June 1, 2013

For Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant, the real man is starting to show

The budding Dallas star says he’s doing the right thing, and that need not be a headline.

Of boys to men and Keyshawn Johnson, Justin Beiber and Dez Bryant.

Raise your hand if you predicted one day that pip-squeak pop sensation Justin Beiber would be considered a bigger menace to society these days than Dallas Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant.

Keep your hand up if you ever envisioned Johnson, of “throw me the damn ball” fame, as the consummate family man, neighborhood voice of reason and decency.

As my grandma used to say, keep on living and you will witness a lot of things you never imagined or dreamed of.

Johnson has grown up and is now driving a Prius. He will also be soon moving to a more reasonable Orange County neighborhood from his home in star-laden Calabasas, Calif., where he made national news earlier in the week for chasing down and admonishing the aforementioned Beiber for driving at speeds in excess of 90 mph down a neighborhood street.

In addition to Beiber, Katherine Jackson and the children of the late Michael Jackson, the Kardashians, the Rock, Jennifer Lopez and Drake are among Johnson’s neighbors.

Beiber, 19, is spoiled and doesn’t care. Already the owner of a $6 million mansion and a rising string of traffic and nightclub incidents, he might never get it.

Of course, that’s also what was said about Bryant less than a year ago when he was arrested, accused of assaulting his mother by hitting her with his baseball cap.

It was considered the final straw by some in a growing list of incidents that seemed to jump out like red flags since Bryant joined the Dallas Cowboys in 2010.

What it turned out to be was a possibly life-altering wake-up call.

Bryant and his mother, who initially called the police but later declined to cooperate, both say the incident was no more than a family disagreement.

Still, Bryant took the situation seriously enough to enact changes in his life, starting with a self-imposed curfew and anger management classes.

It also provided him an opportunity to look inward at his life and his upbringing in a broken home and less-than-nurturing environment. He realized he needed to find a new way of doing things.

“Of course, like I said once before, it would be a lot different. I really don’t like making excuses, but it’d be a lot different if I grew up the way half the other guys grew up,” Bryant said. “There ain’t no telling what I might be. I accept mine. That’s what men do. You accept what you do wrong, you learn from it, and you do the right thing.”

Certainly, it would be easy to dismiss Bryant’s changing ways as motive to keep his job and get a lucrative contract extension from the Cowboys. Those are all true. But good practices over time become good habits.

By all accounts, Bryant has always been a good kid at heart — with “kid” being the key word in the equation.

Now that he is growing up and maturing, the real man in Bryant is starting to show.

His surprising presence at the Men Against Domestic Violence Rally in Dallas alongside Emmitt Smith and Roger Staubach in March was one example of what has been an outstanding off-season for Bryant, one that has been eye-opening because it has been quiet and without controversy.

No fights with rap stars. No lawsuits from bill collectors. No mall incidents for sagging pants. No family violence charges.

“I don’t even pay attention to having a quiet off-season,” Bryant said. “That’s not my focus at this point. It’s all about doing the right thing. Of course you’re supposed to stay out of trouble, but just do what you’re supposed to do. It’s not, this is the headline: ‘Dez Bryant staying out of trouble.’ I’m doing what everybody else is doing, that’s doing the right thing.”

He’s also sending out scripture pasaages on his Twitter account. Bryant says his spiritual life has grown, and he feels free and more at ease to talk about his beliefs.

Bryant continues to challenge himself, thus betting on himself that he has gotten it right. That was at the root of his new three-year endorsement deal with Jordan Brand and NBA legend Michael Jordan.

One of just seven NFL players to represent Jordan Brand, Bryant volunteered to defer his salary the first year to prove himself worthy of representing his idol. It didn’t hurt that Jordan, who is very picky about who represents his brand, told Bryant personally to “stay out of trouble.”

“It just adds fuel to trying to do things great at all times. That’s something you don’t want to mess up,” Bryant said. “Now, I do pay attention to that, just because of the fact of who he is and what he is about. Everybody knows Michael Jordan is about his business, so that makes you want to be about yours.”

The thing that the Cowboys and their fans should be most excited about is Bryant’s growth, maturity and continued focus on proving himself. Doing things right should manifest into a monster year on the field.

Bryant’s breakout season in 2012 can be attributed partially to getting the family violence case resolved. Ten of his 12 touchdowns came during the final eight games of the season.

He has carried that momentum into the off-season, where Bryant has looked like the best player on the field in practice and it’s not even close, says a high-ranking team official.

He has always been the best pure athlete on the team. Now he plays with a confidence of knowing that he is not only a freakish athlete but one who actually knows what he is doing.

There is no way to say that Bryant will be a perfect citizen from here on out. But a high-ranking team official says the Cowboys believe in his maturity.

“It appears that life in general, as well as football, is slowing down,” a team source said.

While Bryant downplays a prediction he made earlier in the off-season of 2,000 receiving yards and 20 touchdowns, he believes he is poised for his best season because of the new peace he has found off the field.

“When you don’t have to focus on things like that, you have no choice but to get better,” Bryant said. “I’m doing what I love. It’s not really an issue.”

Not for Bryant anymore, it seems. Unfortunately, Beiber’s behavior remains an issue.

Just ask Keyshawn Johnson.

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