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An old photo doesn’t expose Jones’ true failures

Since becoming owner of the Dallas Cowboys, Jerry Jones has done nothing to fix the NFL’s lack of diversity. That should be our focus.

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With appreciation for LeBron James at least trying to go there, it’s not about the photo.

Perhaps more accurately, it’s not just about the photo. Fixating on it is a deflection tactic for some who fervently want to paint anything a white man did before he was 30 as mere childish innocence (if only Tamir Rice or Emmett Till or George Stinney, who were all children, had been allowed the same). It also shows ignorance from others who haven’t invested the time to read a thorough, well-told Washington Post story of how the past almost always ties to the present.

Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones’ present-day claim is that he was just a curious kid on that September morning in 1957 who was so interested in watching a mob of fellow white teenagers forcibly block a group of six Black students from entering North Little Rock High School that he ran to the top of the steps to get the best view. Whether we want to believe him isn’t what we should be talking about.

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That one still frame, with Jones clearly craning to get the best view, doesn’t come close to telling the entire story of what happened that morning.

“As we walked [toward the school], the crowd intensified. They kept on telling us, over and over, over and over, ‘You’re not supposed to be here. Go home. Go back to your own school’,” Richard Lindsey, one of the Black students, has recounted of that day. As they walked up the sidewalk toward the school and turned to walk up the stairs, “Somebody put their fingers right on the back of my neck and all they said was, ‘I just want to see what a n****r feels like.’”

The Black students, with minimal help from school officials, did not integrate North Little Rock that day. The school was not desegregated for seven more years.

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Jerry Jones is, today, arguably the most influential person in one of the most influential corporate entities in this country.

Dallas Cowboys team owner Jerry Jones' actions in recent years mean more than what he did in a 65-year-old photo. Neither paints a pretty picture. (Photo by Nick Wosika/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Dallas Cowboys team owner Jerry Jones’ actions in recent years mean more than what he did in a 65-year-old photo. Neither paints a pretty picture. (Photo by Nick Wosika/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Jerry Jones, today, would not denounce the behavior shown by the white mob in 1957, apologize for his participation, however tacit, nor has he shown through word or — more important — deed that he is a much different man today than he was as a “little burrhead” who told the Post he defied the word of his football coach to watch his white peers heckle a group of kids who were trying to get to school.

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The Washington Post’s Sally Jenkins and David Maraniss, I’m guessing, told Jones ahead of time what they would be asking him about. And with advanced notice and knowing two reporters from one of the most-read news outlets in America were recording him, he couldn’t bring himself to apologize to the victims and the public at-large, or show contrition. If he really was, as he asserts, a curious kid, wouldn’t he as an adult express shame that he was there, knowing the white students and white adults were not there to welcome integration, but to fight it?

I don’t know what, if anything, Jones said on that day 65 years ago, whether he hurled epithets or spit on the Black students or was the unknown person who put their fingers on Lindsey’s neck, or truly did just make a dumb decision in defiance of his coach’s decree.

What I do know is that when Colin Kaepernick began to protest the killing of Black citizens by police officers, Jones threatened his players with punishment if they too protested.

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What I do know is that it took until 2020, after the so-called racial reckoning in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, before Jones mumbled something about “grace” and “sensitive times” when it came to the heightened concerns of Black players and possible protests during pregame ceremonies.

What I do know is that in decades of owning the Cowboys, Jones has never had a Black head coach.

What I do know is that in saying he hires head coaches because he knows them personally, Jones is indicating that any interviews he has done with non-white candidates since the institution of the Rooney Rule (requiring NFL teams to interview minority coaching candidates) nearly 20 years ago were a complete farce.

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What I do know is Jones stood in front of a room of aspiring Black head coaches and general managers earlier this year and with a level of tone-deafness that strains credulity told a story of how he once pulled some strings to get a potential business partner into Augusta National for a weekend of golf with his old football coach, and if the coaches and scouts do something like that maybe they’ll have success too. Augusta didn’t even allow its first Black member until 1990 and remains one of the whitest, most exclusionary spaces in America.

What I do know is that acknowledging that the NFL has an anti-Black hiring problem, as Jones did in his Post interview, he does nothing to actively help fix the issue.

Jones said he wants to be “first in line” now when it comes to diversity, but where has he been? According to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, the league’s perceived racism has been a topic of meetings and in the headlines for years. Again, the Rooney Rule, functionally useless as it is given that it has become a box-checking exercise with no penalty for blatantly flouting its spirit, is nearly two decades old. Jones has had four head coaches in that time and other than allegedly considering hiring Dennis Green once, he’s hired only white coaches he likes personally because they’d played together decades ago or their daddy used to work for him.

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If he wanted to be first in line and leading the cause of equity in NFL executive offices and coaching staffs, he could have done that. If he really wanted NFL coaching staffs to be more reflective of team rosters, Jones has the influence to make it so. He knows that the power he has within the league’s owner class, because much like his gift of charming gibberish, he wields it often.

He hasn’t when it comes to this topic.

My mother tells me that when I was a little kid, I hated raisins so much that I initially wouldn’t eat watermelon because I thought the seeds were bits of that dastardly dried fruit. Now, at 45, I still won’t willingly eat raisins. It’s just ingrained in me.

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If you think the 65-year-old picture is the point, you’re missing it entirely.

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