The Cowboys Picked the Wrong Time to Draw a Line in the Sand

Michael Owen Baker/Associated Press

Nowadays, we hear about fake news rather often. In today’s world, nary a day goes by without someone using the phrase, whether it’s used to describe the American or foreign media. Over the last couple of days, though, fake news has dipped its toes into the waters of sports, and the results have been ugly.

Wide receiver Lucky Whitehead, now formerly of the Dallas Cowboys, was arrested on a shoplifting charge in Woodbridge, Virginia on June 22. He then supposedly compounded matters by not appearing at his arraignment hearing on July 6, which resulted in another charge. This led to the Cowboys releasing Whitehead on Monday and adopting a hard-line stance against the pass-catcher. From the beginning of the story, though, Whitehead and his agent denied any wrongdoing on the player’s part and accused the Prince William County Police of mistaking Whitehead’s identity for another offender. You could say that Whitehead was using the Wawa robbery equivalent of the Shaggy Defense here, but it was noteworthy that Whitehead was so quick to deny any wrongdoing on the basis of mistaken identity.

As it turns out, Whitehead was right to defend himself.

Yesterday, the Prince William County Police confirmed that they were pursuing the wrong guy in the June 22 Wawa theft. The police department apologized to Whitehead and his family; of course, they didn’t offer him his job back, but that’s another story. The Cowboys cited a pattern of behavior when deciding to release Whitehead, and from that point of view, they could be justified. Last year, Whitehead was kept away from the team’s Week 14 game against the Giants for skipping the walkthrough the day before the game. He has also never scored a touchdown in the NFL and his somewhat lackluster performances could, in a vacuum, justify his release.

For most organizations, this would be a one-off mistake that we could move on from in a swift manner. After all, though, these are the Dallas Cowboys.

And the Dallas Cowboys are having a rough offseason. Star running back Ezekiel Elliott may miss the first two games of the season on an accusation of domestic violence. To be fair to Elliott, he was not charged with a crime for the incident (which occurred in 2015) and the NFL has taken its dear sweet time investigating the matter. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, the same man who released Whitehead for a crime he didn’t commit, has defended Elliott by saying there was “nothing” having to do with domestic violence in his situation. This may be true, but there was also no evidence of Whitehead’s crime other than what the Prince William County Police Department told us. Just saying.

Elliott’s possible suspension isn’t the only disciplinary cloud currently hanging over the Cowboys organization. Defensive end Randy Gregory was suspended for the 2017 season on January 5 for repeated violation of the NFL’s substance abuse policy. Gregory failed another drug test in February for his absurd-if-it-wasn’t-true seventh flunked test in, at the time, the span of just under 22 months. That, my friends, is a troubling pattern of behavior.

So what did Jones say at the time of Gregory’s sixth failed drug test? Let’s see for ourselves:

He’s genuine in his rehab process. I do have reason to be encouraged about his future. I hope and expect Randy Gregory to be back on the field.

What? Before you say that Gregory’s performance warrants this impassioned defense, remember that he has all of one sack in fourteen NFL games. Even when he has played, he hasn’t been productive. Most of the time, however, he’s been nothing but dead space on the team’s roster.

The most concerning thing about this fiasco, though, is what happens when you put it side-by-side with the team’s handling of former defensive end Greg Hardy. Hardy was convicted of two counts of domestic violence in 2014; he later had the charges dropped after his accuser failed to appear in court. Hardy was accused of, among other things, throwing his victim, Nicole Holder, on a couch laden with guns. The Cowboys reacted by signing Hardy, who had previously played for the Carolina Panthers, to a one-year contract, even as he was suspended for four games by the NFL (the league initially suspended him for ten games but an arbiter later reduced the ban to four games). Hardy was later interviewed by ESPN’s Adam Schefter and wasn’t exactly remorseful for his transgressions. Hardy had pulled the rare triple play of committing a crime, not apologizing for it, and being employed by the Cowboys. Impressive.

By now, you’ve seen that the Cowboys aren’t exactly the no-tolerance organization they want us to think they are. They’ve consistently put up with repeated offenses from their players in exchange for their prolific performances; in some instances, like that of Randy Gregory, they haven’t even gotten serious production for their troubles. (Side note: this is the same organization whose players may or may not have taken horse meds in the 1990s. The Cowboys won three Super Bowls in the decade. Since 1996, though, they haven’t been back to the big game.)

Yesterday, Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett gave a press conference in which he tried to defend the organization’s decision to release Lucky Whitehead. In it, he said the decision was “in the best interests of the Dallas Cowboys” on ten different occasions. Garrett essentially morphed into Marshawn Lynch when trying to defend his team’s rash and possibly inappropriate decision.

Lucky Whitehead may have been released later in training camp due to his struggles in his first two NFL seasons. That would have been completely understandable; every team will be parting with much of its current 90-man roster by the time the regular season starts. Instead, the Cowboys released him in the name of a crime he never committed. In some ways, it’s what the team deserves for taking a tough stance on a fringe player it may have later cut anyway.

The Cowboys decided to draw a line in the sand with Lucky Whitehead’s “misconduct”. All the while, the team has turned a blind eye to other, more serious, legitimate offenses. The organization tried to appear tough in dealing with a player who didn’t actually do anything wrong and treated him far more harshly than other players who have committed actual crimes.

Treating those players the same way they treated Lucky Whitehead would truly be in the best interests of the Dallas Cowboys going forward.

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