On Friday, June 2, an emotional Jerry Jones returned home to accept the Distinguished Citizen Award during the 2017 Arkansas Community Service Awards. On this night, Jones, the owner of the Dallas Cowboys, didn’t stand before the crowd at the Governor’s Mansion as the most powerful man in professional sports. He spoke to us as a humble and proud product of the state of Arkansas.
“I stand here as a recipient of someone who has used this state to its max,” said Jones. “I’ve used the wonderful qualities of this … land of opportunity.”
In addition to learning that Jones was a one-time owner of KARK-TV (more on that in a bit!), I took away four things from the evening that can serve us all well in our careers.
At one point during his speech, Jones revealed he was an investor in KARK, and then jokingly explained that he had to sell his shares to purchase the Cowboys. This was the first I heard about this, and I later told Jones it was moving to hear him say he was proud of the work we continue to do in the community.
The Community Service Awards was produced by my wife Laura, so we were in a position to speak privately with Jones towards the end of the evening. He told us a story from his time with KARK that would later serve him well as the owner of the Cowboys. Jones said he was dumbfounded at the price Channel 11 paid for the rights to air “I Love Lucy” in syndication (this story says it aired on KARK, but Jones told me it was 11). Jones knew they wouldn’t be able to make a profit on what they paid, so he pressed Channel 11’s owner about what Jones perceived as a poor business decision. The owner of 11 told Jones that having “I Love Lucy” on the station made the station feel bigger and brought value to every other program on the network – which is why he was willing to lose money on it.
Years later when Jones helped renegotiate television contracts to the NFL, he used this Little Rock business lesson to press the networks for more money. NBC balked; Fox was all in. The risk orchestrated by Jones paid off — and then some. The NFL is now the most valuable property in television.
You can’t be afraid to take chances. High risk, high reward.
Jones got emotional talking about how defeating the mighty University of Texas as an Arkansas Razorback football player changed him and the other men on his team. It opened the door to the realization anything was possible.
He recalled a tour of the Astrodome that he received ahead of 1965 Cotton Bowl as a key moment in his life. Jones, who was in his 20s, was astounded by the fact that someone dreamed up the creation of the facility dubbed the “8th Wonder of the World.” The impression that building left on him stayed with him, his wife, Gene, later told Laura and me.
Some 40 years later, Jones had the opportunity to build a stadium of his own. And he was ready. He didn’t just build a football stadium. Jones built one of the most impressive entertainment venues in the world.
“I believed in it. I had confidence in it,” said Jones. “And I built a damn stadium you could fit six Astrodomes in!”
Whether it’s buying and rebuilding the Dallas Cowboys or building a billion-dollar stadium, Jones has never been afraid to think big.
Jones made national headlines this past year for honoring his hometown police officers. He brought every member of the North Little Rock Police Department, along with their families, to North Texas to attend a Cowboys game – all expenses paid.
On the surface, it sounded like a really nice thing to do. But watching Jones on this night, it was obvious that the gesture had been much more than that. The Cowboys owner fought back tears while talking about the pride he had honoring the men and women who wear the North Little Rock badge. He was now in a position to give back to the people he looked up to as a child.
“50 something years later, here they are being recognized nationally,” Jones noted. “It inspired me. It inspired me to want to use the Cowboys. I want them (the national television audience) to see what they can mean to the underprivileged … in our great state of Arkansas.”
Jones used the platform he had to honor the heroes of his home state.
How do we use the platform we have?
Through it all, Jones always felt like he was representing the state of Arkansas.
He recalled an Arkansas Razorback coach telling the team before a big game that everyone in the state holding a radio to their their ears wished they were in the shoes of the football players. The team went on to win that game. The Razorbacks didn’t lose another game that season and Jones never lost the Arkansas pride he won on the field that day.
Jones said his experience in Arkansas helped shape who he is today. That’s why he continues to look for opportunities to build up the next generation.
Before accepting his own award, Jones and the crowd of 200 people watched stories of nine other Arkansans who were using their abilities to better the lives of people around then.
“You have some of the greatest people that just somehow, someway pulled it out and knew they could do it,” said Jones toward the end of his speech. “Thank you Arkansas.”
Have pride in the work you do and who you represent. Represent them well.
I took great pride in discovering I work for a station Jerry Jones once owned. Back when he was an investor in KARK, most people would’ve laughed off the possibility that Jones could one day own the most valuable sports franchise in the world. In many ways, it’s an example that the possibilities – for all of us — are endless.