ARLINGTON, Texas — The Dallas Cowboys had never had a player kneel in protest against racial inequality during the national anthem prior to this season.
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones softened his stance this offseason, in the wake of the murder of George Floyd. This year, Jones has allowed his players to kneel.
And the first player to do so is defensive tackle Dontari Poe.
"People are coming to me and saying they're proud of me," Poe said, "saying that I'm standing up for something."
But, does he feel supported by Jones?
"Um, it goes both ways," Poe said. "I would say yes and no. Just because of the fact that it's Jerry Jones. He has told us all personally, all, me included, that he's with us. And we definitely appreciate it. He told me that there was no consequences for me taking a knee. He told all the players that, told all the players he's with us. He explains his track record very well, of how he's helped people in need, and things of that nature. But me personally, I know the reach and the impact that Jerry Jones can have. And I feel like he can make a better one."
We asked the Cowboys organization if Jones had a response to Poe's comments. They directed us to this quote, from an interview Jones gave on the Cowboys flagship radio station earlier this season:
“I want to say that our hearts, as an organization, our hearts go out to the individuals and the family members who have been affected by these times, these disheartening times that we all have seen on television," Jones said on 105.3 The Fan. "I want our team and I want them to be emboldened to be a part of change. The dramatic change isn’t going to happen overnight, but I want our organization and our players to play a part in the movement of making it a better place in this country. I feel confident that our players have a can-do and what can I do to participate in it. I want the Cowboys to help make this a better place.”
For his part, Poe is trying to make that better impact, with his work off the field.
"I'm doing this [kneeling] as a first step," he said, "because there's a long road that we have to fight in this country."
Years ago, Dontari started his Poe Man's Dream Foundation, with events for kids in the community.
"They like football, so we'll do a camp, a football camp," Poe's partner Jarie Bolander explained. "But they also need to learn these life skills. And they need the opportunity to know that there's something different for them."
So Dontari and his foundation have organized events where young kids can show their entrepreneurial abilities, in a Shark Tank-like event.
"All of us today, all the people who have had an impact on this world were once kids, were once someone who had a sponge for a mind, and needed to soak up the information they needed, to get to where they are today," Poe said. "So, that's all I'm trying to do, in the same sense, is just give somebody the tools to fight the better fight."
"You know, the kids, every time we do one of these camps, I just... my heart swells with love, because they're great," Bolander said. "And like [Dontari] said, they're a sponge. There's just nothing like seeing a kid's eyes light up when they figure out, 'Oh, I could do this. I never thought I could do this, but I can.'"
As Poe has said, kneeling in support of racial equality is just the first step. The work he's doing in the community is proof positive of the impact he wants to see in the world.
"And I want kids to understand that I can come from this type of place, come from that type of mindset, and still blossom, still be better, still overcome, still be the best that I can be, and still fight for what I believe is right," Poe said. "Because it doesn't matter, always, what the masses think. It's your life, it's your opportunity. And I can carry it as far as I can. And I want kids to understand that they can do the same thing -- because that power within yourself will move mountains bigger than anybody ever probably told them they could."
Poe and his foundation haven't been able to hold an event this year, due to the pandemic. But he's held events in his hometown of Memphis, Kansas City where he's played in the past, and beyond, and he has every intention of holding a Poe Man's Dream event here in North Texas.
He also has met with some Dallas police officers, and has intentions of doing a ride-along, and work with the local police, to improve the relationship between officers and the black community.