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On demons, empathy and Dorial Green-Beckham

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Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

"First and most importantly, I take responsibly for my conduct and my mistakes. Don’t blame my girlfriend or her friends for anything. I am not looking for sympathy. I thank those who have given me concern. I have been young and dumb. I want to be better. During my suspension I’m entering counseling. With help, I know I can be stronger emotionally and spiritually. My relationship with God, my family, friends, teammates and coaches are most important in my life, not football. It may not be possible to fix everything, but it won’t be for not trying."

Granted, "young and dumb" doesn't quite describe the depths to which Dorial Green-Beckham may have sunk (depending on your interpretation of the police report) back in early-April 2014. But his written statement, published by the Post-Dispatch's Dave Matter, is basically what you could have hoped to see in the aftermath of whatever exactly happened at his girlfriend's apartment. At the very least, it was a solid first step.

The week following the apartment incident, when we waited to see what might happen to DGB at Missouri -- we would learn that Friday that he had been dismissed from the football program; he would end up transferring to Oklahoma over the summer -- my wife compared his situation to The Biggest Loser. We had begun to watch that show at some point, but we decided it was completely unfair that they kicked people off from the very beginning before they got too far down the road of getting the help they needed. It kind of ruined the show for us.

This came up as we were discussing, for lack of a better phrase, DGB's situation. We were talking about potential discipline options, and I showed her Pete Scantlebury's tweets above. I told her I was basically fine with whatever punishment DGB gets -- suspension, dismissal, etc. -- but that I hope Pinkel uses this incident as a template for going to further lengths to teach and stress and educate. I said that if he was kicked off the team, I wouldn't complain, but--

--and that's when she dropped in the Biggest Loser reference.

I've only been a parent for a little over three years now, and I only have one. But in this minimal exposure to parenthood, I've quickly come to realize just how much of a sponge a child is. What you do with and around the child is quickly absorbed. If the child doesn't get attention, or gets the wrong attention, there's a bit of a short circuit. We're incredibly lucky to have the arrangement we have -- both parents and all four grandparents within a few minutes of each other and the kid, and she sees at least three of her six-person immediate family almost every day -- but I still notice the difference when she doesn't get quite as much positive attention. I'm already a guilty liberal, blessed and/or cursed with a reservoir of empathy. Kids growing up in impossible situations deserve and receive a lot of it.

We all have DGB's backstory memorized thanks to his five-star recruiting status and the fight it took to get him to Columbia. He and his siblings were in just about the toughest situation. Let's flash back to a piece published at Fox Sports after he signed with Missouri.

Dorial was another who needed help, because of the struggles of his biological mother, who has a checkered past and is on probation for receiving stolen property, according to the Missouri Department of Corrections website. He is one of her six children, all of whom lived with her at one point for months in a van in Springfield.

"There was nothing but drugs and alcohol and men," Tracy Beckham said. "It was crazy."

Dorial and his younger half-brother, Darnell, do not know who their father is, Tracy Beckham said.

"I mean nobody knows," she said.

The Beckhams’ relationship with Dorial stems from another student John Beckham met while coaching football at Hillcrest — Dorial’s oldest half-brother, Vincent Tate. Tate was 6-foot-3 and oozed athleticism, but he played only a couple of games before he was injured and stopped showing up at school.

Tate is serving five years in prison for multiple offenses, including assault and a felony of possession of a controlled substance, according to the Missouri DOC website.

"He was a tremendous athlete, but he went to the dark side pretty fast," John Beckham said. "Who knows what he could have done? He could have been pretty special, too."

A grade behind Tate was Sam Smith, Dorial’s second-oldest half-brother, whom the Beckhams had seen play in junior high. The Beckhams helped Smith become eligible to play football as a freshman at Hillcrest High.

When Smith played games, Tracy Beckham picked up Dorial and younger half-brother Darnell Green from Boys & Girls Town of Missouri, a home for abused and neglected children, where they lived with Smith. The trips were an escape for the two brothers, and Tracy Beckham would take the two to McDonald’s before they went to watch their brother in action.

"It was really hard at some points," Dorial said of his early childhood.

When you are struggling to even get by, when you are shuffling from home (and van) to home, I imagine it becomes impossible not to miss developmental checkpoints. Maybe you catch up without any harm done, but it's hard. The dark side is always nearby. And when it corrupts some of the people close to you, everything gets exponentially harder. When I see NFL scouts calling him "immature" and whatnot, my immediate response is, "Well, yeah, of course he is. You probably would be, too."

Nothing in the world will justify what Dorial Green-Beckham allegedly did late that Saturday night; even the most rose-colored interpretation of testimony, text messages, etc., paints a picture of an angry DGB barging through the door of an apartment as someone is trying to close it, pushing a girl out of the way, and not pausing or taking stock of the situation (or his emotions) when she falls down a few stairs and hurts her hand/wrist.

Even if everything else in the story was exaggerated or wasn't as bad as it sounded, that's bad enough. We all get angry, but when we start to lose control of ourselves, there has to be something to reel us back in; DGB didn't get himself reeled back in, at least not enough. Again, nothing justifies that. And nothing justifies the drug tests he allegedly failed along the way during his not-even-two-years in Columbia.

But knowing his background, all I ever hoped for was punishment that worked. He perhaps deserved more of a slap from the legal system than he received, but if you get a second chance, don't waste it. Whether DGB left Mizzou after two chances, or three, or four, or 20, he was forced to leave. And whether he only still has a chance for success in life because he's athletically blessed, he still has a chance. It would be a shame for him to waste it, and if you believe what he has said and what others have said about him, he grasped this somewhere between that fateful Saturday night and his summer drive to Norman.

In a Spring 2014 Mizzou Network interview, athletic director Mike Alden talked a very good game about culture and respect and some of the programs Mizzou has implemented.

"We constantly talk to our young men and women about the fact that not only are we focused on our academic integrity and our competitiveness of what we do, but from a social responsibility standpoint, we want to make sure we're growing as men and women every day, and we're positive representatives of our institution, of our teams, of our program, of our families, whatever that may be. That's something we continuously and constantly work with our young men and women on: to be able to grow as men and women. And Tigers."

On a program called "Men for men and women for women"...

"Those were programs that were initiated by our student athletes at Mizzou, and what those are focused in on with regards to our women and our men, as far as our athletes are concerned, they get together as groups and they talk about common interests and issues relative to respect, to responsibility, to discovery, to excellence, the core values of our institution. How we can reflect those each and every day, how we can use personal experiences to be able to grow, how we can make sure that we're constantly talking about respecting one another, our commonalities and our differences, and how we can make sure that we elevate. I'm so proud of the way our men and women have embraced that effort. It's been initiated by them, and certainly it's something that's really benefited our entire athletic program. It has really become a model for many other programs around the country.

"I've been so pleased with the way our coaching staff and our general staff have embraced that and certainly are part of that effort, working together with our men and women as they grow."

On Dr. McGuire's positive coaching program...

"The positive coaching program that we have with Rick at the University of Missouri once again is a program that's a national model. People look at that and assume that's only for coaches. The reality is we're all coaches, right? Whether we're parents, whether we're coaches as parents, whether we're friends ... neighbors ... to be able to reflect that in a positive way, making sure that we're accentuating the positive efforts and modeling appropriate behavior and talking about those activities...

"For us at Mizzou, the logo never comes off. It NEVER comes off. So wherever we are, whether it has to do with, we're in line at the grocery store, or we're competing on the basketball court, or we're walking around the community, whatever that may be, the logo never comes off. And we want to make sure that we're reflecting that in a way that certainly showcases the positive aspects of the University of Missouri and us as individuals and teammates at Mizzou."

That all sounds great. These are things you want your athletic director to say. But one doesn't know how well a culture has been established until it is tested, and last April came quite a test. As they say about leadership, it's not about the original plan, it's about what you do when the original plan fails. The DGB situation offered Alden, Gary Pinkel, and other decision-makers an opportunity to set a trend of sorts, and they collectively chose to send Dorial Green-Beckham on his way. The logo never comes off, after all.

I'm not sure there is any better place to learn about respect, women, life, yourself, etc., than on a college campus. DGB spent most of four semesters at Missouri and a fall semester at OU. I was personally hoping that he would spend another full year in Norman, playing for the Sooners in 2015 and taking advantage of a further chance to show maturation by turning down guaranteed NFL money for one more year. Any chance of that happening ended when receivers coach Jay Norvell, his primary recruiter back in high school, was fired. He elected to go pro without ever playing a down for the Sooners.

Maybe, upon his dismissal from Mizzou, it finally clicked that he had to improve himself before he destroyed his future. His statement above was indeed just a statement, but it was a hint that this might be the case. He has long had my empathy, and perhaps none of us will even begin to understand how hard it was to grow up like he grew up. But it was long past time to start fixing his problems. Efforts before last April had not done that, and empathy runs out at some point.

I want Dorial Green-Beckham to take advantage of this final chance that he's been given. He's lucky to get another chance at all, of course. We could certainly say that he deserves a lucky break after the bad breaks he got growing up, but he was blessed with almost super-human athleticism. That's a break in and of itself, and because of that, he got another break this past week.

He'll end up making money in the NFL regardless of when and where he is drafted. But Combine week has reminded me how much I want his story to be one of redemption and holding demons at bay. That Saturday night in April showed that the demons are a lot closer to winning than we perhaps realized. But it's up to him to prove they haven't. If it's not too late to find a positive ending to this story, here's to finding it, no matter how (and why) his career in black and gold ended.


Note: the original version of this post appeared in April 2014.