Stephen A. Smith defending Jerry Jones is egregious, and here’s why

OPINION: There is no defense for overt racism. Period. 

Stephen A. Smith (Photo by Justin Ford/Getty Images); Jerry Jones (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

Let me start out by saying I am no fan of Stephen A. Smith. I don’t hate him; I just find him to be obnoxious and annoying. I never considered him to be on the same level as Jason Whitlock — until a few days ago that is. 

Last week, the Washington Post published an article on Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones as part of its “Black Out” series, which focuses on the inequities in the NFL — including the lack of Black head coaches. 

Included in the article was a photo taken at North Little Rock High School on Sept. 9, 1957, as six Black students attempted to attend classes at the segregated and “whites only” school. The incident happened during the same month the Little Rock Nine attempted to integrate Little Rock Central High School. 

From the Post:

In a photograph taken at the scene, Jones could be seen standing a few yards from where the six Black students were being jostled and repelled with snarling racial slurs by ringleaders of the mob. At one point, a Black student named Richard Lindsey recalled, someone in the crowd put a hand on the back of his neck. A voice behind him said, “I want to see how a nigger feels.” The ruffian hostility succeeded in turning away the would-be new enrollees.

I saw the photo for myself, and even without the zoomed-in image, it’s not hard to tell which person is Jerral Wayne Jones. He still has the same exact facial features, and baby, those Howdy Doody ears are his registered trademark. 

Jones rightfully received a lot of public reproof and backlash from the photo, which he explained away by saying, “I don’t know that I or anybody anticipated or had a background of knowing … what was involved. It was more a curious thing.”

Now let me stop you right there, Jerry. You grew up in the Jim Crow South. I know without a doubt or any proof that you grew up repeatedly hearing and possibly using the hard e-r. You are not unfamiliar with racism or the racial terror that was inflicted on Black people during that time. Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark case that ruled segregated schools unconstitutional, was merely three years old, and there was already a push in place to integrate schools that once kept Black students out. 

Saying you were curious is definitely a choice — and a stupid one at that. Curiosity is for kids chasing butterflies or eating dirt because they want to know what it tastes like. Curiosity is children playing with chemistry sets because they want to know how science works. Curiosity is not for a 14-year-old boy who grew up in the Jim Crow South going to watch his fellow students harass, intimidate and racially terrorize Black students who are simply trying to get an equal education. You don’t get to be curious about racism, you old ass dolt. 

Jones even told the Post that he was warned by his football coach not to be anywhere near that scene, so he knew what was going on. He wasn’t curious. He was a gotdamn participant. His being there actually tracks because his history in the NFL shows that he has little to no regard for Black people, but more on that in a minute.

So yeah, people got upset and called Jones out for being a bigot and a part of some of the worst history of this country, and in rushes Stephen A. Smith to defend him with a mini rant on his ESPN show “First Take.” 

“I’m pretty pissed off,” Smith said. “I’m pissed off but not for reasons people think. I am very, very fond of Jerry Jones, and I’m not hiding that from anybody. Is his record perfect? No, but I’m pissed off because he doesn’t deserve what just happened. He doesn’t deserve it. One report, our report, said he was 14 years old. Another report said he was 15 years old. At minimum that’s 65 years ago.”

“You gonna bring up a photo of Jerry Jones standing at this protest, no question what was happening, it’s not something that anybody as a Black person should be appreciative about,” Smith continued. “We had six students at that particular North Little Rock high school that was trying to desegregate the school. Nobody should be OK with that, we understand that, we get all of that. … Racism is alive and well, bigotry and prejudice is alive and well. We get all of that, but you gonna bring up a photo of him when he was 14, 15 years old? Sixty-five or 66 years ago.”

Smith then labeled the rightful outrage as an attempt at “cancel culture,” and said Jones shouldn’t be judged for something that happened when he was 14 years old, noting that Jones was born and raised in the South as if that somehow excuses it or makes it OK. 

“I think that’s pretty low,” Smith said, later adding, “If he were an adult, that would be different.”

Smith rushed to Jones’ defense like Jones is Calvin Candie, and Smith is, well, Stephen

via GIPHY

Jones doesn’t get the benefit of age as a defense. Saying he was only 14 only makes it dumber when you take into account that Emmett Till was only 14 when he was kidnapped and killed by white racists just two years prior to the Jones photo. Or consider George Stinney Jr., who at 14 became the youngest person in modern times to be executed in the U.S. after he was wrongfully convicted of murdering two young white girls. 

White boys are always given the benefit of the doubt due to their “youthful naiveté” while Black boys don’t receive that same grace. It is glaring and obvious, and Stephen A. Smith should receive the wrath of all the ancestors for even opening his mouth to say that. 

The other part of this is the fact that when Jones was questioned about the photo, he tiptoed around the real issue and gave soft answers about it. He played it off with the “curious” statement and acted like it was just something he went to see at school, but according to the Post:

But Straeter’s photographs indicate Jones had to scurry around the North Little Rock Six to reach the top of the stairs before the Black students completed their walk up to the schoolhouse door. And while Jones offered a common explanation of the confrontation — that it was the work of older white supremacists — most of those surrounding the six young Black men were teenagers.

“I didn’t know at the time the monumental event really that was going on,” Jones said, according to an ESPN report. “I’m sure glad that we’re a long way from that. I am. That would remind me [to] just continue to do everything we can to not have those kinds of things happen.”

He said nothing in that statement to disavow what was happening in the photo. He said nothing about the mistreatment those Black students received. He said nothing to distance himself from the overt racism being shown in the picture except “I didn’t know what was going on.”

And Stephen A. Smith defended that. 

Let’s not forget that Jones was very adamant that his players not kneel in protest during the national anthem. Let’s not forget that when the NFL decided to pretend they actually cared about racial justice, Jones staged a kneeling event before the national anthem in 2017 — a weak gesture at best. 

And again, Jerry Jones has a track record of not promoting Black coaches. Jerry Jones has a lot of power and influence in the league. “He’s sometimes referred to as a shadow commissioner more powerful than Roger Goodell, who holds that title. He has not been shy about exerting his clout as a financial and cultural virtuoso working to shape the league more in his image,” the Post notes.

Jerry Jones knew what he was doing that day, and he knows what he’s doing now. If Stephen A. Smith is too much of a donkey’s behind to see that, then he is a part of the problem. 

Miss me with the weak excuses. Don’t defend the indefensible. The past is prologue, as they say, and Jerry Jones continues to prove that day after day. 


Monique Judge thegrio.com

Monique Judge is a storyteller, content creator and writer living in Los Angeles. She is a word nerd who is a fan of the Oxford comma, spends way too much time on Twitter, and has more graphic t-shirts than you. Follow her on Twitter @thejournalista or check her out at moniquejudge.com.

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