DALLAS -- You could argue that for the first time in some time, it is a good time to be America’s Team. A glistening new headquarters, a strong season last year, and an owner enshrined in the NFL Hall of Fame. The Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders are in their 12th season of their own television show.
But there are memories of when the one of the pillars of the franchise’s success was threatened, buried in storage inside a few North Texas homes. Including that of Leslie Ezelle.
The year was 1989. In February, Jerry Jones becomes the new owner of the Dallas Cowboys. He fires Tom Landry and Director of the Cheerleaders Suzanne Mitchell resigns. Tensions are high. June brings rumors about Jones' plans for changes to the squad.
"We had no idea what he was about," said Ezelle. "All we knew was that there was talk about us being in beer commercials and sponsorships, and that our uniform might get skimpier than it already was, and that we could fraternize with the players. That's when we made a stance and decided that we were going to quit."
On a Thursday night, 14 veterans of the squad quit. 23 rookies were left with the weekend to decide their fate. The women felt that those plans went directly against the team's wholesome image. The news of their walkout became a huge local story.
"The organization has changed and won't ever be the same that's the way I feel about it," said a 22-year-old Ezelle to our News 8 cameras the day after she quit.
It quickly became a national story, and the country's eyes turned to the team's new owner. That Friday, Jerry Jones called a press conference to clarify.
"It has been suggested to me that there was talk about changing the uniform and possibly in a way to making the uniform a little more…whatever you want to call it," said Jones. "That's just not the case."
Jones insisted there were no plans for major changes for the cheerleaders in the clips we found from that day in our WFAA Archives.
"My intent is absolutely to have our cheerleaders hold their heads up high and be as important for moms and dads and their children in the future that there ever has been," said Jones.
The women felt heard.
"He had a sincerity about him," said Ezelle. "Once he had that talk with us, that's when we all decided to stay."
30 years later, through the lense of time, the women's complaints sound a bit conservative. The cheerleader's uniform is arguably now skimpier than ever, but that doesn't bother Ezelle.
"I think it's totally appropriate for this day and age, where we are today," she said.
Looking back, Ezelle praises Jones for recognizing that women who had dreamed of making the team were willing to fight to protect what it stands for. She thinks by listening then, he paved the way for the franchise's success today.
"I think him becoming a part of the hall of fame is fantastic, and the fact that he allowed the cheerleaders to keep their tradition is a huge component of that," she said.
We reached out to The Cowboys about this wrinkle in history, but they prefer to keep it stored away, like Ezelle's memorabilia. For her, there's no hard feelings, only an appreciation of all it meant to become, and then return to being, a Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader.
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