Who is Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones? NBA star LeBron James comments and controversy explained

The billionaire NFL team owner has faced questions about his views, after a photograph of a racist incident resurfaced that features a teenage Jones

Owner of NFL franchise the Dallas Cowboys, Jerry Jones, has become embroiled in a racism scandal, after the Washington Post identified the 80-year-old in an old photograph.

Taken at North Little Rock High School in the southern US state of Arkansas, the picture from 1957 shows a protest against educational desegregation at which the future billionaire was present. White teenagers are seen confronting black students who are attempting to enter the school.

While there is no evidence Mr Jones agreed with the protest - he said he was merely an observer of the racist incident and did not know what the protest was about - it has raised questions about his commitment to tackling racism in American football.

NBA basketball legend LeBron James has also questioned the media’s practices in light of the incident. He compared the reporting of the photograph with reporting about a controversy about fellow NBA player Kyrie Irving.

So who is Jerry Jones - and what exactly did LeBron James say about him? Here’s what you need to know.

Jerry Jones’s appearance in a 1950s photograph of a racist protest has led to controversy (image: Getty Images)

Who is Jerry Jones?

Jerry Jones, 80, is an American businessman who owns the Dallas Cowboys NFL team.

Widely considered to be the most valuable sports team on earth, the franchise makes up a significant chunk of Mr Jones’s estimated fortune of $12.1 billion to $14.5 billion (as of 2 December).

He bought the team for $150 million in 1989 having made a fortune in the Texas oil and gas industry. While his commitment to the team is in no doubt - he is a near-constant presence during games - he has angered fans by frequently interfering with what happens on the pitch.

Other ventures Jerry Jones has include real estate, and a stake in the Papa John’s pizza franchise empire.

What does the Jerry Jones photograph show?

The Washington Post picture of a group of teenagers attempting to stop black students from entering the North Little Rock High School in Arkansas was taken in 1957.

It was taken three years after the US Supreme Court had banned segregated schools. It also coincided with protests in another part of the town, which became a key flashpoint in the fight against racism in the country.

Angry mobs had targeted Little Rock Central High, forcing the national guard to protect a group of black students who became known as the Little Rock Nine.

The photograph of the North Little Rock High incident shows several white teenagers apparently squaring up to two black students. One row back from this angry encounter is a 14-year-old Jerry Jones, who appears to be trying to see what’s going on.

The National Guard had to step in to protect black students in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1957 amid racist protests (image: AFP/Getty Images)

After the photo was taken, the black students were pushed back away from the school, preventing them from entering - for the timebeing, at least.

It is not the first time the photograph has resurfaced, with Mr Jones also forced to confront it in 2010. At the time, he said it was a ‘wrong place, wrong time’ moment in his life.

When the photograph came around again on Thanksgiving Day 2022, he said the image was “a reminder to me of how to improve and do things the right way”. However, commentators have questioned why the Dallas Cowboys owner has not brought this experience up himself if he is so committed to the fight against racism.

Given his prominence as the owner of the world’s most valuable sports team, they say he could have lent his voice to the cause at a time when it could have been a meaningful intervention, like when Colin Kaepernick took the knee during the US anthem (an action Jerry Jones actually indirectly criticised at the time, as he effectively barred any Dallas players from following suit.

What did LeBron James say about Jerry Jones?

LeBron James waded into the controversy on Wednesday (30 November). Speaking in the wake of the LA Lakers’ 128-109 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers, Mr James suggested the media’s reportage of the incident demonstrated double standards.

He said: “I got one question for you guys before you guys leave. I was thinking when I was on my way over here, I was wondering why I haven’t gotten a question from you guys about the Jerry Jones photo.

“But when the Kyrie [Irving] thing was going on, you guys were quick to ask us questions about that.”

Kyrie Irving was suspended by the Brooklyn Nets in November (image: Getty Images)

Kyrie Irving - a fellow basketball player who is black - was suspended by New York NBA team the Brooklyn Nets after tweeting a link to antisemitic footage and refusing to apologise. He returned to the fold after making several apologies, insisting he doesn’t “stand for anything close to hate speech or antisemitism”.

LeBron James was asked about the Irving incident in November, with one particular question focusing on what he felt about so few NBA players commenting on Mr Irving’s initial lack of apology (Mr James responded by condemning antisemitism).

“When I watch Kyrie talk and he says: ‘I know who I am, but I want to keep the same energy when we’re talking about my people and the things that we’ve been through,’ and that Jerry Jones photo is one of those moments that our people, black people, have been through in America,” James said on 30 November.

LeBron James has questioned ‘double standards’ in the media over its reporting of Jerry Jones (image: Getty Images)

“And I feel like as a black man, as a black athlete, as someone with power and a platform, when we do something wrong, or something that people don’t agree with, it’s on every single tabloid, every single news coverage, it’s on the bottom ticker. It’s asked about every single day.

“But it seems like to me that the whole Jerry Jones situation, photo – and I know it was years and years ago and we all make mistakes, I get it – but it seems like it’s just been buried under, like, ‘Oh, it happened. OK, we just move on.’ And I was just kind of disappointed that I haven’t received that question from you guys.”

LeBron James was a prominent supporter of the Dallas Cowboys, but withdrew his allegiance after Jerry Jones effectively stopped players from echoing Colin Kaepernick’s kneeling protest. Other teams opted to kneel, and taking the knee has become an international anti-racism gesture in the years since.

Jones and the Dallas Cowboys have not commented publicly since Mr James’s comments.