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?