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Why should the Cowboys take the high road?

There’s a reason I am not as incensed over the Cowboys’ Greg Hardy signing as so many others, including Dallas mayor Mike Rawlings (not that I question his remarks, I applaud them) or WFAA-TV’s Dale Hansen. I’d like to think it has nothing to do with my being jaded in general or having a lack of compassion specifically for victims of domestic violence.

It’s simpler than that. Charles Barkley said it best several years ago, even if his meaning was misinterpreted when he declared that he is not a role model.

That was not so much an attempt to escape criticism for his own transgressions as a reminder that anyone choosing pro athletes over parents to show children right from wrong is hopelessly misguided.

I never think of the Dallas Cowboys as setting the standard for anything beyond getting to Super Bowls — something they were once quite good at and now mostly dream about. Character has never been high on their list, and we can only hope head coach Jason Garrett will stop talking so disingenuously about its pursuit.

But the Cowboys’ lack of a moral compass is not a product of the Jerry Jones generation. He did not initiate the practice of bringing criminals to town to put stars on their helmets. That dates back almost to the roots of the franchise.

The police were more lenient a half century ago about letting Cowboys escape jail time or in helping them keep things under wraps. Former all-pro guard John Niland saw his world after football unravel in a haze of drugs and alcohol before getting his life back in order. As he once put it, “When an active player gets busted, they squash it.”

How many did we never hear about? Who can say, but where do you suppose former wide receiver Pete Gent got his ideas for North Dallas Forty?

Even if protecting them was common practice, the Cowboys found their way to the police blotter. Nobody made a fuss when the Cowboys traded for the Vikings’ Lance Rentzel, even though the wide receiver had been arrested for exposing himself to underage girls in Minnesota. When he did the same thing to a 10-year old girl in Dallas in 1970 (while married to actress Joey Heatherton), the Cowboys reacted swiftly by …

Well, actually Rentzel asked to be placed on the inactive list. He was traded that offseason to the Los Angeles Rams (yes, there was still a market for him), and the NFL eventually got around to handing him a lengthy suspension two years later.

For possession of marijuana.

When I wrote recently about former Cowboys who deserve Hall of Fame consideration, a number of people asked why I left off Harvey Martin. I said I think he’s just below that top level. But I wonder how many remember his connection to the FBI’s cocaine investigation that involved several prominent Cowboys in 1983 or his arrests for domestic violence after his career.

Once the team moved into the Jones era, I don’t have to remind you what the Super Bowl Cowboys of the ‘90s were up to in their off hours at Valley Ranch.

Subsequently, Jones has brought in a number of players with arrests and violent backgrounds. Mostly — even from a pure football standpoint — these have been failed attempts at redemption.

Was their reason to think the Cowboys’ attitude might change in the post-Ray Rice video era? Enlightenment travels slowly for some, and you can always expect the Cowboys to be behind the curve.

Do the fans agree with the mayor? Heck, do they mind the Hardy signing at all?

You can blame this on the nature of talk radio if you like, but for two days this week, it was tough to even find a caller taking issue with the signing (including when we asked for females only and got three more pro-Hardy responses).

From an X’s and O’s outlook, it makes perfect sense. Low cost, low risk, possible high production depending on the length of his league-imposed suspension.

But the idea that signing Hardy would somehow tarnish the club’s image? You have to have had your head in the sand for 50 years or believe that the ’70s were solely about Roger Staubach and not at all about Thomas “Hollywood” Henderson to think that’s possible.

Here’s the other issue I have with the coverage that Hardy, Rice and Adrian Peterson have generated. In some minds, these stories have made the NFL a laughing stock for its fumbled investigations or an apparent willingness to accept their behavior.

I’m not defending Commissioner Roger Goodell or the silly sacred “shield” that he and his henchmen talk about. But we should remember that the NFL is the only entity punishing these players at all. You can’t say that the states of New Jersey (Rice) or North Carolina (Hardy) or Texas (Peterson) brought down the hammer on any of them for their acts of violence towards women or children.

So if the real point is that we have collectively lost so much faith in the nation’s legal system that we turn to sports leagues with the expectation that that’s where real justice will be dispensed, we may have simply lost our minds.

That’s not what the NFL is about.

And that damn sure isn’t what the Dallas Cowboys have ever been about.