Cowboys’ Jerry Jones discusses attending the 1950s anti-segregation rally, his perspective on NFL race relations

ARLINGTON, Texas — The Dallas Cowboys played and won a game on Thanksgiving Day 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 powerhouse of a franchise he has built.

Jones referred to the Cowboys’ victory, their growth and their setbacks. As he usually does.

The main difference: He also referred at length to an article The Washington Post released Wednesday based broadly on Jones’ life and on interviews with the 80-year-old team owner, who also serves as general manager.

The article, which spanned over 8,000 words, was complex. It included two main and related points of emphasis on race relations in America, the NFL, and Jones’ personal and professional life.

ARLINGTON, TEXAS - OCTOBER 23: Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones interacts with fans during warmups before the Cowboys take on the Detroit Lions at AT&T Stadium on October 23, 2022 in Arlington, Texas .  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

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

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

Second: The Post asked each of the NFL team owners to discuss the lagging progress of diversity in NFL coaching hiring, particularly at the coordinator and head coach level. Only Jones, who spent more than two hours with the reporters, agreed. Jones primarily 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 black. McClay occupies a prominent position in the franchise; Smith has partnered with Jones in business in the 30 years since he played for Dallas.

Jones elaborated on both on Thursday.

Jones’ file photo was taken on September 9, 1957, the day six black students were to attend classes at their North Little Rock High School. This was five days after the famous “Little Rock Nine” episode, whereby President Dwight D. Eisenhower sent federal troops to safely transport nine black students to Little Rock Central High in Arkansas. Jones High School was approximately 4 miles away.

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There, on September 9, students from North Little Rock tried to block the entrance of black students. Jones, who was a month shy of her 15th birthday, attended. He says “curiosity” rather than belief in the cause drew him to the hostile and racist event that ultimately set back segregation at the school by a decade, according to The Post.

“That was, oh my gosh, 65 years ago and a curious kid, I didn’t know at the time what a monumental event was taking place,” Jones said Thursday night. “I am very glad that we are very far from that. Am. That would remind me: let’s continue to do everything we can so that those kinds of things don’t happen.”

Jones declined to confirm that he was sorry he attended the rally, stressing what the teenage Jerry was most concerned about: whether he would get in trouble with his football coach, who had warned the players to stay away. (Jones said his coaches actually “kicked my butt” for coming.)

“No one had any idea, frankly, what was going to happen,” Jones said. “I have a habit of sticking my nose in the right place at the wrong time.

“It’s a reminder to me how to improve and do things the right way. …I’m not arrogant about it. I’m genuine about it.”

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

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

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

“I’m not afraid.”

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

He questioned the implications that he would actively avoid hiring diverse candidates, citing how more than 50% of his coaching staff identifies as a minority. Advocating for progressive diversity policies, he said, was not top of mind when he bought the Cowboys and immediately faced financial challenges. Jones said he was “fighting for my fucking life” at the time, focused almost exclusively on creditworthiness.

Today, Jones has hired and says he will hire a variety of candidates when they are his best business choice. But he doesn’t focus on the racial makeup of his staff and active diverse recruiting.

“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’m going. As for who makes it work, what it looks like who makes it work, that has no place in my life. There is no place.

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

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