LeBron James took reporters to task on Wednesday for their failure to ask him about a controversial photo featuring Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones.
The Washington Post recently unearthed a photo from 1957 in which a teenaged Jones is in the crowd while a mob of white boys blocks six Black students from entering Arkansas’ North Little Rock High. The photo was taken in a period when schools had started to desegregate in the United States. Jones has said he was an observer during the incident and had been unaware of what was going on.
“I got one question for you guys before you guys leave. I was thinking when I was on my way over here, I was wondering why I haven’t gotten a question from you guys about the Jerry Jones photo,” James said to reporters after his Los Angeles Lakers beat the Portland Trail Blazers. “But when the Kyrie [Irving] thing was going on, you guys were quick to ask us questions about that.”
Irving was suspended by the Brooklyn Nets after tweeting a link to an antisemitic film and refusing to apologize. Irving has since returned after offering an apology. James was asked last month why he believed so few NBA players had commented on Irving’s initial lack of apology. James condemned antisemitism when asked about the situation.
On Wednesday, James appeared to accuse reporters of double standards.
“When I watch Kyrie talk and he says, ‘I know who I am, but I want to keep the same energy when we’re talking about my people and the things that we’ve been through,’ and that Jerry Jones photo is one of those moments that our people, Black people, have been through in America,” said James. “And I feel like as a Black man, as a Black athlete, as someone with power and a platform, when we do something wrong, or something that people don’t agree with, it’s on every single tabloid, every single news coverage, it’s on the bottom ticker. It’s asked about every single day.
“But it seems like to me that the whole Jerry Jones situation, photo – and I know it was years and years ago and we all make mistakes, I get it – but it seems like it’s just been buried under, like, ‘Oh, it happened.
If the NFL’s 32 team principals, only Jerry Jones mugs for TV cameras during games, entertain reporters afterward and has a stadium that’s a monument to his stature in the game. Even the most casual football watcher would recognize the 80-year-old oilman as the face of the Dallas Cowboys – America’s Team – the cultural institution Jones won three championships within the 1990s.
Where late Raiders owner Al Davis exerted his authority over the league through the court system, Jones came to power through good ol’ fashioned hucksterism, overstating everything from his roster’s Super Bowl prospects to his own indispensability as Cowboys general manager. And while Jones’s ingratiating southern boy routine has no doubt had a heavy hand in lifting the league’s fortunes and making the Cowboys the world’s most valuable sports firm (with a reported worth of $8bn), it has yet to explain why the face of America’s Team can’t own his singular role in one of the more ignominious moments in this country’s past.
On 9 September 1957, while a sophomore at Arkansas’ North Little Rock High, a mob of white boys blocked six Black students from entering the school – and Jones was in the crowd. This was three years after the Supreme Court struck down segregated schools. Also in September 1957, just across town, Little Rock Central High was grabbing headlines across the country as angry mobs and the state’s national guard put themselves between that school and
another cohort of Black students – the Little Rock Nine. Last week, as Jones’s Cowboys were to face the New York Giants on Thanksgiving – in what would be the most watched regular-season NFL game ever – the Washington Post dug up a photo of the North Little Rock standoff and found Jones on the periphery, just beyond the cameras and yet still very much in the spotlight.
He’d reprise that his wrong place/wrong time spin for reporters after the Giants game, calling the incident at North Little Rock “a reminder to me of how to improve and do things the right way.” Unsurprisingly, ESPN’s Stephen A Smith captured the prevailing mood in the country and the pressbox when he said Jones’s indiscretion “was 65 years ago,” while others have been quick to draw a line from Jones’s apparent rubbernecking to him never hiring a Black head coach. What’s interesting is that it’s taken until now for Jones to fully deal with the photo in the mainstream, and it’s not like he wanted for opportunities to bring this up.
He could’ve brought it up six years ago, as Colin Kaepernick was raising a social justice movement among the league’s Black players – and white NFL fans were tuning out in droves. Instead, Jones vowed to bench any Cowboy who “disrespects” the flag, before linking arms and kneeling alongside players and coaches before a 2017 appearance on Monday Night Football – having his cake and eating it, too.
The San Diego Monitor-News has been serving Black San Diego since 1986