Anybody who reads my column on a regular basis knows that I am far from a fence-sitter. I typically have a strong opinion and support that stance as fervently as I can. That's what makes the incident involving Dez Bryant and Roy Williams so hard.
Part of me really loves what Bryant did as it relates to his competition with Williams, who has been a huge disappointment in Dallas. But another part of me, and probably a larger part of me, realizes what Bryant did was wrong. Either way, Bryant's refusal to carry Williams' pads after practice won't make a difference between winning and losing games.
Here are my dual takes on a long-standing tradition that Bryant supposedly didn't know anything about.
Bryant is competing with Williams for both a starting position and playing time. He knows it. Williams knows it. As such, his refusal to carry the veteran's pads was just another indication to Williams that his job is on the line, and Bryant clearly thinks they are on equal footing as they battle for the spot opposite Miles Austin.
That's what makes this situation so unique. These guys are literally competing with one another. That is extremely rare in the world of NFL rookie hazing.
Usually the high rookie draft pick plays, say, left tackle and he has to carry the pads and helmet of the 12-year veteran center. Or maybe the gear of the three-time Pro Bowl right guard. Very rarely are the two playing the same position and going toe to toe like Williams and Bryant are. That's what makes this so unusual.
That's also why I love what Bryant did. He is already getting into Williams' head with his on-field performance. His refusal is just a little additional psychological warfare towards a player who clearly has confidence issues.
Bryant made it plainly obvious he is here to play football and is serious about making significant contributions as a rookie. I really admire his moxie and his guts, because it is extremely rare for a first-year player just getting his feet wet to say no or decline anything he is told by an established vet like Williams.
Rookies have done nothing in pro football. It doesn't matter how high they were drafted, how talented they are, or what their accomplishments may have been in college. All of that is irrelevant.
All that matters is what they do in the NFL. Having rookies perform menial tasks is one of the main ways in which the veterans humble the latest crop of hotshots who show up for training camp. A lot of times they need it. And really, the message is a simple one -- you need to earn your stripes in this league. Carrying bags or shoulder pads or whatever is just part of that. It is a tradition started long ago with the express purpose of sending a subtle message to its intended recipients.
And it's not just players, mind you. One of the most respected football men in the business, Bill Parcells, is a believer. I still remember him making first-round pick Terence Newman get him a cup of water or Gatorade every time there was a water break during practice with the Cowboys in 2003. That's worse than just carrying somebody's pads off the field after practice if you ask me.
Or how about Bill Belichick? He made first-rounder Laurence Maroney set up the partition that divided the team meeting room in half to separate the offense from the defense every single day during his rookie season in 2006. So clearly, Belichick believes in putting the rookies in their place as well.
I wasn't hazed during the offseason or training camp because I was an undrafted free agent and, as such, the veterans probably didn't think I was going to make the team. They don't really haze the guys that are in the situation I was in, it is typically reserved for the draft picks, especially the high draft picks who are being paid large sums of money.
For guys like me, the hazing doesn't begin until the season starts. My task wasn't that horrible with the Redskins in 2001, but that doesn't mean I liked it. I had to get up around 5 a.m. every Friday and drive 30 minutes or so in the opposite direction of the team facility to pick up breakfast burritos for the entire offensive line and line coach. I would put the burritos in the meeting room before hurrying down to start lifting by 6:30, which was the required lifting time for rookies under head coach Marty Schottenheimer. Come to think of it, just having to be the first ones to lift at such an early time shows me that even Schottenheimer believed in his own form of making sure the rookies had to do a little more that first year.
All of which means that Bryant messed up. He's not above it, just like Newman, Maroney, and myself were not above it. There should be some consequences for his refusal. Maybe the linemen will throw him in the cold tub with his clothes on. Or maybe he will discover some Icy Hot has been put somewhere where Icy Hot was never intended to be.
Bryant should also keep in mind that he still has the infamous rookie dinner coming up. This is where he takes his entire position group, and in some cases the entire team, out to a nice steak restaurant. The guys usually buy a couple of nice bottles of wine for those occasions. Something tells me that Bryant should be prepared for a much more sizable bill than normal in light of this incident.