In this weeks question, Marshall Faulk wants to know about leadership.
The Dallas Cowboys, of course, had no leaders for years. At least that is what we were told.
People who really watch the team know how untrue that is. Tony Romo has been a leader of this team on the field since he became the starting quarterback. Dez Bryant, with his passion and work ethic, has become one of the young leaders in the past couple of years. On defense, Barry Church and Orlando Scandrick have stepped in to the leadership roles, and Sean Lee is probably still wielding a lot of influence even though he is on injured reserve.
But there is one player who has been a true leader for this team, in his play on the field, his work in practice, and the way he conducts his life away from the game. They don't call Jason Witten the Senator for nothing.
Now in his twelfth season with the Cowboys, Witten has long been a model of consistency. This season should see him eclipse the 10,000 yard mark in receptions. He is not seen ranting and raving on the sidelines, but it is clear that when he talks, the other players listen. And don't let his public image as a quiet, dignified man fool you. As ESPN reporter Tim MacMahon observed during training camp this year, Witten is constantly trash talking to the defenders he faces, often yelling at coaches to pull someone off the field because he doesn't like their play. It is not just a bunch of macho posturing, either.
Witten's message, in so many words: You better perform to a certain set of standards to be on the same field with him and the rest of the Cowboys.
That is what he is all about. He gives everything he has to try and win, and that is the standard he has for anyone who wants to wear the same uniform he does.
While so much of the NFL is reeling from multiple accusations of domestic violence against players, Witten is the founder of the Jason Witten SCORE Foundation, dedicated to helping the victims of domestic violence. He saw the tragic effects of this first hand as a child, when his father abused his mother. While others have become sources of outrage over their acts and the way the league and various teams have mishandled the situations, he is active in trying to help those who have suffered.
It is perhaps fitting that the most enduring image of Witten will be of him losing his helmet against the Philadelphia Eagles, and still running downfield. The NFL would later change the rules so that any future plays like this would be blown dead, but the sight of him battling no matter what is a testament to the kind of leader he is.