Staubach Gates Should Step Down as Chair of Domestic Violence Task Force

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Who in Dallas could better express the way Dallas worships things — football and otherwise — than members of the Staubach clan? What they have to say about woman-beating and the Dallas Cowboys football team, specifically player Greg Hardy, is doubly interesting.

It tells us something about ourselves. It tells us something about the Staubachs.

Long before he became a real estate mogul, Roger Staubach, patriarch of the clan, was “Captain America,” the superstar quarterback who took the Cowboys to four Super Bowls and two Super Bowl victories. His robust Christian faith has always been mixed in at least equal parts with athletic prowess in his public persona.

In 1975, when he was at the height of his football career, People Magazine introduced a story about him this way:

By tradition, pro football quarterbacks are rarely seen off the field without a drink in hand and a blonde on the arm. But Roger Staubach, the scrambling quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys since 1971, is more likely to be carrying a Bible and consorting with people like Billy Graham.

His daughter, Dallas City Council member Jennifer Staubach Gates, never has flaunted her Catholic-school background or Christian belief but neither has she kept it under wraps. She announced the birth of a new grandchild recently by tweeting, “Joyous day and a new Christian in the family.”

Rather than keep you in suspense (hah!), allow me to telegraph my punches here and tell you where I’m headed with this. Staubach Gates, as she is known at campaign time, is chair of the mayor’s Dallas Domestic Violence Task Force. Based on her public remarks about the Hardy matter, she should step down.

Someone from the South of France might be surprised to hear us talking about Christianity in the same breath with football, but nobody here would blink. Three years ago in a suburb of Houston, a judge more or less codified the marriage of football and religion by ruling that signs bearing Bible verses were an acceptable form of fan behavior at high school football games.

The judge’s ruling was based on the First Amendment, but it left unanswered the question: Why would people want to display Bible verses at a high school football game? And I think we are safe here in dismissing that question as something only a Yankee would ask. I’m a Yankee, by the way, but I’ve been here long enough to get the Jesus/football link.

This is a town where Sunday sermons sometimes ring with more references to the Dallas Cowboys than to the New Testament. The cultural concept is that the football field is the stage for heroic battles and that heroes just have to be Christian … unless, as we have seen in some rare cases, they have been beating up their moms or their girlfriends, in which case they must be lapsed Christians.

Maybe the most important quality football shares with Christianity is that expectations are high in both, but in both you can get away with a lot of stuff just by confessing. As Stephen Young pointed out here yesterday, Hardy doesn’t even get the confessing part. 

But here is a caveat before we look at what Team Staubach has had to say about football and woman-beating. I don’t think it’s fair to use people’s religious conviction against them in social or political debates unless they themselves have somehow injected that element into the conversation. More on that in a moment.

Roger Staubach this week sliced the moral dime on Hardy this way: “I’m rooting for the Cowboys,” he told USA Today Sports, “I don’t root for him. I’m still rooting for the Cowboys. I’m not a Hardy fan.”

Gates, a guest on a local sports radio talk show, echoed the Staubach line: “There’s a lot of mixed emotions,” Gates said on KTCK-AM 1310's Intentional Grounding. “When I heard initially that Greg Hardy was going to be part of the Cowboys and he was going to be on the team that wears the star I love so much and the name Dallas I get to represent as a council member, I was disappointed and discouraged … I didn’t agree with the business decision the Cowboys made, but it’s their decision to pick their players. I am a Cowboys fan. I’ve grown up a Cowboys fan, and it’s hard not to continue to root for them … but it will be difficult to cheer for someone accused of what he’s been accused of.”

As she tends to do, she rambled on: “I don’t want to be put in a position to root against the Cowboys. It’ll be a lot of mixed emotions when he takes the field, and if he makes an incredible tackle and makes a difference and we win the game. I don’t want to wish it doesn’t happen. But we need to make sure we don’t make him a hero.”

What else could they have said? C’mon. Plenty. Without forsaking the Cowboys, either or both of them could have taken a hard run at team-owner Jerry Jones and raised the obvious questions about moral leadership. Either or both of them could have pointed to the harsh lessons in the Hardy saga for women out there who are victims of domestic abuse, namely that they and their suffering count for less if their husbands are Dallas Cowboys.

I‘m not accusing either Staubach of even faintly condoning Hardy’s behavior. I’m just saying both of them are willing to nuance the matter a lot in order to keep faith with football.

In the meantime, Gates led the way a week ago in what is an obvious City Hall insider strategy to use a discredited abuse charge against one of her colleagues. Referring to charges against Scott Griggs that have been thoroughly debunked in the legal process, Gates told The Dallas Morning News that she thinks City Hall needs a new policy to protect female city employees from abusive men, especially men of the Griggs persuasion.

Gates said, “This most recent one [with Griggs] highlighted the fact that if something’s not criminal, it begs the question: Is it OK?” she said.

I’m calling it an insider strategy because it just popped up again in a fairly bizarre and wooden attempt by City Manager A.C. Gonzalez to deflect questions about his own role. David Schechter of WFAA/Channel 8 asked Gonzalez if he had contacted the District Attorney’s Office during the flimsy felony investigation of Griggs.

Gonzalez wouldn’t answer the question. Instead he sent this statement to Schechter:

The police chief, city attorney, multiple women from City Hall, Mayor, all five City Councilwomen and I want a safe, respectful and productive environment for all city workers.

The Councilwomen have asked me to ensure that staff members who believe they are mistreated by city officials, including Councilmembers, are empowered to seek recourse. In addition, they asked me to present Council with training on proper conduct toward city employees, options for how employees can report abusive behavior by city officials and potential changes to the City Council rules. I will be working with Council to address this issue through policy changes and training.

Council member Philip Kingston, more than Griggs, is digging hard to find out whose idea it was to gin up fake felony charges against a sitting City Council member. Some group at City Hall — obviously including Gates and Gonzalez — thinks a clever way to deflect those questions is to keep stirring the charges themselves, even after they have been thoroughly debunked.

Here’s what I know. Shading your views on domestic abuse in order to maintain loyalty to your football team, using discredited abuse charges as a political ploy: neither one of those is the behavior of someone with a strong, committed position on domestic abuse.

Anybody could share Gates’ feelings. Her feelings are entirely human, for better and for worse. But nobody who does share those feelings should be chair of the city’s domestic abuse task force.

The domestic abuse task force assumed a higher profile after Mayor Mike Rawlings’ own dramatic, courageous and intelligent leadership on this issue two years ago, a role that attracted national attention. By stating his views clearly and unequivocally, Rawlings was able to reach the eyes and ears of a lot of men who might not otherwise have paid attention but needed to.

Gates brings the opposite qualities — a willingness to tamp down moral outrage in cases where the abuser “makes an incredible tackle” and a willingness to use false charges of abuse to gain political advantage.

The latter is truly despicable. The former is sort of understandable if you happen to be Captain America’s daughter.

She should split the difference and step down from her role as chair of the abuse commission. There are tons of people out there for whom the issue of domestic abuse is not clouded by doubt and never a thing to play games with. Let one of those people take the reins and the public leadership role here.

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