Much of the sports media discussion this week has revolved around The Washington Post‘s publication of a story with an unearthed photo of Dallas Cowboys‘ owner Jerry Jones. The photo in question, from 65 years ago, shows a group of white students trying to prevent Black students from integrating an Arkansas high school. Jones, then 15, is seen in the photo, but his specific involvement in the situation has been debated. Much of that debate has come from Stephen A. Smith, and Smith has now added a new dimension to that.
On ESPN’s First Take Monday, Smith blasted the Post‘s decision to run that photo (which, it should be noted, came with a full story of “Jerry Jones helped transform the NFL, except when it came to race,” which included comments from Jones). There, he said ““You’re going to bring up a photo of him when he was 14, 15 years old? Sixty-five or sixty-six years ago? This is where cancel culture gets into the mix. You’re making an attempt to eradicate him, what he stands for and all he has done.”
Those comments from Smith drew backlash, which Smith then responded to in more detail on his Know Mercy podcast (from Audacy’s Cadence13) Wednesday. There, he said “One can only be called a sellout and a c**n and all of this other stuff but so much before you feel compelled to respond.” On First Take Thursday, Smith also discussed LeBron James’ disappointment in being asked about issues like Kyrie Irving’s comments and not the Jones photo, and praised James for speaking out there.
On Friday’s next episode of Know Mercy, Smith discussed the Jones saga some more. And what particularly stood out there was his criticism for Jones (who Smith has repeatedly cited as a friend). There, Smith took exception to Jones’ particular comments from an interview last Thursday after the Cowboys’ win over the New York Giants. Jones said then “Nobody there had any idea, frankly, what was going to take place.” Here’s how Smith responded, questioning those comments from Jones but also standing by his previous position that the photo itself doesn’t make Jones’ involvement clear:
“Jerry Jones, when interviewed on Thanksgiving night following their victory over the New York Giants, was asked about being at that rally [or] protest, whatever you wanna call it, depending on who you are. Here was Jerry Jones’ response: ‘Look, that was 65 years ago, more like 66.’ He said ‘And I had no idea when I walked up there what we were doing. That was 65 years ago…[I was a] curious kid. I didn’t know at the time the monumental event, really, that was going on and I’m sure glad that we’re a long way from that,’ Jones said. ‘Nobody there had any idea frankly, what was going to take place.'”
“That’s a damn lie. Now I’m not saying Jerry Jones is lying, but don’t tell me no one there knew what was going on. Somebody did. That’s why they were there. Kids were trying to desegregate the school. You didn’t want them to desegregate the school. Meaning some of you. I can’t speak to what Jerry Jones felt. Just like LeBron can’t speak to what Jerry Jones thought. But don’t say [nobody knew]. Speak for yourself, Jerry. Speak for yourself.”
“See, you get in trouble when you do that, Jerry. Cause you can’t speak for everybody else. You can’t say nobody there knew what was going on. You can’t say everybody was curious. You wanna say that about yourself? Cool. It was a still picture. You were just standing there. You weren’t at the front of the line in some black kid’s face, screaming at them, spitting at them, hitting them. No, none of that was seen.”
“There’s no evidence of that. But when you sit up there and say, well, I was just curious. Everybody was curious. Wait a minute, now. That’s a dangerous slope cause you can’t speak for everybody. And we know that’s a lie. The school was trying to desegregate. Kids were there protesting it. You might have been curious, but don’t act like no one was there without malice thoughts in their mind and heart. That’s just not possible. Having said all of that, at the end of the day, Jerry Jones’ willingness to say that brings into focus a lot of questions.”
It’s notable that Smith’s overall position here is still pretty consistent with what he’s previously said, even after the pushback he’s taken. He goes on to say here that he thinks criticism based on photos like this is a dangerous precedent to set, and brings up himself there:
“I do know is that it’s a huge Pandora’s box, a dangerous Pandora’s box to open when you’re talking about taking a still picture of a man from……years ago, using that to try and take him down. When you do that, it’s a very simple question. You really, really want that to be our standard?”
“I ain’t gonna lie to y’all. I can tell y’all I wasn’t at some hatred rally with a bunch of supremacists of any color, that I wasn’t spewing hatred and rhetoric and all of this other stuff. I can tell you that, but I could also tell you this. I’m not sure if every single photo that has ever been taken of me is of the most flattering kind. And that I’d want that to be some kind of thing that would be able to judge who I am and what I’m all about and what I stand for.”
But it’s also notable to see Smith being harsher on Jones than he has been in past comments on this. Beyond the “damn lie” (which is strong language, but is over the distinction of Jones speaking for others in that crowd, not what Jones himself was feeling), Smith went on to say that while it’s “off base” to blast Jones for this photo “as some kind of gotcha element,” it is “on base” to discuss Jones’ “silence during the social justice movement, the position he took against Colin Kaepernick when he said that his players would not be taking a knee.”
And that’s what a lot of that Post piece was about, and that’s what a lot of the recent discussion here has been, including James’ comments on Jones. And it’s interesting to see Smith somewhat moving past his thoughts against the photo publication (while still expanding on those) and engaging with the wider ongoing conversation on Jones’ history on race.
It’s also significant that this came with an endorsement of James’ approach to this. There, Smith paraphrased James’ comments as ‘When we go through what we go through, a black person makes a mistake, we mess up. It’s everywhere. …But this white billionaire who owns the Dallas Cowboys, y’all didn’t even ask me a question.” He then praised those comments with “And you know what the brilliance about that was, ladies and gentlemen? He wasn’t even calling out Jerry Jones. He was calling out the media.”
Absolutely, James does have a point there. And Smith has a point in recognizing that. But it’s a little unusual for Smith to recognize that James is right that this should be a story that he and others are asked about (considering how they’re asked about other controversial comments, like those from Irving) after his prominent complaints about the existence of this story (and this photo in particular). But that, and this episode as a whole, does perhaps speak to Smith showing some more nuanced views on the Jones saga than his initial complaints about it being a story.
[Know Mercy on Apple Podcasts]