OXNARD, Calif. (AP) — In one wave after another, Jason Witten, Tony Romo and Dez Bryant walked arm-in-arm onto the field for the start of the Cowboys’ training camp with families of the Dallas police officers killed by a gunman this month.
It was their way of paying tribute to the five fallen officers, and it left an impression on Dallas police Chief David Brown.
“This moment here is overwhelming,” Brown said in a brief news conference after the ceremony before the team’s first full practice Saturday.
“Our profession — and I’ve repeated this — hasn’t seen a lot of support from communities because of some of the problems we see in communities with police relationships. So support like this really is priceless.”
Families of four of the five officers killed in an ambush in downtown Dallas during a Black Lives Matter rally were represented, and children were among those holding hands with Dallas players. Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings also was there, along with other officers and several councilmembers.
The Cowboys also unveiled a helmet decal they will wear in the preseason and possibly the regular season. It says “arm in arm” in a circle around a star meant to symbolize a mix of the Cowboys’ famous logo and the star Dallas police wear on their uniforms.
After taking the field in four waves, players and coaches formed a circle with the Dallas contingent for a moment of silence. Brown addressed the team and shouted “Dallas strong” as he wrapped up his remarks.
“I would like to say thank you to the Dallas Cowboys for lifting a city up today,” Rawlings told reporters after the brief ceremony. “Those families, those young kids — to be arm-in-arm with a quarterback, a coach or a big lineman — they’ll remember that for the rest of their lives.”
Dallas owner Jerry Jones gave his usual camp-opening speech to fans in stands next to the adjoining fields. Then he went into the locker room along with other dignitaries before emerging in the first line of the first wave, which included Witten. Romo was in the second group, and Bryant the last.
“The special thing about our game is that it can bring a community together,” Witten said. “It can lift you up when you’re down. Today was all about that. We just wanted to honor them, just show support and a tribute to them.”
Witten, a 13-year NFL veteran and father of four, held hands with 8-year-old Magnus Ahrens, son of slain Dallas officer Lorne Ahrens.
“It was special to see the kids that were here … maybe hug a loved on there, a wife or a mother,” Witten said. “What they’ve gone through, I can’t even fathom that. Just hopefully put a smile on their face and show them how much we respect them and we want to honor them in that.”
The team released a statement saying the ceremony was about unity.
“Our players felt that there is no better example of what unity is — and can be about — than a sports team,” the statement said. “And they felt they had the opportunity — for the first time they were together this year — to send this very important message.”
Brown said his speech to the team carried a similar message.
“I talked about responsibility and playing a role in our society as pro athletes, to have a voice in the conversation about race, to have a voice in the conversation about communities and police departments and police-involved shootings,” Brown said. “I think that people need to hear, from all parts of society, a discussion on race.”