'IF THIS IS AMERICA'S TEAM, WOE IS AMERICA' THE COWBOYS' SCANDALOUS OFF-FIELD BEHAVIOR BESPEAKS A TEAM THAT LACKS A MORAL COMPASS

April 07, 1996

AMERICA'S VIRTUEMEISTER, William Bennett, looks at the flagship
franchise in sports, the Dallas Cowboys, and hates what he sees.
Bennett is not alone in his disdain for the Super Bowl
champions, but his voice ought to sound an alarm for them. "In
the old days the Cowboys were great, and you looked up to them,"
says Bennett, a former Secretary of Education and the author of
the best-selling The Book of Virtues. "Now it's different. Now
you look down on them. I do admire some people on their
team--Emmitt Smith, Troy Aikman and others--but I think the
Cowboys are hurting this country's morale. As one Texan said to
me recently, 'If this is America's team, then woe is America.'"

From owner to coach to star to scrubeenie, the Cowboys are
walking a tightrope without a net. This Michael Irvin story, the
one with him being indicted on Monday on two counts of drug
possession, stamps the All-Pro wide receiver as one more outlaw
on this renegade club. Irvin clearly thinks he's above the law,
as this 1993 quote indicates: "If you don't get caught, you're
not a criminal." Typical of Irvin, three days after he cursed on
national TV following the NFC Championship Game, he was asked if
he was sorry he was caught on camera. No, he said, while the
minicams were aimed at him again. Then he cursed some more to
punctuate his point.

No rebuke. No this-stuff-won't-be-tolerated statements from
owner Jerry Jones or coach Barry Switzer. "There is no moral
compass with the Cowboys," says Don Beck, a sports psychologist
and director of the National Value Center in Denton, Texas, who
has studied the team's relationship with the community. "It's
like, as long as the front office can pay off the attorneys and
the other victims, everything will be O.K. Their silence on
these things is speaking volumes."

Jones can't play the holier-than-thou role, not with his
well-earned reputation as a late-night carouser. Nor can
Switzer, who as coach at Oklahoma had an affair with the wife of
his defensive coordinator. "Jimmy Johnson was the choke chain,"
Beck says of Switzer's predecessor as Dallas coach. "Without
him, there's been no one to lean on these players."

Last April tackle Erik Williams was charged with sexual assault
of a 17-year-old topless dancer, who later dropped the charges
and settled with him out of court. Five months later wide
receiver Cory Fleming was arrested on a DWI charge. He pleaded
guilty and was sentenced to two years' probation. In November
defensive lineman Leon Lett was suspended for four games and
cornerback Clayton Holmes for a year after violating the NFL's
substance-abuse policy. Then, on March 3, Irvin was caught in an
Irving, Texas, hotel room with former Dallas tight end Alfredo
Roberts, two women who called themselves "self-employed models,"
about three ounces of marijuana, approximately two ounces of
cocaine, drug paraphernalia and two vibrators.

And while the Dallas County grand jury was hearing testimony on
the Irvin incident, the Cowboys signed free-agent linebacker
Broderick Thomas, who last July was arrested for unlawfully
carrying a weapon and six months later was nailed on the same
charge as well as for drunk driving. At about the same time The
Miami Herald reported that several Cowboys rented a house, which
they referred to as the White House, where players could meet
women for sex and avoid being caught by anyone, including their
wives.

"What you're seeing now," Beck says, "is the Jerry Jones
personal-value system--unconstrained, no boundaries, if it feels
good do it--plus the invincibility and intoxication that comes
from winning three Super Bowls in four years. Add the culture of
Dallas itself, which is high-status, high-living and very
fickle, and it becomes a very dangerous mix. These players see
that if you have money, you can get away with anything."

Last week former Cowboys defensive coordinator Butch Davis, now
the University of Miami coach, had former Dallas linebacker
Thomas (Hollywood) Henderson, whose NFL career was ruined by
drug addiction, speak to his team about the dangers of substance
abuse. Davis was so impressed he called Jones to recommend
Henderson for a consultant's job with the Cowboys. "Hey, where
there's smoke, there's fire," says Henderson, who wants to work
for his old team. "Because the NFL doesn't test most players for
drugs in the off-season, guys will do cocaine and marijuana in
that window of opportunity. And nothing happens to them. They're
bulletproof. What I'm seeing lately in football shows me that no
one remembers the Thomas Hendersons, the Len Biases. It doesn't
take long to ruin your life."

Bennett says he read last week's story in SI, which recounted
how the police came upon Irvin in the hotel room. "The most
discouraging thing," Bennett said, "was Irvin's looking at the
officer and saying, 'Can I tell you who I am?' It was as if he
was saying, because he's the superstar, he's safe."

Bennett thought for a moment. "Little boys look at TV and watch
sports to see men," he said. Then his voice trailed off.

I'll finish his thought: Where are they?

COLOR ILLUSTRATION: EVANGELOS VIGLIS [Drawing of Dallas Cowboys football helmet with star logo dripping]

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