OXNARD, Calif. – To Philadelphia Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins, he’s a bully. To President Donald Trump, he’s a hero. To the NFL’s public relations efforts, he’s a burr in the saddle.
And to his own financial bottom line, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones is undefeated. And that’s why he continues to do what he wants … when he wants … how he wants. Just like it has always been. Just like it will always be. And as financially rewarding as ever.
It conjured two questions this week, when Jerry Jones and son Stephen came out and undercut a national anthem rule they helped create barely two months ago. A rule that was supposed to allow NFL players a locker room option if they didn’t feel compelled to engage in “proper” conduct during the national anthem – a lawyer-ish way of banning social justice protests during the ceremonies. The Cowboys voted in favor of that rule in May. Then they backtracked this week, saying Dallas players would all put a toe on the line for the anthem, or simply not be Cowboys.
Which brings me back to those two thoughts:
1. Should we be surprised that Jerry Jones continued down this same path – which has been his sole waypoint for two seasons –going against the NFL’s goal of tabling anthem talk in training camp?
(Pfffffft. C’mon. Seriously? That’s a no.)
2. What happened between late May and this week for the NFL and Cowboys when it came to protesting players and the league’s new rule?
(Donald Trump. Again.)
We shouldn’t be surprised that Jones is running his own show again, regardless of what the league is doing. Deep down, Jones doesn’t have a great deal of respect for what the league wants when it conflicts with how he runs his team. Lest anyone forget, Jones is the only living owner to make it into the Hall of Fame despite:
- Breaching the NFL’s collective team-sponsorship agreement in the 1990s, which opened the door to the Cowboys cutting massively lucrative advertising side deals with corporations like Pepsi, Nike and American Express. This triggered an NFL lawsuit against Jones … litigation in which the league essentially got its lunch handed to it.
- In response to the NFL’s legal shot at him, Jones brought his own $750 million antitrust lawsuit against the league – which is basically akin to you or I deciding to sue our boss and all of our co-workers, most of whom we will continue to work with for the next few decades. Oh, and Jones whupped the living hell out of the league with that maneuver, too, forcing the NFL to settle its case and allowing Dallas (and other teams) to do their own stadium sponsorship deals. It also allowing the Cowboys to sign side licensing agreements that would help make the franchise obscenely profitable.
- And if disassembling the NFL in court wasn’t enough, let’s not forget Jones also (among many other things): held court on a party bus that hosted league powerbrokers like former head of officiating Dean Blandino; signed Greg Hardy under an unconscionable cloud of domestic violence; was fined several times by the league for speaking out of turn about labor agreements or salary cap-related violations.
So yeah, we shouldn’t be surprised that Jerry Jones is once again doing his thing. Particularly after making his entrance to the Hall of Fame. A high-point in his NFL saga that has since been followed by: taking shots at NFL commissioner Roger Goodell prior to Goodell’s most recent extension; backing his spiraling friend and business partner “Papa” John Schnatter at a time the NFL can’t get away from the Papa John’s brand fast enough; and, well, carrying every last drop of Trump’s water on the issue of protesting players.
Which, as usual, brings us back to a familiar place. Trump and Jerry, Jerry and Trump. When it comes to the NFL’s business, the two are starting to become indistinguishably aligned. So much so that you almost expected Trump to congratulate Jones for threatening to violate the league’s new rule on player protests. Which Trump did, tweeting “Way to go Jerry. This is what the league should do.” after Jones laid down a mandate that all his players stand for the anthem.
At this point, Jones and Trump aren’t just two peas in a pod. They’re two bulldozers in a china shop. A businessman who fancies himself a football man and a carnival barker who fancies himself a politician. Two guys who admire each other for having an uncanny mastery of branding and showmanship. Two guys who have reached the apex of their chosen profession by essentially doing and saying whatever they please – consequences be damned. And two guys who have gamed the system in varying ways to multiply their power and wealth to levels few believed possible.
If you look at Jones through that Trump prism, the Dallas Cowboys’ stance this week was a predictable as ever. Just like Trump told Jones almost a year ago, the NFL can’t win on the anthem issue when it comes to compromise. Jones has known that. He’s also been fine with it.
Because if the NFL history of Jones has taught us anything, he’s not trying to win with compromise. And he’s not really playing on the league’s side, either.
Jerry Jones is playing his own game, by his own rules, with his own bottom line being the winning priority. It’s how he has tripled the value of his franchise from $1.6 billion in 2008 to $4.8 billion in 2018 despite winning only two playoff games in that time. And if that makes him a bully to players, or a hero to the president, or a burr in the NFL’s side, so be it.
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