Stuck on the Jones Plantation

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My feelings for Dallas Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant are complex. I support him, I’m confused and upset with him, and I pity him. I don’t know him personally. And what I feel has nothing to do with him being a rival of my favorite team.

Since originally writing this post, my frustration has mounted towards the entire Cowboys organization. But before I digress, let’s look at the complexities of Dez Bryant and his decision to ignore conversations surrounding race and police brutality.

Shaming the Non-protestor

Dez has received notable criticism from the protesting community for his decision to distance himself from protesting the national anthem. “Whatever they got going on with that, that’s them. I don’t really have nothing to say about that.,” he said to a Dallas Morning News reporter.

His decision to not protest upset people; as one of the top wide receivers in the world, he has the potential to draw attention to and spur on actionable change for an ongoing American issue.

But Bryant has every right to not protest. Shaming as a technique to make him protest will only produce unsatisfying results; he’ll either protest “too late,” or he won’t at all.

When we turn the morals and ethics of our society into absolutes of our humanity, we risk dehumanizing diversity. That Dez wants to distance himself from the revolution of discrimination, prejudice, and police brutality is nothing new and should not dismiss his humanity. The mob rule shaming techniques of our society are harmful, dangerous, and often ineffective for the change we seek in others.

Being an Example?

Additionally, Bryant clarified that he wants to help society by being the example of a model citizen. He perceives using his money to help the less fortunate as a better alternative than using his voice. This is partially good and should be praised as an example of ways people can go beyond only chasing the dramatic scenes of protest. Protesting doesn’t have to be the only way to make a point. But let’s be clear – it is a way to make a point.

Failure to See is Failing to Lead

He is a smart young man, but can only see one way of being an example of model citizenship. He says he supports his people – which he undoubtedly does – yet he thinks he must distance himself from the national anthem protests around the league. As smart as he is, one would think he could see the interconnectivity of being an example with one’s voice and money and deeds.

His caricature of demagoguery seems only apply to Cowboys fans when it comes to using his voice as a tool for change. ESPN’s Jemele Hill noted that he’s more willing to protest a pizza store because one of their waiters is a Giants fan than he is to protest injustice. His protest may be in good fun. And even if it isn’t, he still has the right to protest whomever or whatever he wants.

But to say that you support your people, yet want to distance yourself from their campaigns against injustice is a wonder. Either he doesn’t get the importance of the moment or is so distant from reality that he can’t see the setbacks he creates by distancing himself.

Stuck on the Jones’ Plantation

Which makes me pity Dez. His owner, Jerry Jones, made clear his thoughts about players protesting the national anthem. He doesn’t like it and thinks the only way to honor America is to stand for the anthem. From Mr. Jones’ comments (and Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett), it’s clear that Bryant feels threatened by Master Jones.

It is rational to conclude that Dez feels stuck on the Jones Plantation. This is indicated by Bryant’s excuse to distance himself from the “controversy” because he has kids and a family to take care of. He’s clearly been convinced to undervalue himself – as if the only place he can find value is in the Cowboys organization, on Jones Plantation. He does not see the value of sacrificing comforts and pleasures for something greater than himself. He seems to be afraid of losing it all.

And from whom does his blessings flow? Jerry Jones.

The Undervaluing System

I draw upon the plantation analogy only because of Jones’ willingness to take on troubled talent. He’ll stick with, and pick-up controversy-ridden athletes like Ezekiel Elliot, Greg Hardy, Terrell Owens, Michael Irvin, or Charles Haley when they can benefit his organization.

His decision to go after athletes like this is two-fold. Their perceived realization of their diminishing value due to their controversies, coupled with the “chance” he gives them, forces them to rely upon him. But when they are no longer beneficial to his bottom-line, he’ll dispose of them at the first rumor of their misbehavior – just ask Lucky Whitehead who was never even involved in any controversy until he was mistakenly identified as a suspect for a crime.

Dez is Worth More

But if Dez – and the rest of the Cowboys – could see that they are more valuable than what a single organization thinks of them, they would not be afraid of losing a job to take a stand for something bigger than themselves. They could say, “Keep your money and your stagnant values Mr. Jones. If you can’t see what’s important to me and my people, I don’t want what you have to offer me. You don’t own me. If you truly valued me, you would support any decision I make. The fact that you have a problem with me protesting injustice is a signal of what you truly value about me – and it’s clearly not my humanity.”

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