Fewer words, more ac­tion needed

Jerry Jones can take les­son from Mar­shall

- Jar­rett Bell USA TO­DAY Sports

Jerry Jones was on the line Wed­nes­day af­ter­noon, and it felt a lot like dam­age con­trol.

The lo­qua­cious Dal­las Cow­boys owner is draw­ing heat for main­tain­ing dur­ing a ra­dio in­ter­view Tues­day on 105.3 The Fan in Dal­las that it is “re­ally dis­ap­point­ing ” for any­body (read: protest­ing play­ers) to use the NFL’s plat­form to make so­cial state­ments.

Jones, who em­bod­ies the big busi­ness of the league more than any­one as owner of the world’s most valu­able sports fran­chise (ac­cord­ing to Forbes), hardly backed off that stance. But he felt an urge to pro­vide con­text, in­sist­ing that his re­sponse was to a ques­tion about the mov­ing trib­ute to 9/11 first re­spon­ders that the team show­cased dur­ing pregame and half­time cer­e­monies at AT&T Sta­dium on Sun­day.

“I wanted it to be all about com­mem­o­rat­ing 9/11, which to our na­tion was like Pearl Har­bor,” Jones told USA TO­DAY Sports.

But still, what about protests against so­cial in­jus­tice that started with San Fran­cisco 49ers quar­ter­back Colin Kaeper­nick and have

spread to nearly a dozen other NFL play­ers?

“I don’t have a thing to say about that,” Jones said.

If you know Jones, who al­ways has some­thing to say, that’s a state­ment in it­self. No Cow­boys play­ers have sat, taken a knee or raised a John Car­los/Tom­mie Smith-like fist dur­ing the na­tional an­them. At the start of train­ing camp, though, the team fol­lowed tight end Ja­son Wit­ten’s lead and chris­tened its first prac­tice by lock­ing arms with Dal­las po­lice as a show of sup­port af­ter the July tragedy in which five of­fi­cers were slain dur­ing a sniper at­tack in Dal­las. The Cow­boys wanted to wear a hel­met de­cal, too, but the idea was nixed by the NFL.

“I’m not in­sen­si­tive or obliv­i­ous about the is­sues,” Jones said when asked about the so­cial con­cerns ex­pressed by play­ers, which in­clude po­lice bru­tal­ity. “These are big, im­por­tant, crit­i­cal is­sues.”

Still, in my view, his com­ments Tues­day, so un­equiv­o­cally against even the hint of a protest dur­ing the 9/11 trib­ute, marginal­ized the con­cerns of many peo­ple — pri­mar­ily African Amer­i­cans and other mi­nori­ties, whose world­view might lead them to be­lieve there might be no bet­ter time for some­one to ex­er­cise their First Amend­ment right of ex­pres­sion than dur­ing the an­them. Al­most as soon as Kaeper­nick ig­nited this de­bate on the NFL land­scape, the nar­ra­tive shifted in many ways from his state­ment about so­cial con­cerns to ques­tions about sup­port of the U.S. mil­i­tary and pa­tri­o­tism.

But, hey, just be­cause one ex­presses dis­con­tent about, say, African Amer­i­cans los­ing lives and suf­fer­ing other forms of abuse at the hands of some po­lice doesn’t mean they’re not pa­tri­otic. Af­ter all, the flag rep­re­sents the good, old Amer­i­can val­ues of free­dom of speech and ex­pres­sion, too.

Of course, to have these dis­cus­sions on a plat­form usu­ally re­served for a game is a headache for the NFL, which pack­ages its wildly pop­u­lar prod­uct for the masses and gen­er­ates more than $13 bil­lion per year in rev­enue. Even with a “so­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity” de­part­ment, es­tab­lished in the wake of the do­mes­tic vi­o­lence episodes in 2014, there is con­cern about whether too much fo­cus on so­cial is­sues will di­min­ish the league’s ap­peal to fans ... and spon­sors.

Yet in just a few weeks, the league will go pink in the name of breast can­cer aware­ness. It’s a good cause — and also one near to the heart of Com­mis­sioner Roger Good­ell, who lost his mother to the dis­ease. But to some peo­ple (and sev­eral play­ers), so­cial in­jus­tice is the cause they’d like to rally around.

That’s why it was so inspiring that on the same day Jones ex­pressed his dis­ap­point­ment about the prospect of more protests, Den­ver Bron­cos line­backer Bran­don Mar­shall — he took a knee last Thurs­day night to sup­port Kaeper­nick, his col­lege team­mate — was moved to ac­tion. Mar­shall, who lost two en­dorse­ments and re­ceived scathing re­ac­tion on so­cial me­dia for merely ex­press­ing his dis­con­tent, spent a good chunk of time Tues­day vis­it­ing with Den­ver Po­lice Chief Robert White. They dis­cussed is­sues, con­cerns and, yes, ways that the foot­ball player could help bridge the gap be­tween po­lice and their com­mu­ni­ties.

White told The Den­ver Post that he sup­ported Mar­shall’s Amer­i­can right to take a knee, re­gard­less of whether or not he agreed with the method. It sounds like they had a good dia­logue — which this en­tire sit­u­a­tion begs for, as well as un­der­stand­ing and re­spect in how dif­fer­ent opin­ions are ex­pressed.

“He wants to do some­thing about it,” White said, via The Post. “And part of do­ing some­thing about it is go­ing to the source of where you think some of those is­sues are.”

Kaeper­nick is be­ing proac­tive, too. He’s pledged to do­nate the first $1 mil­lion of his $11.9 mil­lion base salary to groups that ad­dress so­cial in­equal­ity. Even more en­cour­ag­ing is that 49ers CEO Jed York an­nounced last week that the team would do­nate $1 mil­lion to two Bay Area or­ga­ni­za­tions that fo­cus on racial and so­cial in­equal­i­ties.

Mean­while, Mi­ami Dol­phins owner Stephen Ross, who last year es­tab­lished the Ross Ini­tia­tive in Sports for Equal­ity (RISE), has backed his play­ers af­ter four kneeled in Sun­day’s opener.

“This is a con­ver­sa­tion we need to have,” Ross said Wed­nes­day on CNBC. “They’re hav­ing a con­ver­sa­tion that no one wants to talk about. I re­spect it, and I en­cour­age it.”

I en­cour­age it, too. The ac­tion by the play­ers is surely mov­ing the ball. They have raised aware­ness and sparked na­tional con­ver­sa­tion. Yet power bro­kers like Jones need to be moved, too.

Jones, who once hosted for­mer South African pres­i­dent Nel­son Man­dela for a game, in­sists that he is giv­ing se­ri­ous thought about ways to be­come proac­tive.

“I will be a bea­con in the club­house,” he said. “This is where my feet can move with my heart.”

That’s hardly a “dis­ap­point­ing ” tone. Maybe it’s a First Amend­ment ex­pres­sion that rep­re­sents the next step to­ward ac­tion speak­ing louder than words.

 ?? KIRBY LEE, USA TO­DAY SPORTS ?? “I’m not in­sen­si­tive ... about the is­sues,” Jerry Jones said.
KIRBY LEE, USA TO­DAY SPORTS “I’m not in­sen­si­tive ... about the is­sues,” Jerry Jones said.
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