For a few weeks this spring, Don Jones was the NFL’s face of intolerance.
And all it took was a couple of disapproving words on Twitter about Michael Sam.
What hasn’t been said, until now: Jones has a gay brother. And their relationship, in his words, is “a great one.”
“I don’t have [a] problem with gay [people],” Jones told the Miami Herald on Thursday. “Shoot, I do have a bunch of family members that are gay. My brother, my cousins. I never really had a problem.”
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Those shades of gray were lost draft weekend back in May, when Jones tweeted “omg” and “horrible” after watching Sam kiss his partner during the NFL Draft after becoming the first openly gay picked by an NFL team.
The Dolphins, still hurting from their ugly bullying scandal, acted quickly. They condemned Jones’ remarks; coach Joe Philbin called them “inappropriate and unacceptable” in a team release.
And they fined Jones, a second-year defensive back, and suspended him from team activities until he completed sensitivity training.
Nearly three months later, a chastened Jones is back in good standing with the team, and adamant that he has changed – for the better.
“I didn’t intend [any] harm,” Jones said. “I just made a bad mistake. I had to learn from it.”
The reaction, internally and externally, caught Jones by surprise. But once the team explained to him why his words were divisive and inappropriate, he agreed to the time away.
That education included seven sessions with a sensitivity counselor, running four hours each. In all, Jones was away from the team for 10 days.
“I learned I can’t be judgmental,” Jones said. “I have to respect what everybody’s doing.”
Said Philbin: “All the feedback we got from the educational piece was very positive. He’s been a good teammate throughout, since he returned to the team. I think he’s a thoughtful individual. I think he understands the impact that actions and words can have on others. He’s really done well.”
Jones’ suspension served two purposes: It punished the player for behavior deemed unacceptable by the franchise; and it sent a message to the rest of the team that actions have consequences.
Owner Stephen Ross has made improving the level of discourse, in his locker room and in society at large, a priority. His players have apparently gotten the message.
Much was made this week of the players-designed training camp T-shirt that had the Dolphins’ 2014 credo.
Included in the text: “I am the change that I want to see in my team,” and “I live respect and truth-telling.”
Jones, for his part, said he has has changed in several ways. Most notably, he has learned the power of words, even short ones on social media.
He acknowledges that the fact that a sizable chunk of the outside world sees him as homophobic concerns him. And yet ...
“I definitely think all of it’s behind me,” he said. “I just try to move forward and go on as a team. I’ve learned. I feel pretty good.”