There is one good thing about all my financial problems," Cowboy running back Tony Dorsett was saying on Saturday as he rode along the Pacific Coast Highway in Los Angeles, admiring the scenery. "Nobody asks me to loan them money anymore." He laughed, adjusted his sunglasses and returned his gaze to the passing scene.
It was one of the few light moments Dorsett has had lately. Indeed, seemingly everything in the life of America's hero (1976 Heisman winner at Pitt, where he led the Panthers to the national championship), who plays for America's Team (rookie of the year, All-Pro, and a perennial 1,000-yard rusher), is in shambles. His personal finances are in a bog. His marriage to Julie Ann Dorsett ended last year. As of Sunday, he was still a holdout from the Dallas training camp. Still, the other day he called Karen Casterlow, the mother of his son, Anthony Jr., 11, in Decatur, Ga. and said, "You know I'm a fighter. I'll survive it."
Dorsett is a gutty guy, with huge, see-everywhere eyes, who has employed his speed and agility to make it in a big man's game. But off the field he has not been nearly as swift. Last September the IRS garnisheed his Cowboy paycheck and soon thereafter placed liens on two houses in the Dallas area that he owns. This was done in order to satisfy $414,247.91 he owed in back taxes because a tax shelter in which he had invested was disallowed. Last week Dorsett reached an agreement with the IRS. A source told SI that Dorsett paid about $200,000 and will have a year to pay off the rest.
The tax problems came on the heels of his divorce, which cost him $250,000 (he borrowed the money from the Cowboys) and a 1981 Mercedes. He also blew at least $520,000 on a speculative oil-and-gas deal that went pffft. And just the other day, the First City Bank of Richardson, Texas filed suit against him for $175,000, plus interest of more than $6,000, for repayment of an outstanding loan. Then there's an estimated $240,000 more that Dorsett borrowed from the Cowboys recently in order to get himself through the troubled times while the IRS was glomming on to his paychecks.
"I've just got to keep on keeping on," says Dorsett, "Tony Dorsett has not died. The IRS can't keep me down. I'm a realist, and I know life has its ups and downs. It's a new day every day."
It certainly is for the Cowboys down at their Thousand Oaks, Calif. training camp. They started out by saying they were disappointed at Dorsett's holdout, then concerned, then miffed and, finally, irate. Even Tom Landry was growing exasperated, grousing, "His job and his responsibility is to be here." Finally it was as if Landry couldn't even bear to let the name Dorsett pass from his lips. "I have done everything I can for the running back," he said.
Dorsett's salary for 1985 is $450,000, going to $550,000 in 1987. He wants his contract renegotiated but insists, "I'm not shootin' for any pie in the sky." What Dorsett is primarily interested in is a big deferred-money package, involving an annuity and real estate—precisely $6.4 million, to be paid over 20 years, just like the Cowboys' deal last year with defensive tackle Randy White. "Tex talks about wanting to help me be able to see the light," says Dorsett, referring to Cowboy president Tex Schramm. "What light does he have in mind? Neon lights, bright lights, dim lights, Randy White lights? I want to know."
At the moment, Dorsett is belligerent. He has hired Howard Slusher to represent him in contract talks, and Slusher is notorious for holding his athletes out, even for a whole season; he represented White last year and held him out until just before the opening game. "My mind is made up," says Dorsett. "There is a possibility I may not be playing football this year. In fact, I probably won't." These are just words, of course, and likely don't mean much because moments later Dorsett is leaning back with his eyes shut, saying, "Last night I dreamed about playing football."
What does mean something, however, is that Dorsett—in spite of the club's loans to him—is furious with the Cowboys for what he says is their public airing of his private life. He complains, for example, that his tax problems would have remained confidential had the Cowboys not started a whispering campaign to get reporters to check up on him with the IRS.
Schramm says he mentioned that Tony had "personal financial problems" on his KLRD radio show in explaining why Dorsett had failed to report to camp. But Schramm denies that any information about Dorsett's difficulties with the IRS "came from me or my organization. I can certainly understand Tony thinking that it did. But if this hurts his image, that's the last thing the Cowboys want to do."