out of the way right now, so there is no confusion as to where I stand.
Right now, there's three main things being said about the situation, all carrying negative connotations aimed at hurting Dez Bryant's reputation. I'll list them and then address each statement in a half-organized, half-scattered system:
1) “C'mon, just do carry his pads- it’s just good fun.”
2) “Everybody had to go through it” or “It happens on every team in the NFL team.”
3) “It’s disrespectful toward the veterans on the team; rookies need to learn their place on the team. He’ll get his.”
1) This is the least harmful of the statements being thrown out there. It implies that the smart thing to do might have just been to humor Roy and carry his pads. Okay, whatever. It makes sense.
It's what a lot of people would have done. But it wasn't the choice that Dez made because he felt he wasn't on the Cowboys to play games off of the football field, rather on it. Cool, good for him.
2) Just because a so-called tradition exists doesn't mean its a good thing. Remember what your parents always told you? "I don't care what those other kids are doing, I care about what you're doing."
Hopefully, you took this to heart and learned that in your life, you would see people making decisions that you thought to be wrong, and you didn't follow in their footsteps. Why shouldn't the rule apply here?
3) Now. This is the type of vindictive sentiment that really gets me going. I know I'm standing in the minority by saying this, but I disagree with hazing, or any other type of ritual that newcomers are "forced" to do for that matter (not forced exactly, but if a whole team expects something to be accepted by a player without question, than the player is essentially being forced into the situation).
In addition, if more people had felt as strongly as Roy Williams did about Dez’s refusal, wouldn’t we have heard a larger outcry from the players at camp via the media?
Don’t begin to even think for a second that the members of the press wouldn’t have covered this story as extensively as they were able to, given the storied state of the Cowboys' team chemistry (of lack thereof) as of late, the constant hype surrounding America’s team, and the extra, whether real or perceived, pressure of hosting a Super Bowl in Dallas.
Refusing to take part in hazing rituals in which one can actively choose their involvement doesn’t necessarily imply disrespect toward the veterans on the team.
Anyone who thinks it does has essentially been brainwashed by an aging culture that emphasizes age, seniority, intimidation, and "dues earned" rather than equality, togetherness, and most importantly: talent.
1,3) Hazing does absolutely nothing to heighten a team's sense of togetherness. Nothing. Even stupid stuff like carrying a veteran's pads. It does nothing.
No, I didn't play high school football, so I can't speak to what the football team's hazing rituals and corresponding chemistry effects were like when I was there.
The sports teams that I was on, however, didn't have hazing rituals, and these were some of the most friendly, "well-connected", and "friendly" teams I've ever seen. If hazing happened, I didn't take part in it.
Oh, but in high school, didn’t you haze freshman and push them around in the halls, and boo them at pep rallies? No, as a matter of fact, I did not.
Now I didn’t condone the people who did, just as I’m not condoning Roy Williams in this instance; I’m merely stating that Dez Bryant shouldn’t be criticized for refusing to carry someone else’s pads.
Now, if Dez explicitly acts arrogantly and holier-than-thou in the locker room, then he deserves whatever’s coming to him. Said Herm Edwards Monday during a segment of NFL Live: “You know what I would have said? I’d have said, ‘Sure, I’ll hold your pads. But when I take your job, you can carry mine .’”
But if you think Roy would have laughed this off, you’d also be wrong. If this had been the case, if Dez had said this instead of outright refusing to hold Williams' pads, Roy would have almost assuredly said that a rookie didn’t have the right or authority to talk to an established veteran that way.
Okay… so what makes one a veteran? Could, say, Miles Austin talk like that to Roy? Roy’s been in the league longer than Miles has, as well as having more career receptions, receiving yards, and touchdowns than Austin… but wait, hasn’t Austin technically been on the Cowboys themselves for a longer period of time than Roy as has?
See the problem here? There’s multiple levels to this complex relationship between inherent seniority and actions/inactions that imply respect.
And maybe if it’s hard to discern where exactly the line should be drawn in some situations, the line shouldn’t be drawn at all.
But this brings me to the second part of this already long-winded article: the media thrives on reports about so-called "diva" players, specifically wide receivers.
Controversy sells. That might seem like it only applies to the tabloids you might find in the checkout line at your local grocery, but think... which players are frequently found on "most talked about NFL player" lists?
The players that cause the biggest stinks; off the top of my head: Chad Ochocinco, Terrell Owens, Michael Vick, Albert Haynesworth, etc.
And now the media wants to add Dez Bryant to this list. I mean, let's face it, the guy's an easy target, right? He was ruled ineligible to play college football for the majority of the 2009 season, and he fell in this year's draft due to...*gasp* character issues!
As an Eagles fan, I can tell you what happens when the term "diva" gets thrown around on a player that so far doesn't deserve that type of recognition.
Philadelphia wideout DeSean Jackson.
Source after source continually attempts to slander Jackson's reputation and name by labeling him as disgruntled regarding his contract and for being too flashy on the field.
The truth of the matter? DeSean hasn't become a problem whatsoever for the Eagles. Really. The guy is the founder of the DeSean Jackson Foundation for Pancreatic Cancer, and hasn't made more than a peep about his contract situation, despite the fact that he has more than outplayed it thus far.
And trust me, we Eagles fans know problematic wide receivers when we see 'em (as well as Cowboys fans, actually...yeah, T.O., that was directed at you).
Just because a receiver is confident on the field, likes to dance after he scores touchdowns, and carries himself with a swagger doesn't necessarily imply that that player is a diva (or a problem player, or a disgruntled player, or a locker-room cancer, or whatever the heck the media's current "sports buzz phrase of the day regarding controversial players" is).
But that doesn't matter. We, the fans, love stories that these network heads come up with during the summer days of limited football action. They get us talking, they get us excited and agitated. People love controversy.
So... just, please. Give Dez Bryant's actions some empathy before completely writing him off as an arrogant, overgrown teenager who doesn't know his place in the NFL.
I, for one, have to thank him for not being afraid to refuse to carry another player's equipment, and for doing so without using foul language or implying any sort of retaliation like Roy Williams did.
Besides, some might argue that Roy Williams fits the "arrogant, overgrown teenager who doesn't know his place in the NFL" bill much better. More subtlety, sure, but definitely much better.