There was this talented, but troubled young man named Langston Hughes. The young man didn’t have much a relationship with his father, so his mother, a teacher, became his world. Sometime during the Harlem Renaissance, Hughes wrote a poem which would become his most famous work. It was called Mother to Son. In it Hughes surmised that his mother’s problematic life mirrored his own, so he channeled his mother’s voice and authored a timeless inspirational standard:
Life for me aint been no crystal stair.
It’s had tacks in it
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor
Hughes shared the mystery of his parental woes and by so doing he solidified his talent and his place in the world.
Now is the time for another troubled and talented young man to mount a renaissance of sorts. Now is the time for Dez Bryant to find a place for himself and his mother. But Dez Bryant toils in a day where there is no mystery.
We know that his mother had him at fifteen. We know that she’s done some time for selling crack. We know that Jeff Ireland asked if Angela Bryant was a prostitute and how that question threatened to shape Bryant’s legacy before he ever ran a route.
And we’re all aware of Dez Bryant’s talent. It was most evident on that one play against the Rams last October. After collecting the ball on a deep crossing route, Bryant started up field where he met Rams safety Quintin Mikell. While securing the ball with one hand, Bryant used the other to dismiss Mikell, tossing him to the turf and then running for another ten yards. It was the kind of display that warrants another look.
And another chance.
In the last two years Bryant has convinced us that he is most deserving of another look. And Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has given him more than one chance to prove himself a solid citizen. And why wouldn’t he? Jones’ logic was based on the same principle Steve Young applied to the mercurial Terrell Owens in that now infamous 1998 Wild Card playoff game against Green Bay. Owens had dropped three balls that day, but when crunch time came, Young only had eyes for him. Even Owens himself was incredulous as to why. Young’s explanation to Owens: “you’re the most physically dominating receiver I’ve ever seen.”
Dez Bryant might be even more dominant than Owens. He’s more explosive and a marvelous punt returner.
But in the aftermath of Bryant’s most recent and most unthinkable transgression—putting his hands on his mother, (who does that?) Mr. Jones has thrown down the gauntlet. In his first public comments on the issue, Jones made it clear that the first casualty of the owner’s Super Bowl-or-bust regime could be the team’s most capable player.
Angela Bryant has to know that her one break in life came from the gifted son she birthed. Dez Bryant has to know that his opportunity lay in his talent and because of it he has, at the very least, a chance to save his mother. Angela and Dez Bryant have a shared struggle. That’s no mystery, least of all to mother and son. Maybe that’s why they wore the same thing to last week’s press conference. Maybe that's why they remainined silent, looking like identical defendants.
I’m hoping the next time we hear Dez Bryant speak, it will be the voice of a man who’s gleaned from his mother not only an ability to survive, but to prosper.
Don't you fall now—
For I'se still goin', honey,
I'se still climbin',
And life for me ain't been no crystal stair.
Alan Grant is a new regular contributor to National Football Post. He graduated from Stanford University in 1990 with a degree in English Literature. He was a four-year starter for the Cardinal, and all Pac-10 in 1987. Grant played five years in the National Football League with the Indianapolis Colts, San Francisco Forty Niners, Cincinnati Bengals, and Washington Redskins. He has writen for ESPN the Magazine, The Post Game, and NFL Magazine, and has appeared extensively on radio and television.