Commentary

It's not how you start

Updated: May 4, 2010, 3:00 PM ET
By Rick Reilly | ESPN.com

Lennon/Bryant/PryorGetty Images/US PresswireJohn Lennon, Dez Bryant and Richard Pryor might have more in common than you think.

Let's play a game. I'll describe a childhood, and you figure out who had it.

Person No. 1 -- Raised in his grandmother's brothel, the son of a prostitute, he was raped by a neighbor at 6 and molested by a Catholic priest during catechism.

Person No. 2 -- Considered useless and distant, teachers wrote of him, as noted in Catherine Hurley's "Could do Better": "Certainly on the road to failure … hopeless … rather a clown in class … wasting other pupils' time."

Person No. 3 -- Raised in the brothel run by his aunt, he was once sent home from school for "insufficient clothes" and was arrested at 15 for breaking into cars.

Give up?

  1. 1. Richard Pryor.
  2. 2. John Lennon.
  3. 3. James Brown.

Arguably the greatest comedian, songwriter and soul singer of the 20th century, respectively.

The question isn't: "Why did Miami Dolphins GM Jeff Ireland ask Oklahoma State wide receiver Dez Bryant if his mom was a prostitute?" The question is: "Why should it matter?"

[+] EnlargeIreland
AP Photo/Lynne SladkyJeff Ireland issued an apology to Dez Bryant for the question about his mother, but several people are still upset.

You're not drafting the mom, you're drafting the son! Supposing it's true that Angela Bryant was a prostitute at 15 when she had Dez, how does it reflect on his worth? How is it relevant? What was he supposed to do about it?

If the Dolphins were so concerned about how his mother's sexuality will affect him on the football field, did they ask him about her coming out as gay when he was in high school? Are we the people who raised us?

Honestly, the arrogance of the NFL makes me yearn for the open-mindedness of the McCarthy hearings. Hey, Dan Marino and Vince Young, you each scored 16 on the Wonderlic? Can't draft you.

People rise above. Can you name the NBA superstar who was the son of a heroin addict? Whose South Side Chicago mom was constantly strung out? Who, at 5, was being raised by his 9-year-old sister? Dwyane Wade. Would Ireland have passed on him?

Say what you like about Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, but he gets it. He passed on Randy Moss because of rumors in 1998 and vowed he wouldn't let another Moss slip by. The Boys took Bryant with the 24th pick in the draft. Have you seen Dez Bryant's highlight reel? The Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex just got very lucky.

Right away, Bryant becomes my favorite player in the NFL. Can you imagine the hell he's going through? His young mother's reputation being dragged around? His first day in a Dallas Cowboys uniform, there are reporters wanting to ask him if his dad was a pimp?

Really, what have people said about Bryant? They've said he's always late. Guilty. He'll learn. And if he doesn't, a few thousand stairs at the new stadium will teach him. Wanna know what Winston Churchill's teacher said about him as a teenager, according to Hurley? "Constantly late for school … he is so regular in his irregularity that I really don't know what to do." Kids learn.

They said Bryant lied to an NCAA investigator about hanging around with former NFL star Deion Sanders his junior year. Also guilty. Stupid thing to do, lying. But Bryant was 20 at the time. Do you know what I was doing at 20? Trying to capture burps in a Mason jar.

Oh, and Bryant's supposed fatal flaw: They said his mom was a prostitute. The rumor was everywhere, and Ireland just had to know if it was true. SI.com reported that Ireland asked it only as a reaction to Bryant's telling him that his mom "worked for" his dad, who was a pimp. But Bryant calls that "a lie."

It's a civil rights violation to ask any question "not related to essential job functions." And that includes "lineage, ancestry, national origin, descent, nationality or parentage."

But even if it were true, how does it measure Bryant himself? Barry Switzer's father was a bootlegger who was shot by a jealous lover and died in a car crash on the way to the hospital. Switzer's mother was a drug addict who shot herself and died in his arms in the family's backyard. Didn't stop Switzer from winning three national championships and a Super Bowl. Mark Ingram's dad is a money launderer and bail jumper who's doing nearly 10 years in prison. It didn't stop Ingram from winning a Heisman Trophy and a national championship last season.

Bryant has never been arrested and has never had an incident involving violence, drugs or alcohol. But I know somebody who has. You might even call him out of control -- arrested three times for driving violations, including once for suspicion of driving and drinking (later reduced). Bill Gates. Who'd want him on their team?

Bryant could sue and probably win. Because the same rules that apply to Joe CEO interviewing somebody about a job apply to Joe GM interviewing somebody about a place on a team. It's a civil rights violation to ask any question "not related to essential job functions." And that includes "lineage, ancestry, national origin, descent, nationality or parentage."

But hey, people make mistakes. Can you name the 1991 Baylor kicker who missed three field goals, including a 27-yarder, against Rice, helping the eighth-ranked Bears lose by three to a 20.5-point underdog? The kicker who was roundly hated and booed but went on to become a well-respected man in professional football?

Jeff Ireland.

Love the column, hate the column, got a better idea? Go here.
Want more Life of Reilly? Then check out the archive.
Be sure to check out Rick's latest project, "Go Fish."

Rick Reilly | email

Columnist, ESPN.com