After President Trump called kneeling NFL players “sons of bitches,” the reaction across the league was swift and uniform. The following Sunday was defined by entire teams kneeling—taking Colin Kaepernick’s protest against racial injustice and inequality and pointing it at a president determined to exacerbate those issues. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones ended the historic week by staking a position out in front of the cameras on Monday Night Football, and kneeling with his team prior to the national anthem.
Multiple Trump tweets and a spineless NFL statement later, Jerry Jones has gone from expressing solidarity with his players to threatening to bench anyone who “disrespects the flag.” This set off a firestorm that engulfed ESPN's Jemele Hill again, and she was suspended two weeks by the network for suggesting that fans could target advertisers in an attempt to support the players' protest. Now, Jerry Jones' own team is upset with him, according to Tim Cowlishaw of the Dallas Morning News.
ESPN's Josina Anderson tweeted out quotes from one anonymous player who seems apoplectic.
Jerry Jones is a fraud, and this has been known to football fans for quite some time now—but with the NFL's recent osmosis into politics, a much wider range of people are getting to experience the eternal contradiction that is Jerry Jones. If you were wondering why the NFL is viewed with such hostility, Jones's influence is instructive. He is portrayed by many in the league as the consummate winner and businessman, but once you compare Jones to his peers, that argument completely falls apart.
Let's place his accomplishments side by side with another longtime owner of a signature NFL franchise: Pat Bowlen.
The argument that most fall back on is Jones’ business “acumen” being responsible for the growth of the NFL, but the predominant factor in the NFL’s ascendance to the top of our national consciousness is the league’s TV contracts, and Pat Bowlen was the head of the NFL’s television committee. There is absolutely no objective measure where Jerry Jones is a more successful owner than Pat Bowlen, yet Jones is in the Hall of Fame and Bowlen isn’t. Jerry Jones built a cult of personality on bullshit and the fame of his franchise, and the NFL largely laps it up. Now that Jones has been more exposed to the real world, this figment of football fans’ imagination is beginning to fall apart.
Given that the Cowboys had a team meeting over their owners’ comments, and the anonymous player venting to ESPN in an episode reminiscent of the Trump administration (who Jerry Jones donated to), this looks like an issue that will not go away any time soon—and if elite Cowboys players like Dez Bryant or Dak Prescott kneel, this longtime NFL fan is willing to bet a significant amount of money that Jones will not follow through on his threat and bench them. After all, Jerry Jones is the same guy who signed Greg Hardy—a cretin who was found guilty of abusing his girlfriend, reportedly smashing her into a bathroom wall before throwing her on to a futon covered in assault rifles—and after this incident, Jones said that Hardy is “of course, one of the real leaders on this team.”
Jerry Jones’ reputation is one of a man eschewing a litany of character concerns in favor of signing good players, and everyone in that Cowboys locker room knows it. With his history and this ultimatum, Jones has basically told Cowboys players that he would rather they beat a woman a fraction of their size half to death than stand up for what they believe in. Jerry Jones deserves the coming shitstorm that he has created for himself.
Jacob Weindling is a staff writer for Paste politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Jakeweindling.