When the NFL announced its new Hall of Fame class on Saturday night, my reaction when I heard Jerry Jones’s name was disgust. Few owners in sports have stood for everything that’s wrong with sports more than Jones.
Which is why, I have now decided, that he SHOULD be in the Hall of Fame. In fact, the NFL should put a statue of Jones outside the building in Canton with a plaque that reads, “Symbolized Everything We Stand For and Believe In.” Maybe they can clear some room next to the Jones statue to build one of Danny Snyder someday.
The NFL’s commissioner and the 32 owners have proven time and time again that they stand for one thing: making themselves richer and taking bows in public for being members of the lucky sperm club. I’ll take a step back from that very broad and general statement to say I know one owner who I think is a good guy: Steve Bisciotti of the Baltimore Ravens.
I got to know Bisciotti well while writing my book, ‘Next Man Up,’ in 2004 and I know him to be a good man. Unlike Snyder, who make sure the world knows ANYTHING he does for charity, Bisciotti does lots of work and gives lots of money to charity and rarely discusses it in public.
He’s smart and generous and understands how fortunate he’s been to make the money he’s made and end up an NFL owner. He also mishandled the Ray Rice incident, at least in part because he simply couldn’t believe Rice had done what he did. Still, it was a screw-up and Bisciotti has admitted it was a screw-up.
And, if you think I exaggerate about Snyder and charity, consider my very first conversation with him. He was upset with a number of things I’d said and written about him early in his tenure in Washington. So, he called me. (Actually an assistant called me, I doubt Snyder dials many of his own calls.)
After the usual fake pleasantries, Snyder came to the point.
“Do you have something against Children’s Hospital?” he asked.
“WHAT?” was about all I could think to say.
“Well, I was trying to think why you’ve been so critical of me and all I could think was I’m a MAJOR donor to Children’s Hospital and maybe you had a bad experience there so you’re taking it out of me.”
The funny thing was my son HAD undergone hernia surgery at Children’s a year earlier and the experience was remarkable. A week before the surgery, we were invited to walk through every single step he would go through—from check-in; to prep; to the operating room; to recovery—so that Danny would be familiar with what was going to happen and not be frightened by it. I hate setting foot inside a hospital. This experience was as painless as you could possibly hope for when you have to watch your 4-year-old son be put under anesthesia. (And yes, we were allowed to stay with him until he was under, his arms wrapped around the Mickey Mouse he’d picked out at Disneyworld, that he was allowed to bring with him).
Needless to say I burst out laughing when Snyder brought up the fact that he was a MAJOR donor to the hospital.
“Dan,” I said, “That’s the best you’ve got? I give money to charity so don’t criticize me? You are a very wealthy man. You SHOULD give a lot of money to charity and then not say anything about it. THAT I would respect.”
Needless to say, the conversation went downhill from there. Snyder’s a worse guy than Jones and boy is that saying a lot.
There may be other owners who I don’t know who are decent people but I don’t have any tangible evidence of it. Looking back now at how none of them contradicted Paul Tagliabue when he tried to claim that concerns about head injuries were nothing more than “a pack journalism issue,” I’m inclined to think that the list—at best—is a very short one.
Tagliabue was also a Hall of Fame finalist this year and generously made himself available to a syndicated radio show that focuses on the NFL Hall of Fame to say that, yeah, maybe he didn’t get that one right and that he regretted it.
Notice that Tagliabue didn’t bother to come forward when it became apparent years ago that he had stonewalled on the issue and put research back years by appointing a do-nothing doctor to allegedly research concussions. The doctor finally came back years later with the conclusion that this STILL wasn’t a big deal.
No, Tags showed up to say he was sorry when he was trying to convince the media to put him in the Hall of Fame. Fortunately, they didn’t fall for it.
But they did fall for Jones—unlike the various committees who vote on the baseball Hall of Fame who have kept George Steinbrenner, Jones’s hardball alter-ego, out of Cooperstown.
Their rationale is that Jones was a brilliant businessman who ‘showed,’ other NFL owners how they could become even richer than they already were. Maybe that’s what his plaque should read: “Taught the rich how to get richer.”
He WAS smart enough to hire Jimmy Johnson to coach the team, but when Johnson became too big a star after winning two Super Bowls, he split with him so he could be THE BOSS (note Steinbrenner reference) and brought in Barry Switzer, who was a good enough coach to win another Super Bowl with the team that Johnson had put together.
Since then, the Cowboys have won two—that’s TWO playoff games—in 21 seasons. Real Hall of Fame stuff. It is also worth noting that the two Dallas quarterbacks who have made the team respectable in recent years were Tony Romo, who was an undrafted free agent, and Dak Prescott, who was taken in the fourth round.
Anytime you get a star quarterback after the first round, it’s more luck than skill. Bill Walsh would have told you that about Joe Montana and Bill Belichick would be the first to tell you that about Tom Brady.
And yet, my colleagues in the media somehow fell for Jones’s act and decided he merited the Hall of Fame.
Sidenote: It is time for the Football Writers to come into the 21st century and accept that voting for the Hall of Fame is a privilege. In return for that privilege, you should be required to explain who you voted for, who you didn’t vote for and why. As of next year the Baseball Writers will be doing that. Don’t even get me started on the basketball Hall of Fame, which makes the CIA look like an open book.
I’m honestly not that concerned with the fact that Terrell Owens didn’t get into the Hall of Fame this year because that will be fixed. He’ll get in next year. But you can’t fix the fact that someone is IN the Hall of Fame. Heck, O.J. Simpson’s plaque is still in Canton. Once you’re in, they aren’t taking you out.
One last note on Jones. Two months ago, he was quoted in an interview comparing concussions to milk and red meat, saying that the publicity surrounding them has gotten ahead of the science.
Twenty-two years after Tagliabue stonewalled, Jones is STILL stonewalling. Come to think of it, maybe he and Tagliabue should have gone in as a tandem.
They deserve one another.
John Feinstein’s most recent non-fiction book is, “The Legends Club—Dean Smith, Mike Krzyzewski, Jim Valvano and an Epic College Basketball Rivalry.” It spent six months on The New York Times bestseller list and will be out in paperback on March 1. His most recent kids mystery is, “The DH,”—third in the Triple Threat series.