Jerry Jones was at the center of a photograph that defined racism in America during the 1950s, and the Dallas Cowboys owner has been justly questioned on the incident.
Last week, The Washington Post published an article by David Maraniss and Sally Jenkins, titled “Jerry Jones helped transform the NFL, except when it comes to race“. This Monday, Jenkins (a long-time Post sports columnist) joined The Dan Le Batard Show to discuss the article and the unearthing of a 65-year-old disturbing photo featuring Jones.
“It was part of a larger project,” Jenkins told Le Batard. “We came across this photo of Jones. It’s at the start of his school year at North Little Rock High School. He’s on the cusp of his 15th birthday and he’s very clearly identifiable in the photo, which ran on the front page of The New York Times in 1957 because Little Rock was undergoing a real crisis over the desegregation of its schools to the point that President Eisenhower had to send the 101st Airborne into Little Rock to quell the violence over Black school kids trying to go to white schools.”
“We knew that Jerry Jones had witnessed, or at least has lived through a very tough civil rights era in Little Rock, and we wanted to talk to him about that. And we just started to research it for the purpose of asking him questions when we came across that photo.”
The larger project Jenkins referred to is WaPo’s Black Out series, a nine-part series that attempts to explore why the NFL has such a diversity problem with head coaches. Jenkins said The Washington Post sent out 32 requests, one for each NFL owner to speak about the topic. But Jones (seen above ahead of an Oct. 23 game) was the only one who was willing to speak about the league’s diversity issue, which Jenkins credited him for as other owners hide from the subject. According to Jenkins, Jones agreed that he and the Cowboys have the influence to move the needle on race in the NFL, which is partially why he chose to be interviewed for the WaPo article.
During Monday’s interview, Le Batard’s co-host Stugotz asked Jenkins if it’s fair to judge a person, in this case Jones, by a photograph that was taken when they were a child?
“Of course not, certainly not.” Jenkins answered. “What is fair is to ask him about what he witnessed, ask him what he experienced, ask him how his views may have changed, if they did change at all, how has he evolved on issues of social justice and racial justice. And the fact is that he has evolved, particularly recently. He started out as a real hard-liner on the whole Colin Kaepernick crisis in the NFL. At one point, Jerry Jones said ‘The Dallas Cowboys would stand for the anthem and toe the line.’ Well he’s really softened on that. He’s become a much more considered voice on the subject, partly thanks to conversations with his Black vice president of personnel, Will McClay.”
Jones is not being “canceled” for the photo as Stephen A. Smith alluded to last week. No one is demanding that he sells the Cowboys or gets kicked out of the NFL because he was front and center at a desegregation protest in 1957., but that shouldn’t excuse Jones from having to address the controversial photo.
“Of course people shouldn’t be held responsible for what they did at 15,” Jenkins reiterated. “And of course people shouldn’t be held responsible for what their fathers thought or what their grandfathers thought.”
While an 80-year-old Jerry Jones shouldn’t be held responsible for what he did at 15, it’s fair to question if the NFL’s cast of owners and their backgrounds are the reason why the league has such a blaring diversity issue. Which is exactly what Jenkins and The Post sought to do.
[The Dan Le Batard Show; photo from Tim Heitman/USA Today Sports]