The look on their faces reinforced that Davone Bess was making a difference in the lives of others.
The reception he often received served as proof hope could be injected into someone’s life. That’s why Bess was always willing to recount his mistakes.
He’d recap his 15-month sentence. Recall the college scholarship lost by bad decisions, and recollect the tough road traveled courtesy of good decisions, dedication and hard work.
Bess kept on believing in himself and made it from incarceration as a youngster to star at the University of Hawaii to NFL starter. He often told his story in South Florida school auditoriums and libraries, and in centers for troubled youngsters to inspire someone to change their ways, to seek help, to never give up.
Right now Bess needs someone to do the same for him, helping him navigate his way out of the dark place he’s in, which apparently features drug use, erratic behavior, and last Friday’s arrest for allegedly assaulting an officer with hot coffee at the airport in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.
Warning signs were everywhere.
In recent weeks, Bess’ behavior on social media had become increasingly troubling, especially when a photo posted on his official Twitter account on Jan. 16 included what looked like marijuana. He missed the final two games of the 2013 season to address what the Cleveland Browns labeled as “family, personal issues.”
Speaking on the condition of anonymity, people who are close to Bess say “he’s lost,” and that family issues, which include a pending divorce, have turned into mental issues. And those troubles go back to the start of 2013.
We laugh, we gawk, we criticize, we point fingers and whisper when Bess leaves the Ft. Lauderdale jail smirking at the cameras, and telling the world “One Love.”
We joke that this six-year NFL veteran and former Miami Dolphins starter has lost his way. How many of us have asked whether Bess is in his right mind? And better yet, how many of us care?
He’s just another example of a fallen athlete, celebrity, gone wild. Chalk his saga up in the column of “I told you so.”
Problem with human nature is we don’t sympathize enough with people’s troubles until they become a tragedy.
We don’t look at Bess’ or Titus Young’s mental health issues as something tragic, something serious until they turn into the next Junior Seau or Jovan Belcher, and take their lives, or the lives of others.
The way I see it, that’s a tragedy in itself. Professionals should have interpreted Bess’ tweets as cries for help. The Browns and the NFL should have been making sure he was getting it.
Bess needs help now. The same kind of help Young needed before his NFL career spiraled out of control.
This isn’t about making excuses for Bess. His actions don’t deserve any.
Weed might be getting legalized in a couple of states, but nobody should be advertising drug use, especially when children idolize you.
He’s not the first athlete to send out a naked picture of himself on social media, and probably won’t be the last. But the world can do without them all.
And threatening to fight an officer is never acceptable, no matter the cause of the altercation.
But the randomness, the head scratching nature of Bess’ actions the past few days only serves as a warning sign there’s a deeper problem, and hints he’s probably suffering from mental health issues.
That’s a scary place because it means the brain has called out sick. Problem is Bess doesn’t know that, which means in his mind everything he’s doing, saying, thinking, feeling, makes sense. And that’s a shame, because Bess has spent six years silencing his critics, inspiring young people, and living out his own childhood dream.
In one month he’s either jeopardized it all, or given himself a second act to touch others, another opportunity to inspire more lives.
But first Bess has got to figure out how to help himself.
My concern isn’t about Bess’ NFL contract, or his future in the league. It’s about his ability to make himself whole again in this broken world that views him as a punchline.
Omar Kelly writes for the Sun-Sentinel in Florida.