Or did he?
Two sources familiar with the situation contend that Ireland's question was nothing more than the logical follow-up to comments Bryant had made about his family. According to the sources, Ireland began the meeting by asking Bryant, 21, about his upbringing and his relationship with his siblings. Then he asked what Bryant's father did for a living when Bryant was growing up. The following exchange allegedly ensued:
"My dad was a pimp."
"What did your mom do [for a living]?"
"She worked for my dad."
"Your mom was a prostitute?"
"No, she wasn't a prostitute."
Ireland apologized Tuesday for asking what has been described as a classless, offensive and potentially illegal question. But if the incident went down as described by two members of the Dolphins organization, Bryant should be the next to repent because there was no need for this story to go from a controlled burn to a raging wildfire.
Ireland simply connected the dots given to him by Bryant. Could he have been more tactful with his question? Absolutely. He could have gotten around the controversy by asking: What type of work did your mother do for your father? But Bryant also could have been clearer with his message. The anger and outrage he expressed to Yahoo! Sports over the incident has as much to do with the word picture he painted as it does with Ireland's conclusion.
Bryant could not be reached for comment, and his agent, Eugene Parker, did not return a phone message. As for the Dolphins, majority owner Stephen Ross said he will investigate the 40-year-old Ireland's handling of the interview process. But you can best believe that if it had gone down the way Bryant has led some to believe, get-tough commissioner Roger Goodell would be out front protecting the integrity of the shield. Instead, his office has said the Dolphins are handling the matter.
"Jeff Ireland is a classy, classy kid," said one GM, speaking on the condition his name not be used. "Do I think he made a mistake asking that question? Yeah. Even if I knew it was true, I could never ask a kid that. But I have to tell you that the story going hard around the Combine -- and everybody heard it whether it was true or not -- was that his mother was a prostitute and his father was her pimp. That doesn't make it right, but that stuff was out there."
Teams spend hundreds of thousands of dollars each year on background checks on prospective draft choices, particularly those who could go high in the first round. Bryant was red-flagged by multiple teams because of what they described as a "shaky" family situation -- his mother, Angela, served 18 months for selling crack cocaine -- his anger issues as a youngster and his habitual tardiness. He also was suspended by the NCAA for all but three games last season for lying about his relationship with former NFL great Deion Sanders.
Did Ireland know about Bryant's background before he asked the question about Bryant's mother? He should have. If he didn't, he or the team's private investigators and college scouts should be dismissed immediately. So why even go there? Some believe he may have wanted to see whether Bryant would answer honestly. Or perhaps he wanted to gauge the player's reaction to an incendiary question. Only Ireland and the Dolphins know, and the GM couldn't be reached for comment.
One thing that cannot be disputed, however, is that Ireland was hired by Bill Parcells, a man who was notorious for pushing players' buttons during his 19-year head-coaching career. While with the Patriots, he went so far to refer to wideout Terry Glenn as "she" during a media session. It would be foolish to think that Parcells had no input in the line of questioning. As another GM pointed out, teams generally go over their questions before bringing in a prospect to make sure they're on the same page.
"This kid may have led the league in [pre-draft] visits," one GM said of Bryant. "He was pounded by clubs. But I haven't heard about anybody else asking the type of question about the mother that the Dolphins did, so that tells you that no one else felt comfortable about going that road. You hear about all types of crazy questions being asked, but this is really the first time where there was something as insensitive as this. I'm sure Jeff wasn't the only one in the room. I wish somebody else had said, 'You know what? We don't need to go there.'"
But what if Bryant took them there? I would have connected the dots in the same way that Ireland did based on what Bryant allegedly said. Bottom line: There's a major difference between asking a logical follow-up and knowingly wrapping an insensitive and incendiary accusation in the form of a question. Ireland, I believe, asked a logical follow-up question that was coated with neither malice nor prejudice.
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