Commentary

Bryant's problems mirror society's

Dez Bryant's anger issues stem from his upbringing, not his race.

Updated: November 7, 2013, 4:09 PM ET
By Jason Whitlock | ESPN.com

Dez BryantRichard W. Rodriguez/Getty ImagesDez Bryant's displays of temper and instability are rooted in the circumstances of his childhood.

The largely well-intentioned defenders of Dez Bryant are primarily driven by concerns related to race and racism. They're misguided, and perhaps so are many of Bryant's harshest critics.

Dez Bryant's inability to control his emotions is not a racial issue. It's a family dysfunction issue.

We've known since his earliest days at Oklahoma State that Bryant grew up amid absolute chaos. Born to a 14-year-old mother and a father in his 40s, Bryant entered the universe predisposed to a life of instability. In 1997, when Dez was 8, police arrested his mother for selling crack cocaine, and the courts sentenced her to four years in a state penitentiary. She served 18 months. She is still on probation for a drug charge from 2009 and will be until 2019.

His junior high and high school teachers told reporters that Bryant was prone to emotional outbursts. As an adult, he has run afoul of the law, including an allegedly violent confrontation with his mother.

As I detailed in my previous column about the false equivalency of comparing Bryant to Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, there is a reason Cowboys owner Jerry Jones spent lavishly on a team of "advisers" to help Bryant function professionally on and off the field. There is a reason Dolphins executive Jeff Ireland crassly probed Bryant about his mother's background before the 2010 draft.

Bryant is deeply scarred emotionally. His multiple tantrums last Sunday in Detroit are part of a pattern of behavior that is an outgrowth of his severely flawed upbringing. Jones and the Cowboys are aware of this and are trying to nurture him toward stability. Bryant's teammates are appropriately rallying around him and trying to minimize Sunday's controversy.

But the reality is, Dez Bryant is swirling in a cultural tsunami every bit as destructive and powerful as climate change.

Let's call it "Hurricane Illegitimacy."

Its victims are primarily black and brown, but Hurricane Illegitimacy is not a black or brown problem. It's an American problem that is denied and exacerbated on the left and mischaracterized and exploited on the right.

Like climate change, Hurricane Illegitimacy is powered by man-made factors:

1. A lack of proper restraints on welfare entitlement programs for single mothers and fathers.

2. America's bogus war on poor people who use and sell drugs.

3. Turning incarceration into a for-profit business model.

4. A refusal to recognize that investment in the education of our poorest and weakest citizens could strengthen our entire society.

5. Our collective lack of courage and resolve to combat popular-culture forces that celebrate, normalize and profit from baby-mama and criminal culture.

Because of this melting-pot-country's history, we've been conditioned to identify the race of a person misbehaving and examine the racial implications. We would be far better served looking at the family history.

That is what separates Dez Bryant from Calvin Johnson, two highly talented black wide receivers.

The fact that that sentence is remotely controversial speaks to the intensity of Hurricane Illegitimacy deniers, a brand of "birthers" far more dangerous than the clowns who want to inspect President Obama's birth certificate.

Statistics prove beyond all reasonable doubt that married parents raise more well-balanced, stable, highly achieving kids than unmarried parents. The same is true for two involved parents as opposed to a single parent. The stats are far more stark when we add in risks factors such as teenage babies having multiple babies (Dez's mom had 3 kids by age 18) and incarcerated parents. Healthy two-parent families (not all two-parent families) do a superior job of raising and developing kids.

Let's don't waste time pointing to the lucky outliers. President Obama, President Clinton, LeBron James and countless others are simply notable aberrations, symbols of why we should invest in every child. But if this country wants to really invest in young people, we must first invest in restoring the traditional family unit. As long as 68 percent of black women who have children are unwed, there are no cures for the social maladies preventing black progress.

Much of the high-profile lawlessness and dysfunction we see in professional sports are a direct result of the impact of Hurricane Illegitimacy. It is not a coincidence that Bryant consistently struggles with his emotions and decision-making and Johnson does not. Johnson did not grow up amid chaos. He and his sister were raised by their married parents, who worked as a railroad conductor and an educator.

Anyone familiar with my work realizes I do not shy away from discussing race. It's an important, vital discussion. But so is the discussion of family. In many respects, the conversations go hand in hand. The man-made factors energizing Hurricane Illegitimacy unfairly and, in my opinion, intentionally impact the black and brown family structures. The drug war and mass incarceration are targeted at poor, dark-skin communities. America chose one-way, forced integration rather than properly funding public schools serving black children.

The seeds for Hurricane Illegitimacy were planted in the late 1960s as backlash for the civil rights advances won by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Too much of this current generation of young people are the unwitting victims of America's unwillingness to protect the sanctity of family. The people who deny this obvious reality are every bit as delusional as climate-change deniers.

Hurricane Illegitimacy is damaging every American institution. Those of us who love sports get a seemingly daily reminder of its devastation.

[+] EnlargePeterson
AP Photo/Barry BrecheisenThrough tragedy, we recently learned a lot about Adrian Peterson's personal life.

Just a few weeks ago, Vikings running back Adrian Peterson attended the funeral of his 2-year-old child and then played a football game days later. There was very little public objection to Peterson's decision. Some people were reluctant to voice an authentic opinion. Still, others sympathized with Peterson's plight. He had never met the child. He'd only learned that the boy was his two months before the mother's live-in boyfriend allegedly beat or shook the toddler, causing severe brain injuries leading to his death. We subsequently learned that Peterson, who is unmarried, may have as many as seven children by five women, one of his exes recently told TMZ.

Given Peterson's backstory, none of this should come as a surprise. His father fathered 10 children. His father spent several years in prison for laundering money obtained as a drug dealer.

Incarceration makes human detachment normal. You define closeness, intimacy and love differently when you're locked up, and so do the unincarcerated people who love the incarcerated. The same is true for men who father multiple children in several different homes. What that man views as an ideal relationship with his child is oftentimes quite different from what a married man perceives as a perfect relationship with the child he shares with his wife.

It took a hospital death bed for Peterson to stop what he was doing to go meet his child. Think about that. Learning that the child was alive didn't make Peterson leave the Vikings or whatever he was doing to connect with his son. It took news of the child facing death for Peterson to briefly visit South Dakota.

That's how upside-down Hurricane Illegitimacy has this generation of young people caught in its path of destruction. The thought of death provokes action, not life.

The normalization of illegitimacy is so pervasive in black America that people are afraid to publicly address its dangers and consequences out of fear of being labeled a sellout or a racist. It's been so normalized that some people honestly don't believe it's a problem.

Ignorance is blissful and deadly. Ignorance is why we see Dez Bryant misbehave and automatically think race rather than family.

Ignorance is why we don't understand that the black family structure thrived and survived until our lawmakers launched a drug war, mass incarceration and shortsighted welfare policies.

Ignorance is why we've failed to object forcefully to pop-culture forces using their unprecedented power to promote hedonism as the ultimate high over family evolution.

Dez Bryant's behavior and our reaction to it are just symptoms of a much bigger problem.

• Columnist for Fox Sports from 2010-2013
• Columnist at the Kansas City Star for 16 years
• ESPN.com Page 2 columnist from 2002 to 2006

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