Signing Michael Sam A Matter Of Cents – Not Sense – For Jerry Jones & Dallas Cowboys
There was a time when Jerry Jones and Tex Schramm may have been considered a cut from the same piece of cloth. Both won Super Bowls, each enjoyed dragging the league commissioner around by the ear, and both had the NFL’s most-feared head coaches stalking their sideline.
These days, nearly a decade after Schramm’s sad passing, it takes but a quick glance to realize that Jones packs nowhere near the punch that he once did. His team last hoisted the Lombardi trophy some nineteen years ago, his head coach is recognized worldwide as a first-class “puppet,” and his presence at league meetings engenders far more cackles from those present than any semblance of fear.
Despite holding the distinction of being the NFL’s wealthiest owner and the care-holder of their most attractive franchise, Jones is a man who chases money and the spotlight with all the dedication of a dog chasing its tail. As a consequence, there are many shortcomings and pitfalls in his makeup as an owner that Jones is wont to showcase.
Regardless of what you may have heard, diplomacy has never been a strength of Jerry’s. Not when it comes to the area of football business, that is. He has never given us a reason to doubt his strengths in communication, but has outdone himself in failing to consider beforehand what exactly he is conveying. Jones is a public figure who lives dangerously, choosing to think after the fact, rather than before.
Infamous indeed was his sloppy firing of Tom Landry in February of 1989, as was his “Troy looks good in the shower” comment a few months later. There are countless more which grace the bucket list from the past twenty-five years. Not that Jerry cares.
He is a showman first, a salesman next, and the ring-master foremost of America’s largest sporting empire, the Dallas Cowboys. And, truth be told, the world could put up with him as such, if only he didn’t insist on being the hands-on general manager of the football team as well.
Jerry can make a fast buck. There’s never been a fool that lived who doubted that. What doubts there are pertain to his ability to separate business principles from football principles. Too often, his decisions are meant to render a quick financial return or patch up the team’s sullied reputation, rather than to improve the Cowboys’ chances of winning on fall Sundays.
Jones is well aware of the Cowboys’ history as a franchise which made their living on the cutting edge of progress. When Jones was making a name for himself in the oil industry, the Cowboys were a team that delighted in proving the doubters wrong by showcasing a rare ability to defy what many perceived as the unshakeable laws of logic. Like the rest of the nation, Jones was a fascinated bystander as the Cowboys went from worst to first to America’s Team on the wings of their powerful brain trust. Whether it was Tom Landry’s impossibly complicated Flex defense, or Landry’s equally impressive multiple-set offense, or even Gil Brandt’s extensive scouting department, the Cowboys won with a flair and a style unique enough to claim for their own.
Jones initially lived up to the tradition after purchasing the team in 1989 as he and head coach Jimmy Johnson used clever trades and stellar scouting to build a dynasty from a dump. The Cowboys were repeat champions in January of 1994, but have never been the same after Jones fired his head coach two months later.
America’s Team stands today as a living monument of futility, as bold promises and even bigger claims can’t hide the awful truth anymore. The Cowboys have only one playoff victory to their credit since 1997, and are currently in a four-year drought from postseason play. After three consecutive 8-8 campaigns to their credit, prognosticators are forecasting even worse results for the 2014 season.
Eager to swing the ebbing tide of misfortune away from Valley Ranch, Jones tried his hand at another bold move last Wednesday by signing rookie defensive end Michael Sam to the Cowboys’ practice squad. The roster addition is of interest to many, and not for football-related reasons. This past May, Sam became the first openly gay player to be drafted when he landed with the St. Louis Rams as a third-day selection. After a solid preseason in which he tallied 11 tackles and three sacks, Sam was a casualty of final cut-downs as the Rams trimmed their roster to the mandated total of 53.
At first glance, acquiring Sam looks to be a no-brainer for Jones since the Cowboys are well noted as being desperate for help along the defensive line. Jones, it appears, made a savvy football move when he signed Sam that helps the team on the field while also making them a “socially relevant” franchise among liberal bystanders.
And Jones might have gotten off looking as bold, daring, and brilliant as he no doubt believes he is if it weren’t for so many small ironies which taint this tale with suspicion.
It’s been no secret that the Cowboys are looking for certain types of defensive players, despite what many have concluded to be a roster composed of random bottom-of-the-barrel selections. For that reason, everyone present in the Dallas war room decided to pass on Sam during the NFL Draft.
Said Jones afterwards: “All I know is we spent the same amount of time on him that you would normally spend as a valuable defensive player in the SEC, we really did. He just didn’t fit for us.”
And that’s fine. Sam wouldn’t have been the first who didn’t “fit” the 4-3 scheme which defensive gurus Rod Marinelli and Monte Kiffin employ in Dallas. Nose tackle Sean Lissemore and outside linebacker Victor Butler were each handed a ticket out of town for the same reason.
But things changed after all 32 teams allowed Sam to clear waivers on August 31, making him a free-agent. The NFL, trying to avoid a public outcry in the event that Sam remained unsigned, began calling teams around the league to gauge interest.
“During that time, a league official contacted multiple teams asking if they had evaluated Sam as a probable practice squad player,” Peter King reported on NBC’s season-opening telecast between Green Bay and Seattle last Thursday.
Per reports, no other rookie free agents received help from the league office in obtaining employment, leading to cries of discrimination from both conservative and liberal camps anxious for fair play. The NFL has stressed a tolerance policy in dealing with Sam, strongly encouraging other players, coaches and executives to accept his sexual orientation without reserve. They want Sam to be treated just like any other player.
As it so happened, they couldn’t even follow their own memo. With pressure from gay and lesbian groups mounting, the NFL buckled and went out of their way to find Sam a job. Not because he was a football player, but because he was a gay football player. Obviously, there’s a difference.
That fact was made known to the Rams organization in a very poignant manner over the last few months. While ESPN and others were spinning the perceived positives of Sam’s arrival in the NFL, a stark reality was slapping the franchise in the face. Season ticket sales were down, fans were boycotting, and the feeling around the city concerning the Rams was one of unrest.
As a franchise surrounded by the Bible Belt and a host of Christian apologists, the Cowboys were sure to face more of the same obstacles if they were to sign Sam. With such a conservative backdrop, coupled with his words immediately following the NFL Draft, few thought it possible that Jones would even contemplate bringing Sam to Dallas.
But Jones looked past all of the negatives and saw the financial possibilities with Sam on the Cowboys. If Sam, thought Jones, could finish No. 2 in jersey sales (behind Johnny Manziel) as a member of the Rams, imagine what he could do on America’s Team?
Interestingly enough, it took the Cowboys two days to come to terms with Sam. Why? It’s a strange sequence of events, to say the least. There have been reports that attempt to explain the delay with a strange tale that has Jones asking every player on the roster if they would personally approve of the signing of Sam. As the story goes, the consensus was in the affirmative.
But, really, if you’re Tony Romo or Demarco Murray or any player on that team, why would you put yourself in a position to lose your job by replying in the negative? Any such answer is one leaning dangerously close to the cliff of discrimination, and directly opposes the NFL’s rigid stance on equality.
Jerry hardly gives his team a chance to win on Sundays, but didn’t miss a prime opportunity to have every player possibly reprimanded by the league office. Ho-hum. Just another day at the office for the Cowboys owner.
If you’ve been following the reaction on social media, then you’re very much aware that many Cowboys season ticket holders are less than happy with Jones’ latest acquisition. Some have even threatened to boycott.
It’s this kind of reaction – and only this – that will ever get Jones’ attention on this issue.
Despite what Jones suggested this past Sunday, he is very much aware of the attendance level at Cowboy home games. Every seat filled is cash in Jones’ pocket, a pleasant thought indeed for a man prone to watching his wallet. It is a personal affront to Jones’ ability as a promoter when he sees a host of empty seats. Such a catastrophe can adjust his outlook toward his marketing blueprint, and even the makeup of his team’s roster.
A prime example is found buried in the forgettable archives of the Cowboys’ 2001 season. Just months after the retirement of twelve-year veteran quarterback Troy Aikman, Jones was ecstatic about the replacement, journeyman signal-caller Tony Banks. The fans, on the other hand, responded with unusual skepticism, staying away from Texas Stadium in droves.
For an early preseason game in Irving versus Denver, a paltry crowd of fewer than 20,000 showed up to watch. As Randy Galloway noted in his column the next day for the Fort Worth Star Telegram, “Tractor pulls put more butts in seats.”
Jones’ response to the public’s faint pulse was quick and decisive, as he cut ties with Banks altogether and made Georgia rookie Quincy Carter the opening day starter. Much to Jones’ delight, the crowds flocked back, even if it was mostly out of curiosity.
The Cowboys are an organization right now rotating on a vicious cycle of philosophical indifference. What’s sounds good one moment, may be just as easily forsaken the next. The same player who didn’t fit the scheme yesterday, may suddenly fit today. For better or for worse, this is how the brain trust of the modern day Cowboys operates.
So while coping with an inability to win football games, the owner consoles himself by filling his pockets with as much gold as he can find on the NFL highway.
His latest golden nugget just happens to be the polarizing figure of Michael Sam.
Money is the reason Sam is in Dallas, and will be the only reason he’ll ever leave.