Published April 29, 2010
Miami Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland's "Is your mother a prostitute?" question to receiver Dez Bryant is indefensible. It's a felony worthy of rebuke, probation and financial penalty.
For lack of a better analogy, Ireland crashed his motorcycle without a helmet, making him the front-office version of Ben Roethlisberger. Ireland is one more allegation away from being sent to Principal Goodell's office for extended banishment.
There are people, mostly in the NFLPA, who would like to turn Ireland's crude gaffe into a little bit more -- a litmus test for Roger Goodell, an opportunity for the commish to crack down on a league executive as hard as he does his players. The justification being NFL pre-draft interviews are far more intrusive and personal than what federal laws allow in mainstream industries.
And then there are people, in the NFLPA and the media, who would like to turn Ireland's insensitive error into a discussion of racial unfairness. A white GM asked a black kid an insulting question.
Let's not go there. Let's not turn Jeff Ireland into Don Imus. There's no history that we know of to support it. And there's no reason for us to doubt the sincerity of Ireland's man-to-man apology to Dez Bryant.
Jeff Ireland made a mistake for which he is appropriately embarrassed. Other general managers across the league have learned from Ireland's mistake.
Before I go further, let me repeat: Ireland's question is/was indefensible and wrong.
And let me add that the league should investigate the motivation behind Ireland's query. Was he trying to demean and/or provoke Bryant? Was this some sort of mean-spirited test to see if Bryant could keep his composure when insulted?
If so, Ireland and his boss (Bill Parcells) should be severely fined. Insult-boarding reveals far more about the interrogator than the victim.
Are we clear? OK.
Now, there is good reason for NFL executives to ask prospects personal, intrusive and uncomfortable questions before they ask owners to hand 22-year-old kids millions of dollars.
When you and I graduated from college and interviewed for our first job, in all likelihood the company was going to invest anywhere between $20,000 and $60,000 a year in us. When the average NFL prospect leaves college, his future first employer is going to dump anywhere between $250,000 to $35 million on the player in year one.
Money does not enhance character. It exposes character and befriends immaturity.
Before the draft, NFL executives and owners want to know whether a player is a member of a gang, how the player plans to spend his newfound wealth, how many family members and friends expect to financially benefit from the player's payday.
Answers to those questions can help a general manager and coach assess how a player will adapt to the NFL. Too much pressure from family and friends can impact a player's ability to focus and perform. It can create emotional instability.
Dez Bryant, like a lot of NFL prospects, comes from a dysfunctional family situation -- only Bryant hails from extreme dysfunction. His mother was 15 when she had him. She served time in jail for selling crack cocaine. She used drugs. His father was more than twice his mother's age when he impregnated a child.
This was not when Harry met Sally. It was a crime.
Dez Bryant is a miracle, a talented kid raised by a village that includes Deion Sanders. I mention Sanders, in this instance, as a positive influence. Yes, I'm aware that Sanders' involvement with Bryant played a role in the NCAA suspending Bryant for most of his last season at Oklahoma State. But, given Bryant's story, I have to believe part of Sanders' motivation was well-intentioned and pure.
I can't blame Ireland and other NFL executives for trying to understand the depth of the Dez Bryant miracle.
But that's why the league employs investigators and trained psychiatrists. It is their job to probe and analyze the background of the players.
What was Ireland going to do with the information about Bryant's mom? Was Ireland looking for the girlfriend experience?
I'm hoping that Ireland was just being nosey. Dez Bryant's life is a book waiting to be written, a movie waiting to be filmed. Maybe Ireland and Bryant were in a discussion about Bryant's life and Ireland, in an attempt to understand Bryant's creation, overstepped and asked the un-askable.
Ireland owes the Dolphins, Goodell, the NFLPA and Bryant a full explanation. And we owe Ireland the benefit of doubt ... unless other insult-boarding victims pop up like Tiger Woods groupies.
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