"I don't think we've got your attention," Jones said to the players, several of whom recounted the incident to SI. "You clearly don't understand what we're saying, and we're not hearing what you're saying. So I guess we're going to have to show you to get your attention."
Jones tapped his fists together for emphasis—the players interpreted it as a sign that a lockout was coming—then stood and walked toward the door.
– Jim Trotter, SI.com: "A Game in Flames"
Jim Trotter's description of what may have been the breaking point of negotiations between players and owners is vivid. Jerry Jones' gesture clearly carried great dramatic weight … but here's where the language fails us in the retelling, from players to Trotter to us. What kind of gesture was it? Exactly what did Jones mean to say, and was the players' reaction appropriate?
While we can't confirm, we can at least explore the range of possibilities, from likely to absurd, from benign to deeply insulting.
1. "We are at odds."
Meaning: relatively clear.
We start with the most likely possibility, that Jones brought his fists together in direct opposition, implying that despite continuous meetings, neither side in this debate was willing to give an inch.
However, he isn't really saying anything that wasn't already abundantly clear to begin with. This shouldn't have been news; why would the players attach any particular meaning to this, other than the natural drama of the delivery?
2. The "Terrorist Fist Jab"
Likelihood: very improbable.
Meaning: foggy at best
A rotation of this same gesture would be some sort of perverse self-congratulatory fist-bump, of the kind made famous by Barack and Michelle Obama during the 2008 presidential campaign.
While it seems likely that we could dismiss this gesture, perhaps Jones intended it to underscore just how little the owners care about communicating with the players. Perhaps he started by trying to dap one of his fellow owners, and was left hanging, and so dapped himself?
3. The Friends Gesture: "F*** You"
Likelihood: absurdly low
Meaning: insulting but harmless
When I related this story to my wife, this interpretation was the first that popped into her head. The gesture, invented by Ross and Monica as a way of flipping each other off without their parents' knowing, is equal parts goofy and hostile. But once seen, it can't be forgotten. (Watch)
However, given the gulf between the intended hostility of the message and the way the players in the room laughed it off, perhaps this was it…
4. The Hand Jive
Likelihood: absurdly low
Okay, this is perhaps the least likely. But the sudden uncontrollable urge to break into obscure dance moves from the 70s may be a nervous side-effect of the massive strain a billion dollars of stadium debt is placing on Jones. It may also be the reason he has been absent from most talks.
5. "We are hard-core"
Likelihood: barely possible
Meaning: comical but clear
Knowing how insistent the owners have been in negotiations, and how hawkish Jones is by nature, and throw in a dash of Texas-sized crazy and it's not inconceivable that Jones temp-tatted an indisputable message to the players, then made sure to deliver it in his brief time at the negotiating table.
6. "Cuffs on, please"
Likelihood: you tell me
Meaning: insulting, incendiary
In all likelihood, Adrian Peterson and Rashard Mendenhall are simply speaking out of turn. (See the last "We need a new language" post.) But what if Peterson's "modern-day slavery" comments were sparked by an incindiary, racially-charged gesture?
As lunatic as the owners' cartel has sometimes appeared, this just doesn't seem to fit. But as the questions posed by Dolphins exec Jeff Ireland to prospect Dez Bryant (including "was your mother a prostitute?") show, sometimes we assume way too much gentility on the part of those in charge of our game.