After the Los Angeles Lakers defeated the Portland Trailblazers Wednesday, Lakers superstar LeBron James turned the tables on the sportswriters at the postgame news conference when he said, “I was wondering why I hadn’t gotten a question from you guys about the Jerry Jones photo.” The photo James was referring to was taken by The Associated Press on Sept. 9, 1957, at North Little Rock High School in Arkansas. It shows Jones, the billionaire owner of the Dallas Cowboys, as one of dozens of white teenagers standing between the door of the school and a group of six pioneering Black students who intend to integrate the campus. Jones told The Washington Post that he was there out of curiosity, not racial animosity.
The story suggests that Jones’ formative years can be connected to his ignoring Black coaching candidates.
The Washington Post ran that photo to illustrate a story pointing out Jones’ dismal record in hiring Black coaches. In 33 years as the owner of the Cowboys, Jones has never hired a Black head coach. And he’s only hired two offensive or defensive coordinators, both of them more than 14 years ago. The Washington Post story suggests that Jones’ formative years, which included that standoff with Black students on the steps of the school, can be connected to his ignoring Black coaching candidates.
Referring to allegations of antisemitism involving Kyrie Irving, the point guard he last played with more than five years ago, James said, “When the Kyrie thing was going on, you guys were quick to ask us questions about that.” He said journalists appeared willing to “just move on” from the Jones story. “And I was just kind of disappointed that I haven’t received that question from you guys.”
Some people might push back on James and ask why he thinks reporters should feel it necessary to ask an NBA player about a negative story involving an NFL owner. But this isn’t just a random NBA player or a random NFL team owner. Even though James was born and raised in Akron, Ohio, and began his NBA career in Cleveland, he was famous for looking past the Cleveland Browns and embracing the Dallas Cowboys as his team.
If you want my opinion as a fan of the Philadelphia Eagles, James was one of so many other lost souls who fell under the spell of Jones as he crafted a mystique that has made the Cowboys a moneymaker, despite the team having not appeared in a Super Bowl since 1996 (and I will always throw that fact in Cowboys fans’ faces FOREVER).
In an October interview, LeBron explained that he’d given up rooting for the Cowboys. Why? In 2017, Jones announced that no player who kneeled during the national anthem would play for the Cowboys. In 2018, in what was an obvious reference to Jones, James said on an episode of his HBO show “The Shop” that “in the NFL they got a bunch of old white men owning teams and they got that slave mentality. And it’s like, ‘This is my team. You do what the f--- I tell y’all to do. Or we get rid of y’all.’”
James may have brought up Jones just to shade his former favorite team, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t correctly call bias.
Indeed, racism is prevalent in the NFL. It was only last year that the league agreed to stop assuming Black players start out with lower cognitive functioning when assessing brain injuries. This year, Black football coaches have joined a class-action lawsuit accusing the NFL of racist hiring practices. In 2019, the league settled with Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid, two Black NFL players who said the league's owners colluded and blackballed them after they kneeled during performances of the national anthem to call out racial injustice.
James may have brought up Jones just to shade his former favorite team, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t correctly call out the bias of sports reporters. James has been asked so many times his opinions about other Black athletes. Including NFL athletes. On Media Day in 2016, for example, reporters wanted to know what he thought of Kaepernick. James has often talked about politics and has been told to “shut up and dribble” when he has. And yet, when there was an opportunity for reporters to ask him about the intersection of race and sports and politics involving the white owner of a sports team who showed up as a teenager to a white racist protest … crickets.
Why does the sports press seem less interested in Jones’ opinions on race even as journalists query Black players about every racial incident and transgression that one of their fellow Black athletes might make? James’ question exposed the bias of those who think of themselves as unbiased actors. While it is always right to call out racism and antisemitism, athletes aren’t the only ones who should be asked, nor are other athletes the only ones they should be asked about.