IRVING, Texas -- Go ahead and give receiver Dez Bryant an earful about him needing to grow up. He'd agree with you.
Tell Bryant that, at 25 years old, it's time for him to be able to consistently control his emotions when adversity hits. He knows that's true, too.
Just don't say he's a selfish player who doesn't care about his teammates. That's the criticism that really bothers Bryant. He's well aware that storming off the field with 81 seconds remaining in a soul-crushing loss reinforces that perception for folks who only know him from afar.
"I love my team," Bryant said Monday afternoon, after his second round of public apologies for his inappropriate actions at the end of the previous day's give-away loss to the Green Bay Packers. "I love my teammates. I love the Dallas Cowboys.
"You lose like that, man, it just hurts. It hurts. I didn't really know how to control or handle myself."
Coach Jason Garrett addressed Bryant's immaturity in private and in public. It's the second time this season that Bryant made a fool of himself after the Cowboys blew a double-digit fourth-quarter lead.
His outburst in Detroit, when he was confronted by Jason Witten and DeMarcus Ware after the Lions took a lead with seconds remaining, looked awful. He bolted for the locker room Sunday because he didn't want the cameras to catch him crying, which can be considered proof that he cares more about perception than he should.
But can we please stop acting like Bryant's behavior is some sort of national crisis? Or at least wait until one coach or teammate registers so much as an off-the-record complaint about it?
His biggest crimes this season have been caring so deeply about winning and struggling to control his emotions when the Cowboys fail. Bryant is a really sore loser. That's not all bad.
Bryant's "passion," the polite term for when his emotions get the best of him, is a public relations problem. It didn't have a negative impact on the two losses that will make the Cowboys sick all offseason if they miss the playoffs again. His childish antics in both instances occurred after those choke jobs were essentially completed, so we can safely say the Cowboys have many more pressing concerns.
This is not a diva we are discussing, but Bryant is definitely high maintenance. The difference is that Bryant's emotion is rooted in pure competitiveness, not selfishness. He's a uniter, not a divider.
None of this, good or bad, comes as a surprise to the Cowboys. Jerry Jones & Co. rightly get criticized for many draft blunders, but they deserve to be commended for determining Bryant's production would be well worth the drama and jumping to draft him with the 24th overall pick in the 2010 first round.
There have been some headaches along the way -- and those have decreased over time -- but the Cowboys are getting everything they bargained for with Bryant. It's a process, as Garrett would say, but Bryant's production (40 touchdowns in less than four seasons) far outweighs the occasional pains he causes.
The Cowboys have been rewarded for all the resources they have invested in Bryant to help him overcome the obstacles they knew were in place from his well-chronicled, tragically dysfunctional childhood.
The scars left from that childhood, by the way, are why it stings Bryant so badly to be described as selfish. Football was his substitute for family when he was bouncing from house to house as a kid in Lufkin, Texas. He prides himself on being intensely loyal above all else.
Bryant is an emotionally complex character who wants to love and be loved by everybody in that locker room, from the franchise quarterback down to the guy just signed off the street. He's a one-man welcoming committee when the Cowboys sign a player to the practice squad, and he puffs out his chest when boasting about the culture of togetherness the team has created over the last few years.
"People love Dez," Garrett said. "People know what he's all about. He's a great teammate to everybody. He's got a great passion for the game. He's really well respected by his teammates."
Yes, to borrow again from Garrett, Bryant must keep working on channeling his emotion better. He'll never tone down his passion, but he gets that he needs to find a better blend of professionalism to go with it.
That's part of being a great teammate, which ranks right up there with winning among Bryant's biggest goals.