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Cowboys owner Jerry Jones still loves the spotlight in his 80s, despite reasons to shrink from it

FRISCO, Texas (AP) — Jerry Jones wandered over to where reporters were gathered to watch a recent Dallas Cowboys practice, ready for an impromptu question-and-answer session.

The high-profile owner was still going when the closed portion of practice began, and jokingly pleaded for five more minutes when the assembled media were told it was time to leave.

Then Jones pointed to one of the buildings that surround three sides of the outdoor practice fields at the team’s headquarters about 30 miles north of Dallas and said, with a wry smile, “Let’s go up there for 30 minutes, and I’ll tell it all.”

Jones, also the team’s president and general manager, went through his first training camp as an octogenarian this past summer, and has since turned 81.

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The former Arkansas oilman relishes the spotlight the same way he did when he bought the club almost 34 years ago, and despite several recent episodes — some involving the team, others his personal life — that would make plenty of people in his position cringe in front of the cameras.

“I go real quick to the good parts, the blessings and the things that are good,” Jones said while addressing one of those issues after the Cowboys’ home opener in September.

“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.”

A cascade of issues started in February 2022 with an ESPN report that the Cowboys paid four members of the team’s famous cheerleading squad a total of $2.4 million to settle claims that then-public relations director Rich Dalrymple watched the women undress in their locker room during an event at AT&T Stadium.

Dalrymple, who joined the Cowboys soon after Jones bought the team in 1989 and was one of his closest confidants, retired shortly before ESPN’s report, and denied the allegations.

A month later came a lawsuit from a woman in her 20s claiming Jones was her biological father, a case that is now centered around whether Jones will have to take a paternity test.

That difficult offseason was capped by Jones being involved in a traffic accident that wasn’t his fault near downtown Dallas, but landed him in a hospital. He wasn’t seriously hurt.

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Since then, Jones’ standing as one of the most powerful men in an overwhelmingly white — and aging — group of male NFL owners faced scrutiny over issues of race and diversity.

The Washington Post published a photo of Jones as a teenager in 1957 in a crowd of white students confronting Black students outside North Little Rock High School in Arkansas at the height of issues of civil rights and school desegregation. Jones said he was a “curious kid,” not part of a group trying to block access for the Black students.

The photo was the catalyst for a story over Jones’ role in diversity and inclusion in the NFL. The Cowboys have never had a Black head coach, but one of their top personnel executives, Will McClay, is Black.

Less than a year later, a former NFL Network reporter claimed in a discrimination lawsuit against the league that Jones made racially insensitive remarks to him. Jones has said his comments were misrepresented.

Through it all, Jones, who is also facing a civil lawsuit over claims of sexual assault, never shrank from the spotlight.

At an owners meeting during the tumult of 2022, he overruled a member of his PR staff trying to deflect questions, saying reporters hadn’t had a chance to ask about the multitude of issues that had come up.

Jones did his usual opening news conference at training camp a few months later, a two-fold extravaganza that starts on a stage and ends with him taking more questions surrounded by reporters.

While he doesn’t talk to reporters after as many road games as he once did, Jones always emerges from the locker room after home games for sessions that often last at least 20 minutes.

Oh, and he goes on the radio twice a week during the season.

“I’ve often said that just getting to a part of this thing, the NFL, the Cowboys, be around these guys, be around you, I’ve often said that made me something I wouldn’t have been had I not been here,” Jones said at training camp in July. “I’m proud that I’m as excited, and I’ve got the health to be that way.”

Stephen Jones, the oldest of Jerry Jones’ three children and the chief operating officer and executive vice president of personnel, said the family has discussed a succession plan, though the 59-year-old has often said he can’t stand the topic. And he doesn’t want to discuss what that plan is.

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“That’s not a good subject,” Stephen Jones said. “Everybody’s at peace, and we know how it works.”

A decade ago, Jones smiled wide while saying a doctor told him he had the brain of a 40-year-old. A couple of years later, he was slowed by a double hip replacement right around the start of the season but kept with his training camp routine and didn’t miss a game.

Jones has long been criticized as a meddling owner whose personnel decisions are a big part of the reason a franchise that has won five Super Bowls, including three in his first seven seasons, hasn’t even been to an NFC championship game in 28 years.

He has never apologized for being heavily involved, and pleads his case that he’s a good listener.

“Whether I act like it or not, I don’t believe anybody’s under me,” Jones said. “We’re all emptying our bucket. And so all we have to give is what’s in our bucket. As long as everybody is emptying their bucket, we’re all equal.”

Mike McCarthy, the eighth head coach hired by Jones and now in his fourth season, has the rare distinction of leading two of the biggest brands in the NFL in the Cowboys and Green Bay Packers.

There are times McCarthy just shrugs and smiles — like when Jones reveals personnel decisions on his radio show — but a closer view of the ever-present owner has given him an appreciation for Jones.

“I think the opportunity to learn from someone with Jerry’s knowledge and experience personally has been a huge benefit and asset and something I’m very thankful for,” said McCarthy, who led the Packers to a Super Bowl title during the 2010 season.

Many give former coach Jimmy Johnson, who was hired when Jones bought the team and fired legendary coach Tom Landry, most of the credit for the three Super Bowl titles in the 1990s.

If the Cowboys can get another one, Jones will have a little more fodder for his counter-argument. For anyone wondering if he worries about running out of time, Jones says don’t.

“It is a year-to-year thing with me,” Jones said. “Immediate is if I don’t let the old man in. Immediate is the next 10 years, let’s say. So in the immediate 10 years, it’s going to be month-to-month.”

And with that typically convoluted answer, Jones was on to the next of several more questions after last weekend’s win over the New York Giants.

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