When Cowboys owner Jerry Jones was 14 years old, his hometown of Little Rock, Arkansas was the epicenter of the civil rights movement. Amid efforts to integrate local high schools, protests erupted. White students tried to block Black students from entering the building.
In a new article regarding the potential influence of Jones over the NFL’s effort to improve its admittedly woeful record of hiring minority head coaches, the Washington Post unearths a photo of a 14-year-old Jones. There he is, standing among the protestors at North Little Rock High School blocking the path of six Black students.
Sixty-five years later, Jones attributes his presence to a curiosity that defied the orders of his football coach.
Jim Albright, per Jones, told the team that he “didn’t want to see any of you knot-heads near the front of that school tomorrow.” Jones claims (because, really, what else can he say?) that he was there to watch, not participate.
“I don’t know that I or anybody anticipated or had a background of knowing . . . what was involved,” Jones told the Post. “It was more a curious thing.”
On one hand, he was 15 at the time. On the other hand, it’s hard to imagine someone who was merely curious having such a prominent spot, given that there were surely plenty of others who were there not to observe but to obstruct.
The lengthy article delves into Jones’s employment practices with the Cowboys. He has never hired a Black head coach, and he has had on the payroll a limited number of minority coordinators. Former Dallas sportscaster Dale Hansen, whose on-air editorials taking the team to task are the stuff of legend, tells the Post that Jones could be a force for change among his NFL peers.
Jones doesn’t disagree with Hansen’s core point. Asked by the Post whether he has that “singular ability” to effect change, Jones said, “I do. What I’m saying is, I understand that.”
He also seems to understand the basic truth that the hiring process continues to be driven by relationships and familiarity, not raw merit.
“It’s not the X’s and O’s,” Jones told the Post. “It’s not the Jimmys and Joes. It’s who you know.”
It’s also what the owner knows the owner wants to do. In 2003, Jones was determined to hire Bill Parcells. And Jones apparently regarded the Rooney Rule as a box to be checked, interviewing Dennis Green by phone — and in turn compelling the league to revise the rule to require in-person interviews.
Whether Jones’s in-person interview with the Post persuades anyone that his motives in 1957 were pure, it’s undeniable that he has significant influence over his the other owners. If he were to take a prominent stand, others would follow.
That said, he’s had 33 years to do it. Could it happen in the twilight of his tenure as owner of the team? It’s entirely up to him.