Cowboys’ Jerry Jones discusses attending 1950s desegregation demonstration, his perspective on NFL race relations

ARLINGTON, Texas – The Dallas Cowboys played and won a game on Thanksgiving at their home AT&T Stadium.

After the game, team owner Jerry Jones addressed reporters in the bowels of the stadium, often referred to as “Jerry World” in reference to the financial might of a franchise he’s built.

Jones addressed the Cowboys’ win, their growth, and their setbacks. As he usually does.

The main difference: He also, for a long time, tackled a report that The Washington Post released Wednesday based heavily on Jones’ life and interviews with the 80-year-old team owner who also serves as general manager.

The feature, which covers more than 8,000 words, was complex. It included two important and related points of emphasis on race relations in America, the NFL, and Jones’ personal and professional life.

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, interacting with fans Oct. 18. 23 in Arlington, Texas, answered follow-up questions on a Washington Post article about him on Thursday. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

The first, and introductory, theme centers on a stock photo of Jones participating in desegregation efforts in 1950s Arkansas, the Post discusses his mindset at the time and childhood in as-yet-unintegrated Arkansas (Jones has said he interacted with the black community as a child , including at his father’s grocery store that was integrated.)

Second: The Post asked each of the NFL’s team owners to discuss diversity’s delayed progress in NFL coaching hiring, especially at the coordinator and head coaching levels. Only Jones, who spent more than two hours with reporters, agreed. Jones mainly discussed how he hires who he believes is the best person for the job. The Post interviewed Cowboys vice president of player personnel Will McClay and former Cowboys Hall of Fame running back Emmitt Smith, both of whom are black. McClay holds a prominent position in the franchise; Smith has partnered with Jones on commercial endeavours, in the 30 years since he starred for Dallas.

Jones worked out both Thursdays.

The file photo of Jones was taken on Sept. 17. 9, 1957, the day six black students were scheduled to attend classes at his North Little Rock High School. This came five days after the famous “Little Rock Nine” episode, for which President Dwight D. Eisenhower sent federal troops to safely transport nine black students to Little Rock Central High in Arkansas. Jones’ high school was about 4 miles away.

There, on Sept. 9, North Little Rock students tried to block the entry of black students. Jones, who was a month away from his 15th birthday, attended. He says “curiosity” rather than belief in the cause drew him to the hostile and racist event that ultimately delayed school degregation by a decade, according to The Post.

“It was, geez, 65 years ago and curious kid, I didn’t know at the time the monumental event that was happening,” Jones said Thursday night. “I’m really happy that we are a long way from that. I’m. This would remind me: keep doing everything you can to prevent things like this from happening.

Jones declined to confirm that he regretted attending the rally, stressing what teenager Jerry was more worried about: whether he would get in trouble with his football coach, who had warned players to stay away. (Jones said his coaches really “kicked my ass” for participating.)

“Nobody had any idea, frankly, what was going to happen,” Jones said. “I have a habit of poking this nose in the right place at the wrong time.

“It reminds me how to improve and do things right. … I’m not dismissive about it. I’m honest about it.

Jones initially answered eight questions about the photo before a panel of about two dozen reporters. On the ninth question, he told the reporter asking him that he would be happy to visit him, but that at that point he would answer questions about the game.

Several minutes later, as the crowd of reporters thinned, Jones revisited the conversation about his experience and beliefs about race relations after the game. He spoke about his family growing up in a predominantly black neighborhood in Arkansas, a hometown he has always felt connected to and has also brought players including Troy Aikman to visit, Jones said. He emphasized his family’s philanthropic efforts in those neighborhoods and framed his own experiences growing up in segregated times as part of his background.

“Those years definitely marked me and made me a way that, as we’re all here today, we’re looking for ways to improve, ways to do it better,” Jones said. “You may have noticed in the same article that I was the only one who volunteered. Of all the owners, I’ve been the only one to talk about it, and I’ll be talking about it all day.

“I’m not afraid.”

Jones also discussed, as he did in The Post article, how necessary connections and networking are for upward mobility in the NFL. He indicated hiring coaches Jimmy Johnson and Barry Switzer after previous friendships and downplayed how race could impact networking. Jones said he could help coaches, including black coaches, network and connect with those who will promote them.

He disputed the implications that it would actively avoid hiring diverse candidates, citing how over 50% of its coaching staff identify as minority. Advocating for progressive diversity policies, he said, he wasn’t in first place when he bought the Cowboys and immediately faced financial challenges. Jones said he was “fighting for my damn life” back then, focused almost exclusively on creditworthiness.

Jones hired today and says he will hire various candidates when they are his best business option. But he doesn’t focus on the racial makeup of his staff and active diverse recruitment.

“My goal when I get up in the morning is to make it work,” Jones said. “And I don’t care if it’s you or you or you. Hell, we have to make it work. That’s where I go. As far as who makes it work, what those who make it work look like, they have no place in my life. No place.

“It’s not even a thought about who makes it work.”

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