Jeff Sullivan wrote a great article at DallasCowboys.com (originally published in Dallas Cowboys Star Magazine) about Cowboys assistant defensive line coach and former defensive tackle Leon Lett. It is a very inspiring story about a talented former player who is unjustly remembered for two boneheaded plays in an otherwise outstanding career with Dallas. It reveals the terrible issues he had with anxiety and dealing with the public and how he has overcome them to become a respected and effective coach.
But there is a second story here. It is the story of a man who played a huge role in Lett's success. It is the story of a man who sees the football players he pays as more than just hired hands whose talent, performance, and frequent sacrifices both physically and mentally line his pockets. A man who cares about them as individuals and does everything he can to help them succeed and grow. Who tries to help them make the often difficult transition from pampered and famous star to independent and self-sufficient man.
It is about Jerry Jones. Not the caricature that is so often portrayed in the media and derided by fans. It is about the real Jerry, the man who loves football, and the men who play it. And many of those men realize this. Leon Lett does.
He also adores Jones, who has served as a father figure to him since those early days when the world could be a confusing place for Lett. And no one has been more supportive of his coaching career.
"When I was younger and making some mistakes, Jerry took the time out to talk to me like a man, treat me like a man, point out, ‘Hey, this is what you're doing wrong,' and at the same time said, ‘Hey, I was once your age and I made mistakes,' and just really related to me on that level. It stuck with me, too," Lett said. "As I moved on in life after the NFL, I always reflected back on some of those conversations we had. He would always say, ‘Don't think about where you are now, think about where you want to be and live your life that way.'
In some ways, this can be an issue for running a football team. You cannot make personnel decisions based on how much you like players. And there are some indications that Jones has made that mistake, particularly in some of the overly-generous contracts he has given to players who really were on the downhill side of their careers.
From a strictly business viewpoint, Jones is too involved, too close to his team and his players. That is why he is compelled to be the public face and voice of the Cowboys. It is his team, more so than any other owner in professional sports, and he fully embraces his ownership in every sense of the word. But it is hard to fault a man who makes such a heartfelt effort to provide guidance and counsel to the players who need it. Many of the players in the NFL never had a strong father figure in their lives. Especially not someone who genuinely loved them.
Say what you will about Jerry, there is no doubt that he loves those players like they were family. No other owner feels more pain when his players lose, or feels more joy when they win, than he does. It is a side that is unseen by most and generally unacknowledged.
For as high profile as Jones is as a personality, arguably more so than any owner in professional sports, it's not well known just how close he becomes with many of his players and coaches. Not in terms of just football, either, although there's that, too, but Jones has bonded with countless players over the years, oftentimes serving as a mentor.
It doesn't sound much like the buffoon Jerry is usually portrayed to be, does it? This conflicts with so much of his popular image as a bumbling, interfering, frequently clueless man with too much money and ego.
Part of that is the same thing that haunts his franchise quarterback, Tony Romo. All people see are the wins and losses. The Cowboys have had a long stretch of bad seasons, so obviously Jerry Jones is incompetent and to blame. Looking deeper requires a bit more complex view of things. The public sometimes does not do complex very well.
Jones is clearly a man with a lot more depth and breadth to him than you normally see portrayed on SportsCenter or the internet. He is a man of considerable vision. His compassion has led to his partnership with the Salvation Army to help those in need. And he does not limit his caring to writing checks, either for charity or payroll. He is personally involved. It may not always work out, and seldom is the relationship as deep or as influential as the one he has with Lett, but it is certain he has done quite a bit of good for a lot of people.
A lot of people just hate the very idea, but you really can't dispute the fact: Jerry Jones has a huge heart. He is not in it just for the money. Oh, sure, the profits are important to him, but there are other things that matter as well.
"When I bought the Cowboys and came into the NFL, one of my hopes was meeting people, having relationships with the kind of people you dream about knowing in this world. That quality of person with the highest of integrity, that fits that profile of what we all want to be as a man," Jones said. "And in 25 years, there have been maybe a handful of those people in that upper tier. One of them is Leon Lett."
It may not fit the image out there. But this is who Jerry Jones is. And the Cowboys are lucky to be owned by him.
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