Forget about the calls to boycott Arizona for its ridiculous "racial profiling is cool" anti-immigration law. If black folks need our own agenda, boycotting the Miami Dolphins should rank high on our to-do list.
Maybe you heard by now that Dez Bryant, a wide receiver from Oklahoma State and the first-round pick of the Dallas Cowboys in last month's NFL draft, has had a checkered past. Specifically, the rap on the brother is that he's immature, irresponsible and a liar who was suspended by the NCAA for concealing his friendship with former all-pro cornerback Deion "Prime Time" Sanders.
So the word was out when Bryant made the rounds of various teams for meet and greets prior to the draft. Dolphins General Manager Jeff Ireland, the hand-picked protégé of legendary coach Bill Parcells, didn't mince words while questioning Bryant about his troubled family life. Ireland asked Bryant: "Was your mother a prostitute?"
Ireland's crude line of questioning outraged many current and former players such as lineman Kyle Turley who said, "I don't care who you are or who you're talking to—that kind of question usually gets your [expletive] teeth kicked in. I mean, where do these people come from? That's just [expletive] classless and totally unprofessional."
Matt Millen, a football analyst for ESPN and the former president of the wretched Detroit Lions, shrugged off Ireland's remarks, saying that in a NFL rookie interview, "there are no questions that are out of bounds."
Millen added, "We're making a big deal out of something that's probably not that big a deal." Millen said he may have asked a similar question when he was interviewing draft prospects. Maybe he should have asked Charles Rogers, a busted first-round pick by Millen who says he smoked marijuana every day, if he was a stoner.
The NFL thinks of itself as a law unto itself and regularly engages in hiring practices that would never fly in the human resources office of any Fortune 500 company. Prior to the draft, the NFL holds a rookie combine where young men run, jump, lift weights and walk around in their underwear while scouts and personnel staff check their speed, strength and muscle tone like a Virginia slave auction.
The league also administers an I.Q. test called the Wonderlic and, though the results are supposed to be private, scores find their way into the columns of sportswriters and football blogs. Tennessee Titans quarterback Vince Young and Baltimore Ravens tackle Michael Oher, the subject of the Academy Award-winning film, The Blind Side, both saw their draft stock tumble due to fears their low scores indicated low intelligence.
Ireland: Hi Bill, we've got Dez Bryant coming in for an interview today.
Parcells: He's the kid who lied about knowing Deion Sanders and his mom got busted for selling crack, right?
Ireland: Yep, that's him.
Parcells: Ask him if his mom is a prostitute. See how he reacts.
Ireland: Will do.
Parcells: Here's a mouthpiece. Just to be on the safe side.
Maybe that's speculative, but no more than the sports establishment that has come to Ireland's defense. Jim Trotter of Sports Illustrated reports that two unnamed sources "familiar with the situation" said Ireland asked Bryant what his father did for a living and he responded, "My dad was a pimp." Then Ireland followed up with, "What did your mom do for a living?" Bryant responded, "She worked for my dad." Then Ireland logically asked, "Your mom was a prostitute?" with Bryant answering, "No, she wasn't a prostitute."
Get it? According to this version of events, Ireland only asked the question after Bryant opens the door with the admission his dad was a pimp. The question stops being inappropriate and entirely reasonable. Problem is, the two sources Trotter puts so much faith in, weren't there in the room, and Bryant has flatly denied he said his father was a pimp. "I got mad—really mad—but I didn't show it," Bryant said.
Angela Bryant acknowledges her criminal past, saying, "When they couldn't find enough dirt on him, they went to that. It was almost like a scheme. They should never have put that kind of thing or question on him. Whatever reason they chose to do that, they are talking about my charges of 12 years ago and running with it. I'm not OK with it. But we are both going to be OK.''
NFL teams spend thousands of dollars and hours looking into the backgrounds of their future employers before inking them to million-dollar contracts and feel no reluctance about asking questions that would be considered illegal in a civilian hiring situation. Michael Silver of Yahoo! Sports, who broke the Bryant story, says other top draft prospects have been asked over-the-top questions such as, "Do you play in a G-string or jock strap?" Myron Rolle, a Rhodes Scholar who passed on his senior season at Florida State, had to answer what it felt like to desert his team.
Maybe it can be justified as smart business to see how a kid handles a totally loopy question before he signs his name to a fat contract. There are always shady characters hanging around pro athletes looking to hop on the gravy train. Yet, who would respond well to being asked, "Is your mommy a prostitute?" If anything Bryant should be admired for not going upside Ireland's head. Even if his mother were a prostitute, what business would that be of the Dolphins? Are they hiring the player or his mother?
Rationalizations aside, Jerry Jones and the Dallas Cowboys apparently didn't have the same reservations as Ireland and Parcells. Bryant isn't the first kid to come from a lousy home to go on to become both a good player and public citizen. His margin of error is smaller, and the spotlight on him is hotter because a callous paper-pusher decided it might be fun to play the dozens. Bryant deserves from fans of the NFL something he didn't get from the Dolphins; the benefit of the doubt.
Jeff Winbush is a freelance writer and former editor of The Columbus Post.