The beauty in sports has always been the dream.
The dream of stardom. Even the dream of going through the process of earning it. Going through the practices, going through the workouts, going through the film sessions, going through the competition, the battles, the games.
The dream of playing epically on Saturdays, of being able to play on Sundays.
The beauty of dreams ... they are never, ever certain.
As attorney Larry James opened the letter Tuesday that would shape the direction of his client's career, the dream bumped straight into the uncertainty of waking reality. The letter from the Ohio State University officially made James' client, the Terrelle Pryor, a man with -- for the time being, at least -- nowhere to go. A man with no game to play.
"I have appreciated your willingness in the past to consent to lengthy interviews by the institution and the NCAA, and to provide certain financial records. I was disappointed to learn from your attorney that as of June 7, 2011, you have chosen not to interview [any more] with the representatives of the NCAA and the Ohio State University. In light of that decision the university must declare you ineligible for intercollegiate competition because you failed to cooperate with the university in violation of NCAA Bylaw 10.1 [which requires, among other things, cooperation and forthright, honest answers]. In addition, due to that failure to cooperate, the university must disassociate you from its athletic program for a period of five years."
That's how the letter read. Signed: Gene Smith, OSU athletic director. And although Pryor's attorneys wanted the letter, needed the letter to make sure the NFL knows he is once and for all through with his college playing days and eligible to become a pro, there still had to be a feeling of emptiness once it arrived. It put something of an official stamp on all the allegations of wrongdoing during Pryor's days in Columbus.
Plus, it was only a first step. It doesn't make the dream real yet. Truth is, the NFL, at this moment, is not an option for Pryor, either.
By most accounts, it won't be long before the NFL decides whether it will hold a supplemental draft for this season. But for now, the end of the lockout is less than a week old, and there's other business more pressing, things to do that are more important than teams rushing into scouting, researching and investing in players who for whatever reason weren't eligible for the official draft in April.
This is Pryor's new reality. Maybe his new nightmare. What if "won't be long" lasts for years? He's inside a personal time capsule, with no idea about his professional future, if he is even going to have a future in the NFL, if he's ever going to be able to live his dream.
The possibility is real, and some of the Ohio State faithful who watched Pryor's pursuit of the dream in Columbus are aware of it.
"Terrell is ultimately a victim of our nation's love for football," OSU alum Lindsey Dillon said. "I can't help but feel bad for the kid, which he truly is. His talent made him a god and his youth and inexperience -- and more importantly, bad judgment -- has taken all of his hard work away from him. His dream of a BCS championship is over; and now, because of some very poor decisions he's made, his dream of the NFL is tarnished if not over completely."
NFL training camps are opening right now. Colleges begin their summer practices in a week or two. Right now, for the first time since he knew the NFL was attainable, within his life's reach, Pryor is watching the game of football start up without him. More than likely -- at least this year -- it will continue and then finish without him.
So there's always next year. Or the year after that. Or the year after ...
Under normal circumstances, the NFL has a supplemental draft 10 days before the opening of training camps. But the lockout screwed all of that up. There were no 10 days before training camp. So Pryor is in a holding pattern, limbo. Unless he wants to make the CFL his supplement. Or the UFL, USFL, AFL, AAFL ...
Those other letter combinations become more and more meaningful as NFL dreams are further and further deferred.
No player not on an NFL team or without a college to play for is affected by this like Pryor is right now. No player has lost as much as he has. No other player with nowhere to play has a profile so lofty or promise so great.
What does one do when one can do nothing? As the American Family Insurance commercial states: "Your dream is out there. Go get it. We'll protect it." But what if the dream in question needed to be protected from the dreamer himself?
The improper benefits that Pryor allegedly received accumulated to approximately $40,000 worth of tattoos and payments for signatures, and they cost him his collegiate career. Efforts to reach Pryor through his attorney and his agent were unsuccessful, but one presumes that every day now, he must look down at the "praying hands" tat on his right arm and wonder. Every time he signs his name, he must wonder.
Because now, Pryor has to live with the reality that he's given others the power to control what happens to his football life. And he has no idea when this reality is going to end and the pursuit of the dream will begin again.
"It's not something he personally set out to do," Miami Dolphins DE Jared Odrick, who worked out with Pryor during the lockout, said in an Examiner.com interview about Pryor's situation. "He's got a lot of people criticizing him, but when a situation like that happens for me, it's added motivation and I believe that's what he's taking it as and I think that's the right thing to do."
Motivation. The driving force by which humans achieve their goals. The willingness of action. The psychological feature that arouses an organism to action toward a desired goal.
There have been medical studies done on the psychological impact injuries can have on athletes. One belief is that a stronger connection between athletics and self-identity is created as the athlete invests more time in a sport. For this reason, the emotional disturbance may be greater when an invested athlete can't play.
Although an injury isn't the same thing as the self-inflicted damage Pryor might have done to his career, the point probably works. After all the time and energy Pryor has invested in his sport, the sudden inability to play it on the level he's always seemed destined to reach can take a toll. It's an emotional disturbance. These are the times when an athlete -- even with the gifts that have been given to Pryor -- can lose his self-identity.
One of the Red Smith's greatest stories -- 1953's "Jim and His Baubles" in the New York Herald Tribune -- ends with Jim Thorpe asking the question, "How can you get hurt playing football?"
For Terrelle Pryor, this question might be better asked: "How can someone get hurt by not playing football?"
Scoop Jackson is a columnist for ESPN.com.