Maybe it's racism.
Get this: "I like to walk around naked in the locker room before the game and pretend I'm being sold into slavery," Cox says. A Pro Bowl linebacker, paid more than $3 million a year, sold into slavery? "Yeah, I think of my opponent that week as the slave trader and me as a Mandingo. It's horrible. They make me bend over, check me for a hernia. They say, 'Let's see his b——.' Dehumanizing stuff."
He buys into it. In fact, by the time he hits the field, he is Kunta Kinte. "F——— racist!" he will scream at any white offensive player on the field. "I will avenge the things you have done!"
Cox has been a victim of racism. Affidavits in the Buffalo finger incident, in September 1993, claim that two children directed racial slurs at him while their father watched. Cox says he has had more hate mail and death threats from Buffalo than he cares to recall. He knows what it's like to go into a clothing store you could buy with the game check in your wallet and yet have security trail you.
Of course, if racism won't properly stir things up, telling lies will. Cox will inform his opponent how many players on the guy's own team have had sex with his wife. Or Cox will mention that on the next play he is going to try to break his opponent's arm. "Whatever it takes to make them think I'm absolutely crazy," Cox explains. "I want the guy I'm up against to think I could absolutely blow any second."
Not that it always works. Once, Cox was going bonkers across from an Indianapolis Colts lineman, who listened to it all—the comments about his mother, his wife, his face—and then said quietly, "You didn't get much love as a kid, did you?"
Maybe that's it. Maybe it's his past that makes him so angry.
His real dad (Bryan was brought up mostly by his stepfather) was a drug dealer. Went to jail. Got out on parole. Dealt more drugs. Bryan stopping talking to him. The two grew distant. Dad died of a heart attack in 1992. Some of Dad's family blamed Bryan for the death. Brother dealt drugs. Still has a bullet in his hip from a deal gone bad Bryan saw the house next door firebombed in a gang war. Another time a man was shot right in front of him. In a case of mistaken identity, a loaded gun was held to Bryan's head by a man who seemed utterly sincere.
"No," Cox says. "My past doesn't make me angry. My past helped me. My past woke me up to the realization that I had to get out of there, make a better life. Now play to feed my family."
Still, at his church in East St. Louis, Mount Pisgah, members of the congregation sometimes pray for him to calm down. "Well, I had a long talk with God about the madness," Cox says. "I said, 'Lord, lead me in a direction you want me to go.' But ht didn't change me. He hasn't changed me. I think he knows I'm just trying to be the best football player I can be."