Not Illegal, But Ill-Conceived

The biggest drama surrounding the Dallas Cowboys this year, and maybe since Terrell Owens' tenure with the team, has been the relationship between wide receivers Roy Williams and Dez Bryant.

It's not that the two don't like each other. They claim to be friends, and when they interact on the practice field and in the locker room, they share smiles and joke with each other. Each professes to admire the other's on-field talent.

But their relationship famously fell under a national microscope over the summer when Williams, the veteran wideout now in his seventh NFL season, took part in an age-old NFL tradition by asking his rookie teammate to carry his pads and helmet into the locker room from the practice field during training camp in San Antonio's Alamodome. Bryant refused, saying he was drafted to play football, not carry pads, and all of a sudden, the two are getting splashed all over SportsCenter and Pardon The Interruption.

Williams handled it calmly, saying — essentially — that carrying pads is a rite of passage through which all NFL rookies must go, and implying that if Bryant wouldn't carry (Williams's) pads, another way of earning his teammates' respect would be found.

Does he really need to carry pads to be respected? Of course not — Bryant has the respect of his teammates because he is big, strong, has great body control and extraordinary hands. He was drafted in the first round because he can, in fact, catch the football, not because he projects as an elite pads carrier.

But right or wrong, the fact is that the whole routine of rookies carrying veterans' pads and helmets is a time-honored tradition. Does it make the rookies better players? No. Does it make them more respectful teammates? Of course not.

But there is a pecking order among NFL players. Rookies, whether first-round draft choices or undrafted free agents, invariably are put in their places. Such practices do little to benefit anyone other than the egos of the veterans who can say "I had to do it, so you should, too." Very junior high.

Most feel Bryant could have saved himself a major headache — not to mention a lot of money — had he just gritted his teeth, swallowed a little pride and carried Williams's pads. Because he didn't, Williams got Bryant back this week, inviting teammates — lots of teammates — out to a steak dinner, with Bryant picking up the tab of about $55,000.

Whether the dinner was justified was between Bryant and Williams. What is not justified is the fact that the dinner, add its cost, were made public. Williams has, at times, been in need of a little image polishing.

Consider:

• Much was expected of the guy for whom owner Jerry Jones coughed up three draft choices, including a first-rounder. Williams has had his good games, like Sunday's win over Houston, but also has had bouts of inconsistency.

• Despite his inconsistency, Williams has made several public claims about "still being a No. 1 receiver." That is a matter of opinion, but in Dallas, Miles Austin is the lead receiver. It's great for Williams to believe he has that ability — all players need to play with confidence — but his claim needs to be backed up by consistent performance.

• Some have bristled at the amount of money spent. Can Bryant afford a $55,000 dinner? Of course he can — he is in the first year of a five-year contract that will pay him $11.8 million. But the fact is that during a recession, the idea of one über-wealthy athlete treating other affluent athletes to a dinner of such a lavish meal hasn't sat well with some. Sure, Bryant can spend his money however he likes, including on steaks and wine for his teammates. But some have perceived the meal (and the conversation it has generated) as athletes rubbing their wealth in the face of others who are less fortunate.

By spearheading the effort to hit Bryant in his wallet, Williams has done nothing wrong. If that's the long-standing tradition he wants to carry out, fine. But it would have been better for all involved if the entire event had remained private.

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