As Dallas Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy walked off the field following a bitter and frustrating 19-12 playoff loss to the San Francisco 49ers, he roughly pushed a cameraperson away. But this wasn’t even the most embarrassing moment for McCarthy in the closing moments of the season. That happened in the game’s last play, where, down one touchdown, he inexplicably had running back Ezekiel Elliott play center and hike the ball to quarterback Dak Prescott. Elliott was predictably “trucked”—knocked down with extreme force—by a 49ers player. Before he could be sacked, Prescott threw a five-yard pass, and his receiver was immediately tackled. It was an awful end to a season that held so much promise. For Coach McCarthy and Prescott, it also echoed last year’s playoff exit, where they were also narrowly beaten by the 49ers in a close game that ended with a similarly risible play when Prescott ran with the ball ostensibly to set up one last desperate play and instead ran out the clock.
Since the 1970s, the Dallas Cowboys have been known as “America’s Team”—it’s a nickname a little on the nose in this period of American decline. Even though the Cowboys have not won a championship for 27 years, the team and pundits still trumpet the moniker. The long Super Bowl drought is an indictment of Cowboys owner Jerry Jones. He is the top Cowboys decision maker and has been the common variable over the past three decades. He is the one who hires the coaches who inevitably fail and signs the big-money players who invariably disappoint.
After the game, Jones looked gaunt, even for an 80-year-old man. To his credit, or perhaps just to satisfy his bottomless ego, Jones was in front of the media before the sweat on the players had dried. He called the game “sickening” and used the word “sick” six more times over the course of two minutes. He was sick for the fans, sick for the players, sick for the coaches, and, most of all, as he said in a voice that has never sounded raspier, sick for himself.
While Jerry Jones was feeling sorry for Jerry Jones (perhaps even “sick”), there was something ironic about the calls for McCarthy and Prescott to be held “accountable” for the defeat. There is no holding Jones accountable. The only person who can conceivably do that to an owner—except for a compliant media or boycotting fans (and no one is boycotting Cowboys football in Texas)—is Jones himself. Yet Jones has never held himself accountable for anything, certainly not his miserable tenure as the owner/general manager (rarely an advisable combination). But not holding himself accountable is really the theme of Jones’s year. An Associated Press photo that emerged from 1957 shows Black students attempting to attend class and integrate classes at North Little Rock High School. A group of white students is jeering at them and physically—and successfully—denying them entry. Jones was among their ranks. It’s like a youth Klan rally minus the white hoods. Jones did not address the photo until pressed, when he said he was just a “curious kid.” He then said, “I didn’t know at the time the monumental event, really, that was going on, and I’m sure glad that we’re a long way from that. I am. And that would remind me just to continue doing everything we can to not have those kinds of things happen.” He then mused that his only worry was that the football coach who warned his players not to attend the mob gathering would find out he was there, and he would get in trouble. After these comments, the story dissipated. This was a case when the media could have held Jones responsible for his actions but chose not to.
Yet this story matters because in this case past may be prologue. Jones has never hired a Black head coach during his time with the Cowboys, while also flouting the league’s “Rooney rule,” which is meant to encourage executives to interview Black coaching candidates. Jones also took the lead among ownership when the league cracked down on Colin Kaepernick, Eric Reid, and players who knelt during the playing of the national anthem to protest police violence and racial inequity. And yes, Jones is a significant big-money backer of Texas Governor Greg Abbott. whose rancid policies against the teaching of Black history as well as ceaseless attacks on trans kids speak for themselves. This is who Jones is. No one, including himself, will ever hold him responsible for his decisions. This is especially obscene in a sport that is utterly dependent on Black labor and the endangerment of Black bodies and minds. We are past the point when Jones should have been held accountable by fans and the media. If his politics won’t do it, maybe the enduring stench of failure will.