Until now, the standard image of Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones that has existed in NFL fans’ heads has been that of a cartoonish carnival barker, shameless pitchman, and bumbling football executive. Even as he dotted his roster with a smorgasbord of bad actors over the years, Jones seemed harmless enough when he’d flash his toothy, hillbilly smile and offer rambling explanations for his decisions that sometimes bordered on indecipherable.
Besides, he understood the often amoral nature of sports fandom. He knew that many supporters didn’t really care—or found it convenient to ignore—that a player had a history of violence against women, had gotten behind the wheel of a car while drunk, or had used recreational drugs. Just win, baby.
Sarah Hepola’s Texas Monthly podcast on the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders, America’s Girls, painted a less flattering portrait of Jones. This Jerry Jones brought buddies to sip cocktails and leer at cheerleaders during their workouts. This Jerry Jones handpicked at least one cheerleader to accompany him on a trip in his private jet, where she was expected to wear the group’s famous, skimpy uniform and parade around for the boss’s guests.
These displays of power and ego may have diminished and objectified the women, but crude is not criminal. That’s what makes the franchise’s recent voyeurism scandal different.
One of Jones’s highest-ranking executives is accused of recording images of a group of cheerleaders as they changed clothes. Even worse, Jones appears to have covered for the executive for over six years. When ESPN began asking questions, the executive, Rich Dalrymple, announced his retirement.
Here’s ESPN’s bombshell opening paragraph: “The Dallas Cowboys paid a confidential settlement of $2.4 million after four members of their iconic cheerleading squad accused a senior team executive of voyeurism in their locker room as they undressed during a 2015 event at AT&T Stadium, according to documents obtained by ESPN and people with knowledge of the situation.”
This time, it’s darker. There can be no “boys will be boys” excuses. This time, the brand that is the Dallas Cowboys, the brand that made the organization the most valuable franchise in professional sports, the brand that delivers gargantuan television ratings—that brand could be stained in a way it has never been stained before.
If this were a single incident of alleged misconduct by an employee, that would be one thing. But as disturbing as the accusations of voyeurism are, they aren’t even the part of the story that should trouble all the fans who pour their hearts and souls into rooting for the Cowboys.
Even after Jones learned that Dalrymple had been accused of—and identified as—sneaking into a room to apparently shoot video or snap photos of a group of cheerleaders as they changed clothes, even after the team paid millions to make the case go away, Dalrymple, who has denied wrongdoing, remained at Jones’s side for another six years.
Jones took no substantive action except—wait for it—to revoke Dalrymple’s access to cheerleader dressing areas. Seriously? Rather than reporting the incident to the police, the Cowboys are said to have conducted their own investigation. This is laughable.
In fact, if a fan in Shreveport hadn’t asserted that he saw Dalrymple snap upskirt photos of Jerry’s daughter, Charlotte, on a livestream, there may not have been a settlement at all.
Okay, everyone take a deep breath. Here’s what will come of all this: nothing. It appears to have been about a 48-hour story in Dallas, and the National Football League has already said it will not even conduct the kind of sham investigations it did when similar allegations arose from within the Washington Commanders franchise. (Only after an outright accusation of sexual harassment against Washington owner Dan Snyder did NFL commissioner Roger Goodell say the league would conduct its own investigation.)
For the NFL, the Cowboys are way too important. Even with a quarter century of mediocrity on the field, America’s Team produces revenue and television ratings like no other professional sports franchise in North America.
To do anything that would damage this cash cow would also hurt the NFL, and that simply won’t happen. If ESPN had not pursued the story, it’s logical to think that Rich Dalrymple—known for years as Jones’s “fixer”—would still be working for the Cowboys as a communications executive. He says otherwise, but the timing is damning.
Do fans care? They have not seemed bothered by players’ bad or criminal behavior in the past, and maybe they won’t care this time either.
But then again, maybe some fans will call foul at the ghoulish notion of surreptitiously recording young women in various states of undress. Maybe the other accusation—upskirt photos of the owner’s daughter—will be even more bothersome to some fans.
Could Jerry Jones really have known about that one? Even those of us who’ve watched the Cowboys cover for drug users and women beaters have trouble getting our heads around that one.
This we know: the Cowboys will roll on, and Jerry Jones, 79, will remain at the helm until he passes his $10 billion empire to his three children, all of whom are involved in Cowboys management.
The franchise has said its 2016 investigation of the incident turned up nothing. Dalrymple stated that he entered the cheerleaders’ dressing area by mistake, and he left quickly. The Cowboys would not say how they determined that Dalrymple’s story was accurate or convincing. Time-stamped data from surveillance cameras and security key cards might have shown when he entered and left the area, but the Cowboys have not released that information.
The internal investigation found no video or images of the cheerleaders on Dalrymple’s company iPhone, and he told Cowboys human resources staff that he doesn’t own a personal one. But one cheerleader identified Dalrymple as the guy with the phone extended toward them as they were changing clothes. ESPN cited “several people with knowledge of the events and letters sent by attorneys for the cheerleaders to the team” for the information.
Three people stated that a security guard assigned to the room that day wanted to report the incident to the Arlington police department. Instead, eight days after the incident, the cheerleaders met with the HR department. According to some of ESPN’s sources, team officials appeared to have concluded that Dalrymple had done nothing wrong even before the investigation took place.
“It was a very . . . shut the book, don’t talk about it, this person is going to stay in his position . . . They just made it go away,” a former cheerleader told ESPN.
And this from another source, according to ESPN: “It was a ‘he said, she said’—and the team chose to believe Dalrymple’s side of things. But four women swore this happened.”
Dalrymple was issued a disciplinary letter on October 19, 2015, according to ESPN. That letter came five months before the fan in Shreveport formally accused Dalrymple of taking photographs of Charlotte Jones.
The fan, Randy Horton, submitted a sworn, three-page affidavit about the incident on April 18, 2016, according to ESPN. Within weeks of the cheerleaders’ lawyer describing the letter to the Cowboys, the $2.4 million settlement and nondisclosure agreement was signed.
In the last decade, the NFL media machine has moved on from all sorts of bad news, ranging from brain trauma to sexual assault to racism. The league will almost certainly plow right through this scandal, too, as the NFL pushes draft coverage, minicamps, and Tom Brady’s rumored return from what would then be one of the most meaningless retirements in recent history.
Before long, fans will have moved on and forgotten about Rich Dalrymple’s alleged voyeurism and the Cowboys’ apparent efforts to conceal the incident from public attention. That’s what the team wants, and that’s what the league wants.
And Jerry Jones had better hope that’s what happens, because he has never looked worse.