- Tim Keown, Senior writer, ESPN.com
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Let's agree on one thing: It's stupid. The whole concept of rookies having to perform degrading or compromising tasks for the enjoyment of veterans is just one in a long list of silly, immature customs that take place every day in the world of professional sports.
It's a goofy world, all right. The world you inhabit can be, at times, emotionally stunted. We figure Deion told you about that. But if he didn't, there it is. The glitz and glamour of pro sports often makes it seem more sophisticated than it is. At its core, it's a world of childish egos and macho ploys for status. It's almost as if superior athletic ability provides the athlete with entry into a world of arrested development. If you can do the stuff you can do, Dez, you don't have to grow up until you can't do that stuff anymore. Carrying Roy's pads seems a small price to pay for that privilege.
So before we get too far ahead of ourselves, let's be clear: You're not standing up for something important. You're not like the Curt Flood of rookie hazing. If we were to rank you among other activist athletes or conscientious objectors, you'd probably land somewhere near Garry Templeton, the old shortstop who famously said, "If I ain't startin', I ain't departin'." His complaint was that he didn't win the fan vote for the All-Star team in 1979, so why should he go to the game? Garry was right, too, you know -- he was having a way better year than Larry Bowa. But Garry was wrong, too -- kind of like you.
You have to understand something, though. This whole pecking-order thing is part of life. It's part of life in the real world, and it's part of life in the artificial world you now inhabit. You're not the first. You won't be the last. Don't take it personally.
Ask one of your coaches about having to run down the hallway of a dormitory during training camp while the veterans whacked him with bags of nickels. He was just there to play football, too; he just had more welts to show for it.
There's a tradition in major league baseball you might not know about, either. The least-experienced relief pitcher is responsible for supplying his bullpen teammates with all their game supplies -- gum, chew, seeds. He has to load a backpack before every game and carry it down to the bullpen. He has to know what everybody wants, down to the closer's preference in gum. Oh, and that backpack he has to carry? It's always the most embarrassing one they can find. Barbie, My Little Pony -- you get the idea. They laugh about it, which is surprising, since baseball players make football players look like museum curators when it comes to cultural enlightenment.
Let's go outside sports for a second, Dez. In fact, let's take it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which we can probably agree is about as far as you can get from the world of NFL training-camp hijinks. The Supreme Court consists of nine of the most accomplished people in our country, but you know what they make the most junior associate justice do? Make coffee for the group. Every day they deliberate, Dez, Elena Kagan, assuming she's confirmed, will have to brew up a pot of coffee. There isn't even a discussion. There's no room for, "Hey, Alito, I've got a headache. How about you make your own damn coffee today?" Nope; it's just the way of the world, Dez. Stephen Breyer had to make the damn coffee every day for more than a decade.
Sonia Sotomayor got off easy. Kind of like you, I guess. Your coach and Roy told everybody they were cool with you not doing any of the rookie's dirty work. Wade said you don't have to do anything you don't want to do, but we're guessing that doesn't count the things he tells you to do. I wouldn't push him on that one, Dez. At least not right away.
And Roy said it's not an issue. He'll carry his own damn pads. It's instructive for you to note, however, that Roy said this one day after he seemed a little less flexible about your training-camp plans. If you'll recall, on Sunday he said he'd have to resort to "Step 2," which apparently included but was not limited to the confiscation of a credit card with your name on it and the subsequent racking up of the kind of charges that would make Paris Hilton blush.
Let's just say this: I know the San Antonio hotel the Cowboys stay in. It's the kind of upscale place that has a safe in the closet. You might want to use it.
We do appreciate your willingness to be an agent for change in the world. We're assuming you'll remember this for the rest of your career, and that your we're-all-here-to-play-football ethic will extend to future teammates. You know, like when you're in a position to tell some hotshot rookie to carry your stuff. Because there's been a weird thing nagging at the back of our brains throughout his whole episode.
It's this: All along, you seemed to be exactly the kind of guy who would drop your stuff on the practice field and nod your head at next year's Dez Bryant, expecting him to honor your seniority and superiority by carrying your stuff into the locker room and placing it neatly next to your locker.
Now that we know differently, we'll be watching as you spend the rest of your career standing up for the rights of others.
Those of us who live in the real world
Who can blame Dez Bryant for not wanting to tote Roy Williams' shoulder pads around Cowboys training camp? Certainly not next year's Dallas rookies.