So earlier this evening, while watching the NFL’s myriad video clips of former players learning about their Hall of Fame selections, I was struck by a tiny moment involving Cowboy legend Drew Pearson.
Pearson was understandably emotional, and he thanked two people in the room—Roger Staubach, his friend and former quarterback, and Jerry Jones, Dallas Cowboys owner.
He referred to Staubach as “Roger.”
He referred to Jones as “Mr. Jones.”
To be clear, I am not trying to shit on Drew Pearson. The guy is an all-time great player, and it’s a crime it took this long (he played his last NFL game in 1983) to score an induction.
But the language was a nod toward something that has long bothered me about the relationship between NFL players and NFL owners. Specifically, African-American NFL players and white (because they’ve been 99.999999 percent white) NFL owners.
Drew Pearson is 70-years-old; a successful and well-regarded businessman; an emblem of class and decency and kindness and charity. So what is it that compelled him, almost instinctively, to refer to Jones (who didn’t even own the Cowboys until long after Pearson retired) as “Mister”? I’m genuinely curious about this, because it happens all the fucking time. Players call owners “sir” or “mister” or (and this one is beyond awful) “my owner.”
Owners call players by their first names. Active players. Retired players. All players.
I know … I know. Jeff, why does everything have to be about race? Why is it always …
Answer: Because so much is (in fact) about race. Particularly in the world of organized football, where the power dynamic has forever been defined by the wealthy white man kicking back as the up-from-nowhere black man has his body abused, his mind abused, his future (often) destroyed while people (mostly white) pay outlandish amounts of money (70 percent of which goes to the wealthy white owner) to watch it all unfold. William Rhoden touched on this insanity in his book, “Forty Million Dollar Slaves,” and while it’s an uncomfortable and unpleasant topic to ponder while sitting before your $1,000 flat screen dipping chips into salsa, well, it’s painfully real.
There’s obviously much to unpack with this one. But does Jerry Jones deserve more respect than Drew Pearson? No. Is he more important than Drew Pearson? No. Is he more dignified than Drew Pearson? No.
Last I checked Jerry Jones was a #MAGA-voting, Trump-donating hypocrite who simultaneously expressed love for his African-American players while backing policy after policy that defies their general interests. Or, put different, he was against kneeling—until he saw kneeling would make him a buck.
So, for me, it’s Jerry.
And Mr. Pearson.