Many of us who read about the Dallas Cowboys, or any pro sports team for that matter, often imagine how great it would have been to be big and fast and talented enough to play in the big leagues. We see the contracts, the media attention, and think it is all glory and good times. Once you get to that kind of stardom and income, how could things go wrong?
Well, it is all too easy. We saw the drama play out last summer around Dez Bryant and his assault charges, which have popped back up in the news. An argument could and was certainly made around here about how much of the blame for this fell on Bryant and whether it was actually all because of his mother. It was pointed out that he did come from an extremely chaotic and dysfunctional background, and maybe this kind of stuff was just inevitable.
But that particular line of reasoning does not explain the recent troubles of Tyron Smith. In a situation that had some similar elements and others that were the exact reverse of Bryant's, he faced his own crisis with relatives.
On Tuesday afternoon (10/30/12), Dallas police responded to a 911 call to Smith's North Dallas home, where siblings showed up to "harass and torment" him "in the pursuit of collecting financial gain," according to the police report.
According to all the reporting I have seen on Smith, he is described as a great young man from a good background, with none of the issues that plagued Bryant. Yet he's been suffering through what is reported to be an extended series of confrontations and problems. It was so bad, he had to get a protective order forbidding his own parents and siblings from coming to training camp in Oxnard, which is about two hours' drive from his parents home. And one of his family members had to be removed from camp.
I'm assuming this order was issued in California. I know a good bit about protective orders in Texas, but according to what I can find, they are some significant differences in the way the laws work in the different states. One thing they do have in common is that in order for them to be issued, there has to be some history of conduct that the issuing court believes justifies taking such action. In other words, if the protective or restraining order (the terms are used interchangeably in California, but they are different things entirely in Texas) was issued last summer, things had been going on for some time before that.
The conduct involved in Smith's case seems to be continuing demands for money, despite him having paid out "a large sum" to his family when he first signed with Dallas. Just by inference from the accounts I have seen of Smith since he joined the Cowboys, this likely has caused him a great deal of anguish. It is possible that it has contributed in some measure to him not looking quite as impressive this year. Given that he is also the youngest player on the team, it would not be at all surprising for the turmoil in his personal life to have a significant negative impact on his game performance.
It is sad to see a couple of Cowboys players being dragged down by what a senior police officer once described to me as "crab syndrome". If you have ever gone crabbing down on the Gulf Coast, you probably had a big tub or container to hold the crabs you caught. And if you watched them, you would see that any time one of them started to climb out, the others would grab him and pull him back in. I remember that from my youth. This is what can happen to athletes who make it big. The family and friends that aren't so talented grab hold, and try to get as much as they can out of them, and often just drag them back down.
How often does this happen? Well, according to former Cowboys guard Nate Newton, it happens all the time. In a podcast you can listen to here, he says he knows exactly how this happens, and that he saw countless teammates go through it. It's not a racial thing, because he saw plenty of players of all colors struggle with these issues. And he says it is not something that happens to one in ten. More like five, or six, or seven out of ten NFL players deal with this, usually early in their careers. He says there are two ways to handle it successfully: Put the family or whoever on an allowance, or cut them off completely. And never, ever listen to them when they come back and ask for more. Because, at some point, they always come back for more. [The DMN has an extensive article here looking at Smith's situation and how more than $1 million could be missing from Smith's accounts]
I was interested in this because I see this all the time, on a much lower economic level, of course. People who have achieved some success, especially if they come from a fairly deprived background, often face completely unreasonable demands to share their gains with others. There seem to be two basic attitudes you run into about this, that of people who would never think of asking someone else to give them money just because they know them or are related to them, and that of those who think being related or a long-time friend means you have some right to claim a part of the "good fortune" of others. The fact that the "good fortune" when talking about a professional athlete is a combination of talent and years and years of grueling work at a level of effort that most of us would never be willing to expend is not a part of the equation. Nor is any consideration given to just how much the "fortunate" one can afford to give, or whether becoming distracted by having to deal with pleas and demands is going to affect the ability to compete at such a high level.
It is not new, it has always gone on, and it probably always will. It can affect players of dubious past and exemplary backgrounds. But it does take its toll. As fans, we can only hope that the players on the Cowboys, or any of our favorite teams, are successful in dealing with it all.