Big, bad Bryan Cox, the spittingest, sourest cuss in the NFL,
slumps in his bedroom chair at 2 a.m., crying. His wife,
LaTonia, is asleep in the bed. She hasn't spoken to him in two
days, not since he went absolutely Tyson in the Monday Night
Football opener against the Green Bay Packers on Sept. 1,
getting into two fights, incurring three 15-yard unsportsmanlike
penalties, throwing one helmet and generally behaving like
someone with very bad chafing.
This is an article from the Sept. 15, 1997 issue
His kids are asleep in their rooms, including his oldest,
13-year-old Lavonda, who told him, "Daddy, you looked stupid."
Back in his old neighborhood in East St. Louis, Ill., his mom,
Nancy Williams, was asleep. When she had seen him acting so
stupid on the television in the tavern that he bought for her
and her husband, Otis, she broke down and cried. His sister,
Pamela, wasn't exactly charmed, either, nor was the NFL, which
tagged him with a $5,000 fine to go with the $10,000 fine his
own Chicago Bears laid on him. What do you mean you can't sleep?
"Man, I was just struggling with it," he says. "I was thinking,
Damn, is my wife going to divorce me? And, Damn, I got my mom
crying about me. And all these fines, and the world's looking
down on me and saying I'm a crazy idiot. And I'm sitting there
wondering, Why do I do this stuff?"
Why? Maybe it's all in his mind.
Bryan Cox walks into his Northbrook, Ill., home to find his wife
being raped by a man in a Packers jersey. Cox's four kids have
been kidnapped, and the ransom note lies right in front of him,
on Packers stationery no less. Across the room....
"Wait, wait," LaTonia says to Bryan. "Why do you have to use us?
Why can't you use somebody else when you dream up these
stories?" She won't look him in the eye. Three days have passed
since the Monday-night game, and she's still mad.
"Because it's got to be something I care about," pleads Bryan,
"something I'm emotional about."
LaTonia is pacing. She has her arms crossed and her baseball cap
pulled low. "I don't like it--it's an embarrassment!" she says.
"I get tired of people tugging at me all the time. 'Tonya, why
does your husband act so crazy?' 'Tonya, you got to calm your
husband down.' 'Tonya, why's your husband so mad?' Well, how can
I have an explanation for it when Bryan doesn't give an
explanation for it?"
Bryan throws his hands up.
"He's so good the rest of the time," she continues. "He never is
like this at home, wouldn't think of hitting me or the kids."
In fact, everyone interviewed about Cox last week thought of him
as loyal, kind and funny 165 out of 168 hours a week. "I can
slap him upside the head," said Chicago tight end Keith
Jennings, "and all he does is laugh." Bears defensive tackle
Paul Grasmanis said, "This guy is always happy. It's just that,
when it comes close to game time, he's got this switch." Even
Packers quarterback Brett Favre, on whom Cox would love to
perform open-neck surgery, said, "He's a really good friend of
mine and a really great guy."
Cox goes out most NFL Sundays and tries to do a one-man
reenactment of Attica, slugging opposing players in the back,
screaming at his coach, impugning the referee's ancestry. "I've
asked him about maybe getting some help," says LaTonia. "Maybe
see a psychiatrist.... "
"Bulls---!" says Bryan. "This is my therapy! Some doctor wants
to talk to me, I'll tell him to take his education and stick it
up his butt! All it would do is make me a bad player. It might
take that, that edge away!"
LaTonia turns her back on him. "You see?" she says.
Maybe it's fear.
Maybe it's the fear that being slow (5.0 in the 40), not
especially big (6'4", 250 pounds) and not especially cut (19%
body fat) is not going to be near good enough, so he has to play
with an absolute "madness," as he calls it. But the problem with
convincing yourself that everybody in a different uniform color
is Hermann Goring and that he has your kids in his trunk is that
football games come with whistles, every other one of which is
supposed to make you stop and act like a normal person again.
So far in his seven-year career--including his time with the
Miami Dolphins, from 1991 through '95--Cox has flipped off the
fans in Buffalo ($3,000 fine), spit at the fans in Buffalo
($7,500 fine), fought a Buffalo running back (ejection from game
and $10,000 fine), flipped off and verbally abused a game
official (fined a week's pay, $82,352), sued the NFL (twice,
claiming there was inadequate security at Rich Stadium, and that
the league was vindictive in fining him $82,352), called
commissioner Paul Tagliabue and his advisers "clowns," unleashed
a televised tirade in the Chicago locker room that included 38
profanities in 5 1/2 minutes and ended with the words "Praise be
to God," and challenged the entire Cincinnati Bengals bench to a
fight. Those incidents, coupled with his record in the helmet
throw against Green Bay on Labor Day evening, gave him a total
of 10 fines for $138,352, or enough to cast a few 20-karat gold
life-sized replicas of his middle fingers.
"But have you ever seen him use drugs?" asks his agent, Cliff
Brady. "Hit his wife? Snort cocaine? Drive drunk? Smoke pot? Get
in bar fights? Carry a gun through an airport? No. He doesn't do
any of that stuff."
Plus, he's pretty loose with his money and his time, too. He has
bought uniforms for his high school, East St. Louis Senior; is
footing most of the bill for a new fitness center at his
college, Western Illinois; and is helping to pay for the
rebuilding of a church in his old neighborhood in East St.
Louis. That's the funny thing about these highly emotional
people: Hate you or help you, they're in it clean up to the
bulging veins in their necks.
Maybe it's racism.
Get this: "I like to walk around naked in the locker room before
the game and pretend I'm being sold into slavery," Cox says. A
Pro Bowl linebacker, paid more than $3 million a year, sold into
slavery? "Yeah, I think of my opponent that week as the slave
trader and me as a Mandingo. It's horrible. They make me bend
over, check me for a hernia. They say, 'Let's see his b----.'
He buys into it. In fact, by the time he hits the field, he is
Kunta Kinte. "F------ racist!" he will scream at any white
offensive player on the field. "I will avenge the things you
Cox has been a victim of racism. Affidavits in the Buffalo
finger incident, in September 1993, claim that two children
directed racial slurs at him while their father watched. Cox
says he has had more hate mail and death threats from Buffalo
than he cares to recall. He knows what it's like to go into a
clothing store you could buy with the game check in your wallet
and yet have security trail you.
Of course, if racism won't properly stir things up, telling lies
will. Cox will inform his opponent how many players on the guy's
own team have had sex with his wife. Or Cox will mention that on
the next play he is going to try to break his opponent's arm.
"Whatever it takes to make them think I'm absolutely crazy," Cox
explains. "I want the guy I'm up against to think I could
absolutely blow any second."
Not that it always works. Once, Cox was going bonkers across
from an Indianapolis Colts lineman, who listened to it all--the
comments about his mother, his wife, his face--and then said
quietly, "You didn't get much love as a kid, did you?"
Maybe that's it. Maybe it's his past that makes him so angry.
His real dad (Bryan was brought up mostly by his stepfather) was
a drug dealer. Went to jail. Got out on parole. Dealt more
drugs. Bryan stopping talking to him. The two grew distant. Dad
died of a heart attack in 1992. Some of Dad's family blamed
Bryan for the death. Brother dealt drugs. Still has a bullet in
his hip from a deal gone bad. Bryan saw the house next door
firebombed in a gang war. Another time a man was shot right in
front of him. In a case of mistaken identity, a loaded gun was
held to Bryan's head by a man who seemed utterly sincere.
"No," Cox says. "My past doesn't make me angry. My past helped
me. My past woke me up to the realization that I had to get out
of there, make a better life. Now I play to feed my family."
Still, at his church in East St. Louis, Mount Pisgah, members of
the congregation sometimes pray for him to calm down. "Well, I
had a long talk with God about the madness," Cox says. "I said,
'Lord, lead me in a direction you want me to go.' But he didn't
change me. He hasn't changed me. I think he knows I'm just
trying to be the best football player I can be."
The Bears don't seem to want to change him, either. "We've got
nobody better in meetings, and nobody practices harder," says
Chicago coach Dave Wannstedt. "All people used to talk about
around here was how emotionless our defense was. Then we get
Bryan, and everybody says, 'Now here's a real Chicago Bear, with
all the toughness.' And now they're on him. Is this guy any
different from [former Bears linebacking great Dick] Butkus?
It's just that when Butkus walked off the field and did
something wild, there weren't 30 reporters and minicams
Maybe it's losing.
Cox never lost a game in high school. As a pro he is 52-41,
including a 27-24 loss to the Minnesota Vikings in the final
minute on Sunday. He doesn't seem to be taking it well.
"Sportsmanship?" says Cox, who at least kept his fists and his
helmet to himself in Week 2. "When you are getting paid, there
is no sportsmanship. It's not a game anymore. Shake your hand?
Get the f--- out. Let's go play again, right now. F---
sportsmanship. I got a family to feed."
Cox is so hypercompetitive that he won't even let his
three-year-old son, Bryan Jr., and five-year-old daughter,
Brittani, win races against him. "They'll say, 'Race you to the
top of the stairs, Daddy,' and I'll push 'em down just so I can
beat 'em," Bryan says. "They'll be crying, saying I cheated. But
I'm giving them the competitive edge."
Or maybe it's just the violence itself. Cox worships violence.
In the basement of his house, he has built a shrine to it--a
home theater with a 100-inch screen and two smaller TVs on each
side of it--where the day before a game he will watch the
goriest movies he can get his Visa on. "To see somebody get
stabbed or shot, it kind of gets you excited," Cox once said. If
that isn't enough, he puts on the most violent rap music he can
find, usually something by Scarface. Soon, Cox is ready to eat
Maybe it's the games themselves.
He hates Soldier Field. Hates the crummy locker room. Hates the
cold showers. Hates the painted dirt he plays on. Sometimes, he
even hates the sport. It's not unusual for Cox to tell a mother,
"Don't let your son play football. Don't do it. It hurts the
body really bad. Believe me." In his first NFL preseason game
with the Dolphins, Cox knocked helmets with Bears defensive
lineman William (the Refrigerator) Perry on a special teams
play, suffered a neck injury and was paralyzed for an entire
day. It's a desperate feeling to cry and not be able to wipe
away the tears.
Then, after a game's over, he detests the people who report
about it. "I hate it that some little scrawny 120-pound woman or
some 160-pound guy can sway the public opinion with stuff that
might not be true," he says. "They see a touchdown, they see
Bryan Cox near the guy, and so they write, 'Bryan Cox gave up a
touchdown.' When they have no idea of the scheme we're in or how
it works. It might have had nothing to do with me. I've seen
plenty of guys lose their jobs over that kind of s---. You know,
I have a degree in communications. I can do any of their jobs,
but can they put on a jockey strap and play football?"
Or maybe it's just him, a man who has vowed to keep the sabbath
"I've talked to him over and over again," LaTonia says. "At the
beginning of this year, I said, 'You're not going to get fined
this year, right? You're not going to get in trouble this year,
right? You're going to let people see how good you are this year
without all the fines, right?'"
Then, the first game of the year, he goes Sling Blade on the
Packers. "He still does not know why," she says. "He doesn't
know." She sighs. "I'm afraid it's a never-ending
situation--until he retires."
Cox isn't retiring anytime soon. He's only 29. "And nothing's
going to change me, either," he says. "Not fines. Not writers.
Not bums on the street calling me a bum. I got a family to feed."
But what about a family to lead?