People should mature as they get older. That’s how growing up works. We make mistakes, learn from them, and hopefully don’t make them again.

That painfully mundane principle has been lost on Deion Sanders. Earlier today, Sanders assessed the mall behaviour of Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant with some harsh words, telling ESPN radio that Bryant “needs help” and has needed help for quite some time. Seemingly regarding Bryant as a lost, misguided soul, Sanders said he warned the Cowboys about Bryant before they drafted him last spring with the 24th overall pick. Did that warning take place while Bryant was suspended by the NCAA because of his meetings with Sanders?

There’s an entire team of bright minds in Dallas dedicated to keeping this supposedly wayward young man on the right path. Unfortunately, for Sanders the horse is near the water, but he isn’t drinking anything.

“He needs help. He needs help,” Sanders told ESPN. “I told the Cowboys from Day One that he needs help. Matter of fact, they have a team in place to help him. But you cannot tell a grown man what to do.”

What are Bryant’s crimes to earn such a reputation? On Saturday Bryant was issued a warning at the NorthPark Center, an upscale mall in Dallas. Some off-duty officers noticed that Bryant and his friends were wearing their pants too low, and asked them to politely cover their lower regions. Bryant received a warning and was banned from the mall for 90 days.

This isn’t the kind of image we have of our professional athletes. We don’t like to imagine the leaders of the teams we paint our faces and wear out couch grooves to support exposing their underwear in public. Even though Bryant insisted he wasn’t the one with the droopy drawers, guilt by association etches that less than classy image into the mind’s eye, an image that isn’t much different from that of a young Sanders.

It was about 20 years ago when Prime Time emerged. This was a man in the body of Sanders, but it wasn’t really Sanders; it was an ultra charismatic alter ego who wore dew rags and gold chains, and made rap songs about money. Meanwhile, Bryant is guilty of no more than perhaps associating with the wrong crowd and some minor indiscretions at Oklahoma State like allegedly being late for a game. He’s done everything in his power to escape the diva tag.

After refusing to carry Roy Williams’ pads–which ignited a probe into the archaic and ridiculous concept of rookie hazing–Bryant gave his reasoning, and then talked little about the subject, wanting it to melt away. He later bought Air Jordans for his teammates and paid nearly $55,000 for a team dinner at a posh Dallas steak house. Bryant’s diva reputation has grown on him like a mole, something he doesn’t want and tries to hide, but tolerates its presence. This latest story has grown legs because of the slow news cycle brought on by the lockout, and the microscope placed over god’s team.

Sanders can relish his newly-minted role as a mentor to players like Michael Vick, Ray Lewis, and Michael Crabtree, but he can’t forget that not too long ago, he was Bryant. Sanders was immature, and when he wasn’t fabricating a separate personality while playing football, he was dousing Tim McCarver in the bowels of the ball diamond.

Bryant may not be the real man Sanders wants him to be, but neither was Prime Time.