Dez Bryant, as vividly illustrated in last week's Rolling Stone cover story, is a man who emerged, barely, from a trauma and pain-filled childhood to become one of the best receivers in the NFL. Growing up in Lufkin, Bryant dealt with a crack-addicted grandmother, a mom who sold crack and a padlocked refrigerator at his dad and stepmother's house. He fought through all of that, first to Oklahoma State, where he was an All-American, and eventually to the Cowboys.
Still, Bryant has never gotten a fair shake in Dallas. He's one of the five most talented players in Cowboys history, never takes a play off and has been instrumental to any success the team's had since his being selected in the first round of the 2010 NFL Draft. During a pre-draft visit, Miami Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland asked Bryant if Bryant's mother was a prostitute. After being drafted by the Cowboys, Bryant was excoriated by teammates and the media for failing to participate in rookie hazing — specifically his refusal to carry wideout Roy Williams' pads after practice — during 2010's Cowboys training camp. Since then, he's been kicked out of Northpark mall for allegedly wearing sagging pants, shamed in the media for a couple of contacts between police and individuals at an address at which Bryant may or may not have been living at the time and has been called all manner of ugly things for successfully securing his financial future by threatening to hold out this year if the Cowboys failed to extend his contract long term. As that contract was being negotiated, rumors of a Walmart parking lot video, purportedly of Bryant doing something bad, surfaced. Its release was imminent, according to Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio. The video never came out and probably doesn't exist. When Bryant gets fired up on the sideline, it's a problem. When Jason Witten does the same, it's passion. Bryant gets sucker punched during a preseason practice with the Rams, he gets accused of "reckless or irresponsible behavior" by The Dallas Morning News' David Moore when he fights back.
When quarterback Tony Romo is at his best, he may be the Cowboys' brain, but Bryant is the team's heart. He's the kind of guy who goes to Walmart to get a Playstation 4 the day the video game system comes out, then buys one for everyone else in line. Bryant isn't a problem, he's just misunderstood — as were these five guys.
Ian Kinsler (Rangers second baseman 2007-2013)
Unlike his longtime teammate Michael Young, Ian Kinsler was never overly friendly with the media. He wasn't quick with a sound bite and often seemed openly disdainful of the team's beat writers. As such, he was goaded for his mistakes: the pop-ups, the supposed loafing on his way to first base and his occasionally less than stellar defense. Kinsler was never fully appreciated for what he was: a player who was much, much better than Young, the sanctified Mr. Ranger. Add Young's two best seasons by Wins Above Replacement together — 2005 and 2006 — and they still weren't as good as Kinsler's in 2011. Without Kinsler, there's no way the Rangers win the 2010 or 2011 American League pennants, and yet there were still a bunch of happy Rangers fans when he was traded for Prince Fielder in 2013.
Kinsler's comments on the way out the door weren't very nice — he said he hoped the 2014 Rangers went 0-162 — but they were understandable from a guy who was never appreciated while he was here.
Mark Aguirre (Mavericks small forward 1981-1989)
The Mavericks' best player during their first heyday in the '80s, Mark Aguirre never got along with his teammates or management. From the very beginning, Aguirre, drafted with first overall pick from DePaul in 1981, clashed frequently with autocratic head coach Dick Motta. In 1985, Aguirre was sent home from a road trip and suspended after he refused to return to a game against the Atlanta Hawks. Aguirre said he was pulled from the game initially because he helped Dominique Wilkins, a Hawks player, up off the floor after a collision. After the incident, Aguirre suggested to the Morning News that it might be time for him to get out of Dallas. The year before, Aguirre had asked to traded after Motta called him a coward during an argument.
During his time with the Mavs, Aguirre never averaged less than 18 points a game and led the team to its first five playoff appearances. In 1989 he was traded to the Detroit Pistons for Adrian Dantley, who was going through a similar personality conflict in the Motor City. The Mavericks
.would make the playoffs in only one of the next 12 seasons.
Duane Thomas (Cowboys running back 1970-1972)
Duane Thomas was a man ahead of his time. He was the NFC rookie of the year in 1970 after the Cowboys drafted him in the first round out of West Texas A&M. In the offseason following his first campaign, Thomas was traded to the Patriots because of a contract dispute. Before the 1971 season started, he was sent back to the Cowboys — NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle voided the trade when Thomas refused to cooperate with Patriots head coach John Mazur. Thomas came back to the Cowboys, but refused to talk to anyone affiliated with the team or the media for the duration of the 1971 season. During the season, he scored the first ever touchdown at Texas Stadium, led the league in rushing touchdowns and total touchdowns and led the Cowboys to the team's first NFL championship in Super Bowl VI. In Dallas' 24-3 win over the Dolphins, Thomas rushed for 95 yards and a touchdown.
The Cowboys dumped him for good after the season, shipping the Dallas-born Thomas to the San Diego Chargers.
Juan Gonzalez (Rangers Outfielder 1989-1999, 2002-2003)
Just to get a necessity out of the way: Juan Gonzalez probably took steroids. Jose Canseco, Gonzalez's mid-'90s Rangers teammate, says he did, Gonzalez was linked to a bag full of 'roids found at a Toronto airport in 2001 and was named in the Mitchell Report — the investigation of steroid use in baseball ordered by then-Commissioner Bud Selig. Gonzalez — along with Pudge Rodriguez, who's also been linked to steroids — is also one of the two greatest Rangers ever. He won two MVP awards during his time in Arlington, led the American League in home runs twice and helped the Rangers to the team's first three playoff berths. His "Senor Octubre" performance in the 1996 playoffs against the Yankees, where he slugged five home runs in just four games, is one of DFW's indelible sports memories.
Despite all that, and the fact that other franchises have still embraced their former players linked to steroids, Gonzalez has not been celebrated by the team since he left the franchise for good in 2003. Rodriguez was elected to the Rangers Hall of Fame in 2013, just two years after he retired. Gonzalez had to wait seven years after his 2008 retirement, until this summer, to get it. When he missed the ceremony — the Rangers said he was mourning the death of his mother — a member of the Dallas media called Gonzalez a scumbag.
Jerry Jones (Cowboys Owner 1989-present)
Don't get us wrong, Jerry Jones has not been a perfect owner. Not even close. His spat with Jimmy Johnson might've cost the 1992-1995 Cowboys the chance to win four Super Bowls in a row (but three out of four isn't bad), and who knows how many playoff wins the Cowboys have missed out on in the ensuing two decades because of Jones' refusal to hire an actual general manager to run the team. There was also the Super Bowl seating fiasco that might mean we never get to host another one.
The thing is, over the past couple of years, Jones has turned the Cowboys football operation into something that's not the worst thing in the world. Most of the day-to-day has been handed over to Jones' son Stephen, who's helped rebuild the team through a half-decade of successful drafts. There is reason to be genuinely optimistic about the 2015 Cowboys, and it's not by accident. Jones is not Dan Snyder, the despotic Washington Redskins owner who insists that his team's racist nickname is not racist. He's not Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson, who fought tooth and nail during the NFL's last collective bargaining negotiation to keep money away from the players upon whose back the NFL is built despite turning hundreds of millions of dollars in profits. Jones is a good ol' boy with a really expensive, really lucrative toy. He wants to win and is never boring.