I was watching last spring’s American Idol when the topic was Jermaine Jones’ criminal past. Jones had secured the big, cuddly teddy bear persona for the season. But after it was discovered Jones had not just been arrested, but had used several aliases to cover his tracks, he was called to the mat to answer some questions. He sat there, mute and emasculated by the Idol staff.

Yeah, the kid had done wrong, and perhaps he wasn’t worthy of the Idol’s standards of excellence. I’m not sure who sets these “standards,” but the kid had fallen short and had to be expelled from the show.
I awoke with an uneasy feeling the next day. I have that feeling again.

Something stinks about Dez Bryant’s behavioral “contract” with his employer. Something about it troubles me.

I’m not disputing the necessity for this contract. I get that. Dez Bryant has proven that he can’t carry himself like a mature, responsible human being. He’s failed to prove that he can think for himself, or tell himself when it’s time to stop drinking, or which establishments he should avoid. When that’s the case you need these special parameters.

I won’t argue the specifics of the Dez Rules, which are as follows:

I understand the spirit of this agreement. Dez Bryant has done wrong and this system of accountability will take steps to not only set him on the straight and narrow, but according to Jerry Jones, it will endear him to those fans he may have disappointed along the way.

There’s my first problem with this.

Whether it’s American Idol or football, fans and performers already have a contract. Performers agree to give it their all and fans agree to support their efforts. When done properly, everyone wins. It’s even more gratifying when fans and performers engage in meaningful dialogue after the contest. This could be in the form of a signature on a piece of memorabilia or posing for a picture. The pictures are my favorite. I’m warmed by the sight of a truly gracious performer leaning down and getting cheek-to-cheek with a beaming child, who may not fully understand why either of them is smiling. There’s genuine joy in that.

But all of that is extra. It goes above and beyond the call of duty for any performer. Dez Bryant doesn’t owe the Dallas Cowboys fans anything other than solid effort on the field of play. 

There’s one other thing wrong with this.

None of this is private. No part of this contract is between Dez Bryant and Jerry Jones. This should be confidential, but it isn’t. The fact that all of this is public knowledge puts Bryant in a position of servitude, not just to the Cowboys, but to all of us. That’s partly because Bryant isn’t as forthcoming as someone like Texas Rangers Outfielder Josh Hamilton. After Hamilton’s much celebrated relapse, he offered a heartfelt apology, went to his meetings, and hit home runs. He didn’t serve himself up for a prolonged public flogging.

The origins of this agreement are cloudy. It seems neither party wants to claim responsibility for such a creepy deal. Jones may have sat stoically while Bryant and his camp obsequiously outlined the details. Or Bryant may have accepted this agreement with the dip of his head, like a proud, kept thoroughbred.

The other question is who made this available for our consumption.

If Bryant himself shared this agreement with us, then it’s yet another poor decision on his part. If it was Jones who made this public, then it eclipses the issue of “accountability” and his sincere desire to help a young man. 

I recently spoke with former Georgia Tech basketball coach Bobby Cremins. He said he keeps in touch with many of his former players. I asked if he still offered them guidance. He said he did, but only for the guys who needed it, who had gotten into trouble or lost their way. But he didn’t mention any names, nor should he have. These are private matters.

Dez Bryant has done much wrong in his young life. But I have no desire to shame him into fixing his life. It’s his life. When he’s done playing, neither I nor the Dallas Cowboys fans will be inclined to keep track of him, to monitor his activities. And neither will you.

I’d rather hear about all of this later, after Bryant has been born again, repackaged as a boring citizen. Then he can do an interview. In the course of that interview he can tell us how this contract saved his life, and how he gave up the rights to his soul and gained a career. Then we can all gasp and ooh and aahh because we’ve never heard anything like this before. And we’ll use words like “commitment” and “redemption” and “sacrifice,”—all the key words that drive this kind of narrative.

If Dez Bryant runs afoul of the law—either common law or Jerry’s Jones’ version of it—we should expect consequences. The consequences should be what they usually are in such cases. Bryant should just be cut from the team. It would be sad and unfortunate.

But a lot less creepy.  

Alan Grant was a four-year starter and all-conference player for Stanford University. He played five years in the National Football League with the Indianapolis Colts, San Francisco Forty Niners, Cincinnati Bengals, and Washington Redskins. He has written for ESPN the Magazine and The Postgame, and appears frequently on radio and television.