Jerry Jones calls Jim Trotter “a friend,” but says some of his claims are “not accurate”
For anyone against whom allegations are made in a civil lawsuit, the best comment is no comment. But Jerry Jones was not born to say, “No comment.”
The Cowboys owner, who is accused of making a very specific remark during a very specific conversation with former NFL Network reporter Jim Trotter in Trotter’s new lawsuit, addressed the situation on Sunday in a post-game gaggle with reporters.
“Some of the representation is not accurate,” Jones said of Trotter’s formal complaint. “Just not accurate.”
Here’s the most important representation from Trotter, as to a comment from Jones regarding the lack of minority ownership of NFL teams and, in turn, the underrepresentation of minorities in key management positions: “If Blacks feel some kind of way, they should buy their own team and hire who they want to hire.”
Jones did not specifically deny saying that. All he said is that “some of the representation is not accurate.” (When he’s questioned under oath at a deposition, he’ll have a complete chance to elaborate, whether he wants one or not.)
Jones instead focused on his own efforts to encourage and facilitate minority ownership of NFL teams.
“I do and want to and have worked very hard to get minority ownership in the NFL,” Jones said “Spent a lot of time, and I’m all for that, of course. Jim’s a friend, and I think a lot of him. I hate that we’ve got some litigation and hopefully we will address all of that, but the overall concern I would say is just not accurate.”
So what has Jones personally done to boost minority ownership?
“Spent a lot of time talking to them, showing them and talking to them about how they could get in the NFL,” Jones said. “Nobody got in on a wing and prayer any more than I did, and I really couldn’t afford it. But I got into it and as we look and see and we do see, the qualified potential buyers out here that can get involved and that’s one way. It’s not the only way. Multiple ways to address inequity. Multiple ways to go do it. And certainly I would think about one way is to try to work to get ownership improved in the minority area. And I’m all for it and I do it. I work at it. I work at it.”
Jones was asked at some point about the ability of Magic Johnson to join an ownership group, in Washington.
“Well, of course, Magic is a great ambassador and I’d carry him piggyback to get him involved in the NFL,” Jones said. “We have certainly other people that. . . . You know the financial hurdles for everything has gone up. But percentage wise there are qualified people out here. If they aren’t here this minute, they’re on their way, because that’s what’s happening in this country is people do gain on it and many of the people that recently have gotten involved in the NFL might not have been able to do it 20 years ago, so continuing to share thoughts and ideas with other people about being involved and from the ownership is something that I can speak to.
“I’ve wanted it when I couldn’t afford it and I am a big disciple so to speak that you can do it. The more important thing about it is it can be a very potentially rewarding thing to get involved. As you know, you’ve all heard me say in 30-something years here, I just can’t tell you how grateful I am to have gotten to be a part of the NFL. No one — no one — has benefited any more from being involved in the NFL than I have and I got here not being able to afford really, for all practical purposes. So my point is. yes, you can. You can get involved. It’s very important that that dialogue and discussion with a cross section of potential people and ownership, it’s very important. We want that. We work at it. I was visiting with the Commissioner and we’ve pointedly worked to each of us in any way working to increase interest with minority ownership. I’m all for that. Really, that was the intent — my intent when we were talking and I regret that with Jim. I do. I really do, because he’s a friend.”
It must be difficult for Jones to reconcile his friendship with Trotter against the specific claim from Trotter that Jones said something most reasonable people would regard as reflecting an inappropriate attitude regarding race. If Jones believes Trotter is making a wildly inaccurate accusation about Jones, that would test the limits of the friendship.
But Jones apparently would say he takes a glass-half-full approach on such matters. That’s the attitude he expressed when asked whether litigation involving allegations based on race bother him.
“I go real quick to where the good parts, the blessings are and the things that are good,” Jones said. “So when those bumps come, first of all, you know this — everybody standing here knows this — if I complain over two seconds, y’all need to run because lightning is going to strike me. I’ve had it too good. I can’t complain at all. I go on about it. I regret it when it looks adverse or is diminishing or demeaning. I regret that. I want, where we can, I want to do something about it. But make no mistake about it, I love the National Football League. I love football, and if we can improve it by having people that aren’t in ownership today in ownership, I’ll walk across Texas to do it. That was my point.”
Obviously, that’s just part of the problem. Trotter’s concerns relate to the representation of minorities within the NFL Network newsroom and management structure, and he believes that his commitment to raising questions on the subject soured the NFL against him, prompting his contract with NFL Network to not be renewed.
That’s what someone eventually is going to have to answer, under oath. Whether it’s Jones or Commissioner Roger Goodell or any other owner involved in the league’s media business or in-house media executives like Brian Rolapp or Hans Schroeder or anyone else with their fingerprints on the decision to end Trotter’s employment.
It’s a very simple process, one in which I engaged many times in my former life as a lawyer, before tripping into this business and hanging around for a little bit. Sitting across from the table from Jones or Goodell or whoever, a very simple directive will be given: “Identify each and every reason for the decision to not renew Mr. Trotter’s contract” When the witness finishes, the lawyer will ask, “Anything else?” until each and every reason is articulated.
Then, the challenge will become proving that one or more of those reasons are a pretext for something else, like not wanting to keep on the payroll someone who dared to ask questions that made rich and/or powerful people uncomfortable.
That’s how cases like this go. Management provides one or more supposedly legitimate reasons for the decision. The lawyer then works diligently and creatively to show that the stated reasons are not the real reason, and that the real reason is being concealed.