Commentary

Dez Bryant should take leave

Cowboys receiver needs to put football on back burner while he deals with issues

Updated: July 26, 2012, 12:51 AM ET
By Calvin Watkins | ESPNDallas.com

DALLAS -- Dez Bryant is a fighter. But he's a fighter who seems to be losing a battle within himself.

After reviewing the recent events surrounding the Dallas Cowboys wide receiver, the most important conclusion that can be made has nothing to do with football. It has to do with a young man traveling down a harmful and dangerous path. It has to do with Bryant's well-being.

Bryant is in a state that calls for the focus to be on himself. That's why taking some time away from football might just be the best thing for the talented but troubled player. A leave of absence in a structured counseling environment could be enough to save a promising football career. More importantly, it could turn around a tumultuous lifestyle, the only kind Bryant has ever known.

Bryant has obligations to his kids, his mother, his teammates, his coaches and the NFL. But for Bryant to ever live up to those obligations, he needs to take care of himself first.

[+] EnlargeBryant
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireDez Bryant's problems are bigger than football, and he'd be best served taking some time away to straighten out his life.

If he doesn't deal with his emotional issues now, he very well could wind up broke, alone and forgotten sooner than we could imagine.

Bryant's life is messed up. But how he got to this point isn't all on the young man. In fact, he's fought through incredible hardships, as has his mother, Angela, who brought Dez into the world when she was 15. The family has seen adversity usually reserved for the movies.

One would understand if Bryant's anger and temper stem from his difficult childhood. He bounced around from house to house, not knowing where or when to expect to see his mom or dad.

Football has always been his only safe haven.

Trouble arose again last week, when Bryant was charged with family violence for allegedly hitting and grabbing his mother. The incident, which apparently grew out of an argument between Bryant and his stepbrother, escalated to the point at which his mother was heard alleging on a 911 call that Bryant assaulted her.

The original accusation and the later statement from the Bryants' attorney that Dez's mother did not want to move forward with the charges only masks a sad situation.

A situation that has nothing to do with football.

Bryant clearly has anger issues. From an argument in a mall over something as silly as saggy pants, to a night club confrontation with a celebrity rapper, to the latest accusations that he struck his mother, anger always seems to be at the root of his problems.

He's mad about something. It could be his upbringing. It could be how his life is currently constructed. He could be mad at how he's perceived by the fans and the media. Without really getting Bryant to open up about it, we might never know where that anger is focused.

What is clear is that whatever is troubling Bryant needs to be addressed immediately.

His football family cares about him, but they must step back. Bryant needs the insights of counselors outside of football, outside of sports.

To overcome his issues, he's also got to trust the people who are legitimately trying to help him.

Cowboys coach Jason Garrett is one of those people.

"We believe in counseling for people who need it," Garrett said Wednesday. "We've tried to do that with all of our players and Dez will be a part of that ... we just want to help him and we've got great resources. We embrace the opportunity to help him and we've done that in the past with other players, with Dez we'll continue to do that."

If he doesn't get a handle on this quickly, the NFL, NFLPA, his agent, teammates, coaches, and friends won't be able to help him.

Bryant is a good guy. He loves his kids and family members and is playful with his teammates and reporters. But he's on the verge of wasting what many see as his potential to become an elite player.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is reviewing the latest legal case. Bryant might avoid a suspension because this is the first time he's actually been arrested, but in three short years, Bryant has dealt with more off-field issues than most players.

No matter what happens with the league, we know Bryant has many people rooting for him to succeed. And not just Cowboys fans. Quarterback Tony Romo already has pledged his support for the young receiver. Garrett made his thoughts clear and it won't surprise anybody to hear the same support expressed by owner Jerry Jones when the team arrives next week in Oxnard, Calif., for training camp.

But sometimes it comes to a point where friends and family just aren't enough. Sometimes seeking professional help is the only way to truly isolate and focus on yourself.

Football should be secondary right now. His friends, family and his football team should see that and help him.

When Bryant can overcome the obstacles he has within himself, he'll have a better chance to come back as the player everybody believes he can be.

But the time is now to get that help. Before it's too late.

Calvin Watkins covers the Houston Rockets and the NBA for ESPN.com. He joined ESPNDallas.com in September 2009. He's covered the Dallas Cowboys and Texas Rangers as well as colleges, boxing and high school sports.

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