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HOW MUCH IS ONE SOONER WORTH? How OU became a leading figure in the head coaching salary boom across college football.
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SPORTS | 4
How much is one Sooner worth? How OU became a leading figure in the head coaching salary boom across college football.
NEWS | 10
‘He shall not be executed.’
Inside the moments Julius Jones and those closest to him thought were his last and where they go next.
PROFILE | 20
Their seat at the roundtable
Oklahoma’s first nonbinary, Muslim representative’s road from activism to state-level politics
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HOW MUCH IS ONE SOONER WORTH?
How OU became a leading figure in the head coaching salary boom across college football.
PHOTO ILLUSTRATIONS BY JUSTIN JAYNE/THE DAILY
STORY BY MASON YOUNG • MASON.E.YOUNG-1@OU.EDU
The state remained in shock as OU President Joseph Harroz Jr. prepared to address the Board of Regents — and by extension, Sooners fans and the college football world at large. In a moment in which many felt demoralized, the often embattled but ever optimistic leader used an unexpected word: invigorated. He made clear OU wouldn’t be afraid to open its wallet in filling the vacancy and that donors were excited by Athletic Director Joe Castiglione’s endeavor to replace Lincoln Riley. The Sooners’ head coach since 2017, Riley rocked the college football world four days earlier by accepting the head coaching job at Southern California on Nov. 28. That donor enthusiasm was documented two days later when oil billionaire and OU alumnus Tim Headington was photographed stepping out of a car with athletic department leaders and into a South Carolina lake house to secure OU’s new head man. Hours later, Oklahoma named Brent Venables its next head coach. The former Sooners defensive coordinator returned from a 10-year stint at Clemson, where he was the highest paid assistant coach nationally at $2.5 million annually. Despite being a first-time head coach, Venables will make $7 million annually in total compensation to helm
Oklahoma in 2022 and beyond. His starting pay is more than Riley ever made at OU, despite the latter garnering the largest fully guaranteed contract for a first time head coach upon being hired in 2017. College football’s evolution as a business continues at a breakneck pace, more so amid conference realignment and coaching transitions, both of which OU has been a central player in during the past five years. The trend in skyrocketing coach salaries, in particular, illustrates that a sport once laden with pageantry is now consumed by paying top dollar for a perceived advantage in maintaining successful football programs on the field and at the bank. The Daily analyzed key points and more than a century of data from OU Board of Regents records and then put them before experts on the business of college football to help explain and bring context to OU’s escalating head coach salaries, how they align with college football at large and where it might lead next. While it feels new in some ways, Oklahoma has been at the forefront of such changes since President George Lynn Cross famously declared in 1951 his desire for “a university the football team can be proud of.” In years to come, the Sooners will remain atop the shifting college football landscape as they prepare to enter the lucrative Southeastern Conference by 2025. Recent
spending reiterates pride — especially in college football’s top echelons — comes at a steep cost.
‘Biff’ Jones, the superstar effect and winner’s curse Following the resignation of coach Lewie Hardage in 1934, OU Regent Lloyd Noble embarked for Baton Rouge on his own ticket to find a new football coach. He visited Capt. Lawrence McCeney “Biff” Jones, a World War I veteran who’d coached his alma mater, the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and, most recently, LSU. Jones helped the Tigers tie for first in the Southern Conference in 1932, but he resigned after the 1934 season, supposedly due to a disagreement with Louisiana Sen. Huey P. Long, a longtime supporter of the program. Jones was skeptical of OU but eventually agreed to coach the Sooners. He commanded a historic value of $7,500 — the most of any Oklahoma coach to that date. Bennie Owen, who is credited with kickstarting Oklahoma football in earnest and whose likeness now stands in bronze just beyond the field that bears his name, produced a 122-54-16 record as the Sooners’ coach from 1905-26, but his salary peaked at half of Jones’. At first, the athletic council
5 recommended $5,000 for Jones, and Noble offered to pay the difference. Instead, regents settled on accounting for the difference from projected increased ticket sales. OU was willing to pay more than ever for the perceived best option — a phenomenon Michael Leeds, an economics professor at Temple University, calls the superstar effect. “If you have two coaches, one of whom is just slightly better than the other, you’re going to see the compensation potential for that slightly better coach blown up way beyond any difference in ability,” Leeds said. “You would think a slightly better coach would have a slightly higher salary (and) a much better coach has a much better salary. But, in fact, once you get to a certain level, those small differences in ability lead to huge differences in compensation.” “The example I always give my students is, suppose — God forbid — you have a brain tumor. And you’re looking at a brain surgeon, and one of them has a 95 percent success rate, and another one has a 97 percent success rate. Who are you going to go to? Even if the person with a 95 percent success rate says, ‘I’ll charge you a little bit less,’ you’re still going to go to the better one.” Unlike brain surgery, OU’s acquisition of Jones was a more short-term solution. The university hired him despite word from the War Department that he could be away from his military duties for only two more years, at most. Right on schedule, Jones left OU after the 1936 season, having coached the Sooners to just a 9-6-3 record in the least-memorable stop of his 14-year career. Promptly, he retired from the military in 1937 and became head coach of the rival Nebraska Cornhuskers. Jones later returned to the Army to fight in World War II and was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1954. In the case of Jones, the superstar effect led to another phenomenon: the winner’s curse. Enamored with the belief that Jones could provide unparalleled success, Noble and OU put all their chips on the table but walked away with less than expected. It wasn’t the last time the Sooners would overpay on a coach. “What often happens is that the winning bid is well above the actual value of the thing being bid on,” Leeds said. “This is why you see cities overspending on (the) Olympics, why you see free agents in sports often overpaid, and it’s
potentially one reason why you see, again, salaries being driven sky high for successful football coaches.”
Wilkinson, financial pioneer Ten years later, Jim Tatum topped Jones’ start value with an $8,000 salary in 1946, but after one season, he was wooed by an offer from Maryland and resigned. Attempting to retain Tatum for the 1947 season, the board offered him five- and six-year deals worth $12,000, but he sought a 10-year deal for the same value. “If the objective is to be the (winner) of football games at any cost, the only factor to be considered in selecting or retaining a head coach is his ability to win games,” Cross said in a 1947 meeting, with words that foreshadowed the current nature of college football. “His methods of winning are not to be scrutinized too closely. His relations to his associates in other sports, and to the members of the faculty, will not be of great concern as long as he is winning. “If, on the other hand, football in the university is to be a part of an educational and public relations program in a more genuine sense, many factors must be considered in the selection or retention of a head coach. His integrity, loyalty and personality must be taken into consideration in addition to his ability to win football games. His relations to his associates and the faculty become of paramount importance. Therefore, his salary and the other features of his contract must be considered in the light of the university’s general problem. His influence as a man upon the members of his squad becomes of importance. His ability to view the sport in its proper perspective must be considered.” Faced with finding the balance of academic and athletic importance, the regents accepted Tatum’s resignation. It would be 75 years before another coach, Riley, left Norman to take another collegiate job. The same day the regents accepted Tatum’s resignation, they promoted one of his assistants, Charles Burnham “Bud” Wilkinson. Adjusted for inflation, Wilkinson’s initial $10,000 salary equates to $129,278 in 2021. Previously an assistant at Syracuse, Minnesota and the Navy Pre-Flight school at Iowa, Wilkinson became one of the greatest Oklahoma coaches and
perhaps one of the last who kept the relative financial values of both educational and athletic successes in equilibrium. He compiled a 145-29-4 record and earned five raises while winning the 1950, ’55 and ’56 national championships in his 17 seasons helming the Sooners. His 47game winning streak from 1953-57 remains an NCAA Division I record. On top of building the machine that is OU football, Wilkinson was a financial innovator. Ahead of the 1953 season, he became the first college coach with a TV show, pioneering a type of programming and line of revenue still used as supplementary pay in Norman and abroad today. In 1956, Wilkinson became the first Sooners coach to garner annuities, setting himself up for retirement. One year later, he raised his assistant coaches’ salaries but said that assistants’ pay shouldn’t be out of line with that of professors. His egalitarian perspective aligned with Cross’ assertion that the football program should serve the university’s educational means and perhaps made Wilkinson one of the last of the old guard connecting the playing field to the classroom. “These days, to make the kind of money that even an assistant coach or an offensive or defensive coordinator is making,” Leeds said, “you practically have to be a Nobel Prize winner.” While Wilkinson was modest in many ways, he was also among the first of college football’s celebrity coaches. Wilkinson, for example, was friends with President John F. Kennedy, who appointed him as executive director of the President’s Council on Physical Fitness in 1961. When Wilkinson took a leave of absence to kickstart the program, he gave $7,000 back to the university, subtracting from the career high salary of $27,000 he attained in 1959, which equals $257,007 in 2021. After the 1963 season that coincided with Kennedy’s assassination, Wilkinson resigned as coach and athletic director to enter politics. His final salary was $22,000 — $201,147 in 2021 — less than his peak but more than twice the then-record figure at which he began. Wilkinson’s remarkable career landed him a hall of fame nod in 1969 and a statue outside Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium.
6 Switzer, the king with no ransom One of OU’s former coaches remains known in program lore as “The King,” but Barry Switzer never received the ransom befitting his title. Rodney Fort, a professor of sports management at the University of Michigan, recently surveyed The Daily’s data, specifically focusing on raises based on performance. He noted OU’s historical tendency to initially pay low on coaches, granting them raises only after they proved themselves. However, one figure inexplicably bucked the trend of receiving massive raises for his successes, leaving Fort perplexed. “Tell me what the hell went on with Switzer,” Fort said. Switzer was the Sooners’ offensive coordinator from 1966-72 and head coach from 1973-88. A 2001 College Football Hall of Fame inductee, he’s OU’s second-winningest coach at 157-29-4 and holds national championship rings from 1974, ‘75 and ‘85. Twenty-five years after retiring, Switzer still lives in Norman and is the fixture of hype videos and alumni events, but as Fort noticed, his salary never reflected the caliber of his legend. He succeeded Chuck Fairbanks making $27,000 — $174,923 in 2021 — starting at
$9,500 less initially than his predecessor. Switzer’s highs on the field happened to coincide with economic challenges off it. His heyday came during a nationwide 1970s oil crisis under President Jimmy Carter’s administration, which depressed the value of his earnings, and the early 1980s collapse of Penn Square Bank in Oklahoma, which constrained the university and its boosters’ ability to increase his compensation. Regents minutes from January 1983 reflect just that. “President Banowsky commended the football coaching staff for a successful year both on the football field and financially,” read the hand-typed record. “He said he regrets the conditions which result in the recommendation that the coaches not be granted salary increases since Athletic Department funds are not
state appropriated funds. He said he appreciates the willingness of the coaching staff to forego salary increases in keeping with the university’s austere financial position. President Banowsky said any survey of other football programs of our caliber will indicate that Coach Switzer’s salary and the salaries of his staff are moderate.” It all left Switzer without receiving raises as frequently or steeply as his predecessors had, or his successors would. Switzer’s salary didn’t peak until 1986 when he made $75,000 — or $190,375 in 2021 — just three years before he retired and after his third and final national championship. “By all estimations,” Fort said, “he was as good a coach if not better than Wilkinson was. He went to 13 of 16 bowl games, three national championships, back-to-back in ’74-’75. … Unless somebody was coming up with between 50,000 and 70,000 bucks a year, he never made as much as Fairbanks did.” Switzer told the Tulsa World in 2017 that to boost his earnings, he schucked advertising for four different television programs. A five-minute radio segment for Chrysler every morning paid him more than he made from coaching. Schnellenberger snags superdeal
TREY YOUNG/THE DAILY
Barry Switzer coached OU from 1973-88 and was paid $27,000 in his first year on the job.
At the same time OU wasn’t paying Switzer a king’s ransom, it was working to put itself in a position of greater financial stability for as long as it remained a top-tier program on the field. The OU Board of Regents, along with the University of Georgia Athletic Association, sued and beat the NCAA over television rights in 1984. Previously, college sports’ governing body had limited teams’ television appearances, arguing it protected live attendance. In 1977, several large universities formed the College Football
TREY YOUNG/THE DAILY
Bob Stoops coached OU from 1999-2016 and was paid $650,000 in his first year at OU.
Association, which was threatened by NCAA sanctions in 1981 when it negotiated its own television deal. That led to OU and Georgia’s lawsuit, which they won 7-2 in the U.S. Supreme Court, stripping the NCAA of television control and divesting it to individual conferences. While that appeared to have helped Switzer at the end of his reign, it more so helped his successors, starting with Gary Gibbs. Another former Sooners assistant promoted from within to the top, Gibbs consistently failed to beat the Sooners’ chief rivals, going a combined 2-10 against Texas and Nebraska across six seasons. Despite that, he topped his former boss at a high of $115,000 in annual salary, or $215,391 in 2021. The coach after Gibbs would shatter that thanks to conference realignment, much like Venables now commands premium pay as OU prepares for its SEC transition.
Enter Howard Schnellenberger, whose lengthy career across college football and the NFL saw him win the 1986 national championship at Miami before 10 seasons at Louisville, where he resurrected his hometown program ahead of its transition to Conference USA. He parted from the program in 1994 because he felt the Cardinals’ new conference wasn’t conducive to national championship contention. Similarly, since Riley’s departure from OU, circulating rumors insinuate he wasn’t thrilled with the Sooners’ impending SEC move, which could complicate the path to the College Football Playoff. The outlook for Schnellenberger was greener at Oklahoma, as the Big Eight Conference became the Big 12 with the additions of Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech and Baylor and would be ready for play in 1996. Schnellenberger signed on in 1995 for $500,000, nearly five times Gibbs’ peak, boosted by increased television
revenue and shrewd negotiating. “His agent knew that the Big 12 was going to make a whole lot more money and that Oklahoma was going to get more than an equal share, or whatever that increase was going to be,” Fort said. “And this is also — relative to Switzer — after the NCAA decision. So both Gibbs and Schnellenberger also had the benefit of conference contracts, so those values shot up.” Upon arriving in Norman, Schnellenberger declared people would “write books and make movies” about his tenure, and he coined the nickname Sooner Nation to describe OU’s fanbase as he traveled the state to reinvigorate support. Schnellenberger also said he didn’t care about the history of Sooner football, alienated his players with criticism after their loss in the 1994 Copper Bowl, and boasted his teams would make people forget about Wilkinson and Switzer. Instead, OU went 5-5-1, lost to Oklahoma State for the first time in 20 years and posted a losing record in conference play for the second time since World War II. He resigned at the season’s end and spent three years as a bond salesman before resurfacing at Florida Atlantic in 1998, never competing in the revamped Big 12 that garnered him the largest contract in OU history at the time. The Sooner Nation nickname sticks to this day and is most fans’ only fond memory of Schnellenberger. “We went through (three years) at Michigan with Rich Rodriguez,” Fort joked of the coach who led the worst season in Wolverines history in 2008 and committed NCAA violations before being dismissed in 2010. “By my observation, I can’t be the only person who’s sort of wondering what the hell they were doing with Schnellenberger.” BCS boom bankrolls ‘Big Game Bob’ Another era in the evolution of coaching salaries began in 1998 with the creation of the Bowl Championship Series. The precursor to the current College Football Playoff, it created five bowl matchups for the top 10 teams in the country and pitted the top two in a national championship game. Television partnerships with ABC, FOX and ESPN made these postseason games incredibly lucrative. For example, in one of its early
8 seasons, the BCS created a total payout of over $75 million. In its final season of 2013-14, it created a total payout of $227 million. The following season in 1999, OU hired Florida defensive coordinator Bob Stoops as its head coach after going 12-21 in three years under John Blake, one of the worst periods in program history. Even as a first-time head coach, Stoops’ starting salary topped Schnellenberger’s at $650,000, which in 2021 equates to the school’s first football coach contract of over $1 million. “Big Game Bob” resurrected the Sooners, winning the 2000 national championship in his second year, en route to becoming OU’s winningest coach by record at 191-48 across 17 seasons. Thanks to 10 raises during his career, when finished, he was making money consistent with the modernization of college football, employed at over $5 million. “Stoops is a proven commodity, most recently in the modern context,” Fort said. “...He’s not going to do it any better
than winning the national championship. And so I sort of look at all of that increase over time as a part of the value that athletes are creating for the University of Oklahoma.” Despite larger-than-life charisma and pay that reflected it, Stoops has maintained in recent months that neither he, nor any coach before him, is what makes OU football — rather, the players define the program. In 2017, Stoops handed the reins to his offensive coordinator, the up-and-coming Riley. Consistent with OU’s precedent, Riley’s start value was a little over
$3 million, but he proved himself quickly, earning a raise to over $6 million by his departure. According to Leeds, these enormous contracts are no longer so much the product of performance as they are the revenue available thanks to conference television contracts and the CFP, a trend first promulgated by the BCS. Look no further than Stoops for additional evidence. After Riley left, OU paid its former coach a one-time $325,000 stipend to return as interim for one game. “Their pay really isn’t necessarily related to anything they do,” Leeds said. “They get paid because the money is there, because athletic departments are just soaking up all this TV money, especially in the Power Five conferences, and they aren’t paying their labor force. “The coaches are capturing all these rents. Not rent in the sense of what you pay for an apartment, but in effect, extra money that’s unrelated in some ways to the value of your performance.” Where things stand, where they’re going
TREY YOUNG/THE DAILY
Lincoln Riley coached OU from 2017-21 and was paid $310,000 in his first year on the job.
As the experts hinted, if the coaches aren’t driving their own value, the players certainly are. The past century plus of college football has been about the escalation of coaching salaries, but athlete pay is on its own new rising trajectory. New name, image and likeness powers for college athletes took effect last July, allowing players to monetize their performance beyond university scholarships. Oklahoma was right at the heart, again, with preseason Heisman Trophy favorite Spencer Rattler becoming the first star of NIL. Before losing the starting quarterback job to freshman phenom Caleb Williams midseason, Rattler was projected to earn
9 $800,000 in social media revenue alone, endorsement deals with Fowler Auto and other companies notwithstanding. After transferring to USC and reuniting with Riley in February, Williams has become an NIL sensation himself, garnering a signed memorabilia deal through the Trojans’ fan shop and an endorsement agreement with Beats by Dre headphones. He is also partial owner of the grooming brand Faculty. At NIL’s outset, OU created a program called The Foundry to help educate athletes about their financial opportunities. It took another step toward the inevitable in December when it announced the Sooner Success Academic Award, which will directly pay players a maximum of $5,980 a year based on scholastic achievement. “That is the next shoe that’s eventually going to drop,” Leeds said. “You’re going to see players being paid directly by the university.” Venables has opened the bank as he fills out his new coaching staff, paying offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby $5.7 million — the highest salary of any offensive coordinator at a public university — and defensive coordinator Ted Roof $3.4 million. Venables also revamped the entire defensive coaching staff with new hires, and has seemingly been granted an
unending cashflow for adding analysts and support staff members as he gears up for the SEC transition. F u r t h e r m o r e , Ve n a b l e s a n d Castiglione took an unprecedented step when they released a statement upon the transfer departure of Williams. “Caleb Williams enjoyed an exciting and impactful first season at the University of Oklahoma, and we will continue to be engaged with him and his family on a comprehensive plan for his development as a student and quarterback, including a path to graduation and strategic leveraging of NIL opportunities,” they said. “While we believe OU provides Caleb the best opportunity to develop as a player and realize his goals for college and beyond, we respect his right to explore his options following key staff changes here.” Fort, who observes the increase in coaching salaries as an index of the value players create for those who recruit and develop them, sees numbers continuing to rise for years to come. “Everybody laughs at the third layer of gold plating on the bathroom faucets inside the football facility,” Fort said with a chuckle, “but we know why it’s being spent. It’s being spent to entice athletes.” While most of college football’s academic ties have been severed by
championship chases and money moves, athletic success still correlates to broader university benefits in one way. Referencing Cross’ quote about university pride, Leeds explained that after Boston College quarterback Doug Flutie upset powerhouse Miami with a lastditch hail mary in 1984, enrollment exploded to the point that newly minted BC students were sleeping in hallways due to dormitory shortages. This has since been dubbed the Flutie Effect. Akin to Wilkinson’s embodiment in the OU context, it’s the last of the old guard between the past and present age of the sport, linking degrees to touchdowns and helping build a university the football team can be proud of. “What you see is not just more students, but the schools can be more selective, so they actually improve the profile of the student body,” Leeds said. “So, you do see some spillovers (there), but you don’t see a lot of money flowing into other aspects of the university.”
TREY YOUNG/THE DAILY
Brent Venables was named the 23rd head football coach in OU history in December. He’ll be paid $7 million in his first year on the job.
‘HE SHALL NOT BE
Inside the moments Julius Jones and those closest to him thought were his last and where they go next. STORY AND PHOTOS BY JONATHAN KYNCL • JKYNCL@OU.EDU
12 Julius Jones stood shackled in the place he’s called home longer than any other, the Oklahoma State Penitentiary, waiting to greet family who had every reason to believe he’d then be three days dead. Jones was unable to return the embraces of his mother and sister as they entered the visitation room in the McAlester prison. Later, as they sat to talk, he managed to place his tethered arms on the table so the three could hold hands. As they spoke, Jones’ sister, Antoinette, remembers leaning her head against his and praying. This encounter was the first physical contact the family shared since Jones, a former OU student, was placed on death row in 2002 after being convicted of the 1999 killing of Edmond businessman Paul Howell. Following a 22-year battle for Jones’ life, Gov. Kevin Stitt commuted his sentence just four hours before his scheduled execution Nov. 18. Three months later, the spotlight no longer shines on Jones and his case. Social media no longer buzzes with the urgency that made him an international story. Oklahoma has subsequently executed two more inmates, with another slated to die at the state’s hand in the coming weeks, but while many have moved on, Jones’ family and friends say the fight to bring him justice is far from over. Reflecting on their conversation, Antoinette said Julius — his life spared, but his freedom denied — was devastated after the announcement. Stitt’s decision to not permit the possibility of parole has forced the Justice for Julius movement to try to discern what’s next. One step is determining how ironclad DEATH PENALTY AND JULIUS JONES TIMELINE 1972 U.S. Supreme Court rules the death penalty unconstitutional as administered, citing a racial bias against Black defendants. 1976 U.S. Supreme Court rules
Julius Jones supporter Michael Washington celebrating following the announcement of Jones’ commuted sentence Nov. 18.
Stitt’s decision may be. “A grant of clemency first requires the approval of the board parts,” said Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, a national nonprofit in Washington, D.C., founded in 1990 that analyzes issues concerning capital punishment. “So that, at least on paper, would make it more difficult, if not impossible, for a future governor to unilaterally change the conditions of the grant requirements. There are all sorts of legal arguments you can make, (but) none of them have been tried before. So, this is really uncharted territory.” Many supporters voiced anger toward the timing of the decision due to how
long it took Stitt to announce it. The Daily’s request for comment from the governor’s office in January has gone unanswered. It all leaves Dunham to believe the reasoning behind the timing may never be publicly known. “When there are difficult choices and governors are trying hard not to get them wrong, and then they actually have to make a decision, time is forcing him to make a decision and that can contribute to last-minute decisions,” Dunham said. “It’s also possible that a governor knows what he is going to do but wants to make it as uncomfortable as possible for the death row prisoner. There’s no evidence of that here, but that’s also certainly pos-
to allow the death penalty with amended guidelines to ensure it would not be administered in a discriminatory manner.
1990 Oklahoma carries out its first execution since 1966, implementing lethal injection.
1977 Oklahoma Chief Medical Examiner A. Jay Chapman proposes lethal injection. Oklahoma becomes the first state to legalize the method.
July 28, 1999 Businessman Paul Howell is shot in the driver’s seat of his car in the driveway of his parents’ home in Edmond. July 30, 1999 Christopher Jordan, 20, is arrested. He is accused of
driving the gunman to the scene. July 31, 1999 OU student Julius Jones, 19, is arrested. The murder weapon is found at his parents’ home. Aug. 2, 1999 Oklahoma County District Attorney Bob Macy says he will seek death penalty for Jones.
Jabee Williams, an Oklahoma City rapper and supporter of Julius Jones, hugs Justice for Julius Campaign Director Cece-Davis Jones, who is being kissed by a supporter of Julius, following the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board’s 3-1 vote recommending a life sentence with the possibility of parole.
sible.” It reinforces a sentiment long held by Jimmy Lawson, Jones’ best friend, who remembers sitting in the courtroom in 2002 shocked as the judge announced the sentencing and his father, a preacher, read him a Bible verse. “I remember looking at my dad like, ‘Wait a minute again, they gave my boy the death penalty and he’s innocent?’” Lawson said. “(My dad) looked at me and said, ‘One of the greatest loves of all is when a man can lay his life down for a friend’. “He says those who can do that can Feb. 22, 2002 “I didn’t do anything, Julius did it,” Jordan says during Jones’ trail. Jones is convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death later that year. April 29, 2014 Clayton Lockett dies painfully as Oklahoma uses the sedative midazolam for the first time during an execution.
finish the race no matter what the out- describes what unfolded as the toughest come may be, because what he was conversation of his life. telling me was, ‘This is going to be a dog“In his mind, he thought he was going fight, son, and it may last for a long time.’” to die the next day,” said Lawson, who became friends with Jones 31 years ago ‘He thought he was going to die’ when they were in sixth grade. “But he had enough character and perseverance Typically, the day before an execution to pour into my kids. (He said), ‘Y’all inmates receive their last meal at 6 p.m. live your best life. Take this experience and all calls have to be over by 9 p.m. The and be great. Don’t be sad, uncle JJ got night before his scheduled execution, y’all. I’ll be in heaven. I’ll be behind y’all. Julius called Lawson at 8:45 p.m. I’m going to motivate y’all.’ So, to hear With his wife and kids at the din- somebody that was about to die pouring ing room table in Oklahoma City, out to somebody else. That’s an amazing Lawson put the call on speaker. Lawson soul.”
June 25, 2014 Inmates sue Oklahoma with allegation that using an “ever-changing array of untried drugs” in execution is unconstitutional. Dec. 22, 2014 A federal judge declares Oklahoma’s lethal injection protocol constitutional. Jan. 15, 2015 Charles Warner is executed. During the execution,
Warner is heard saying “my body is on fire.” Sept. 30, 2015 Gov. Mary Fallin issues a 37-day stay of execution after learning the Department of Corrections used the wrong drug in Warner’s execution. Oct. 8, 2015 Fallin’s execution stay becomes an indefinite moratorium.
June 12, 2018 “The Last Defense” airs on ABC, exploring questions about Jones’ guilt and describing his trial as full of errors and racial bias. August 2018 Roughly 600 people gathered at the state Capitol for the first rally for Julius Jones, organized by Jones’ best friend Jimmy Lawson.
14 ily suffer the way that they did. And I was angry that he condemned him to a life sentence without the possibility of parole … I was very angry about all of that. Yet, I was relieved that Julius was still going to live.” ‘Painted the picture’
Julius Jones supporter waiting on the governor’s decision at the state Capitol on Nov. 18.
The next morning some supporters drove to McAlester with Antoinette and the leaders of Justice for Julius, while others returned to the state Capitol rotunda. Lawson joined Julius’ parents and other family at the Jones’ home in Oklahoma City. Chants, prayers and cries filled the air outside of the penitentiary and in the Capitol, all while Lawson and the Jones family silently stared at the clock. At 12:09 p.m., four hours before his scheduled death, Stitt intervened. Supporters erupted in cheers, some crying and some yelling. But leaders of the movement didn’t share the same joy. “I was in disbelief because I had to prepare my mind for the worst and (the) governor waited to commute the sentence only a few hours before the execution,” said The Rev. Cece Jones-Davis, Justice for Julius campaign director. “I was relieved and I was angry. … I was angry that the governor waited until the last minute and let Julius and his famOct. 16, 2019 Kim Kardashian voices support for Jones. Summer 2020 Former OU athletes Baker Mayfield, Trae Young and Blake Griffin urge Gov. Kevin Stitt to commute Jones’ sentence. Sept. 13, 2021 The Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board votes 3-1 to
In a way, what followed felt like going back to square one. Antoinette remembers fighting for Jones shortly after his conviction. She spoke with local news outlets, something she said was very difficult to do. “We didn’t have this support. … We’d have people like, ‘Yeah, we’ll do an interview with you,’ but then they’d twist and cut and chop my words, and that was very fresh right in the beginning,” Antoinette said. “Talking to people and just realizing that I need to make sure whatever I say (isn’t) too harsh because then they’ll say, ‘See they’re all mean and monsters.’ That work came while she was a student at OU, a challenging time in anyone’s life, much less someone whose sibling was on death row. “My mindset just wasn’t there,” Antoinette said of her college days. “I wasn’t excited about a lot of things. I was depressed about things. I was depressed that Julius didn’t get to take me to my junior and senior prom, because I was expecting him to be out.” Led by Antoinette and Lawson, the fight for Jones nonetheless emerged and persisted. After 17 years of that work, ABC pitched the idea for a three-hour documentary titled “The Last Defense.” Lawson said the documentary — directed by award-winning actor Viola Davis
recommend Stitt commute Jones’ sentence to life in prison with the possibility of parole. Sept. 20, 2021 The Oklahoma Court of Appeals schedules seven executions, including Jones’. Oct. 15, 2021 Jones asks an Oklahoma City federal judge for
— finally helped them take the movement nationwide. “When I’m sitting on TV telling them who Julius is, it painted the picture that the community never heard,” Lawson said. “Because what they heard in 1999 was Julius is a thug, is a gangbanger, he’s a bad kid. “They didn’t say he’s got an academic scholarship to OU, he was the top 10 (percent) of his class. They never mentioned (any) of that. … So that story, that movie for us kicks off the national campaign.” What followed brought attention from celebrities such as Kim Kardashian, Baker Mayfield and Trae Young. It also received 6 million signatures on a petition to free Jones. Lawson remembers planning the first official rally at the state Capitol in August 2018, where roughly 600 people gathered. Lawson said this was the first time he saw all “walks of life” coming together “on one accord standing for justice.” Many more rallies and events followed. ‘One Black man’s life’ The work behind the movement became more grueling on Aug. 26 when the Oklahoma attorney general filed the request to set Julius’ execution date. “We were spending 18-hour days — sometimes more — working phone calls, conferences, research, (and) social media meetings,” recalled Jess Eddy, a local activist who is also one of the leaders of Jones’ support team. “Organizing was a lot of work and a lot of long days and late nights.” The long days were traumatizing for
a temporary stay of execution. The Justice for Julius movement begins daily prayer vigils as Julius Jones is moved to “death watch.” Oct. 27, 2021 A federal appeals court granted execution stays for death row inmates Julius Jones and John Grant. Oct. 28, 2021
The U.S. Supreme Court allows Oklahoma to carry out the execution of John Grant, and he is executed the same day. Nov. 1, 2021 The Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board voted 3-1 for Jones’ clemency. Nov. 12, 2021 Jones loses in federal appeals court. His
Julius Jones supporter waiting on the governor’s decision at the state Capitol on Nov. 18.
execution is scheduled to be carried out unless Stitt intervenes. Nov. 14-17, 2021 Justice for Julius supporters gather inside the state Capitol, outside of Stitt’s office. Nov. 17, 2021 Derrick Scobey, an
Oklahoma City pastor and Julius Jones supporter, gets arrested due to “civil disobedience” during a rally outside of the governor’s mansion. 6 p.m., Nov. 17, 2021 Jones eats his last meal in the state penitentiary. 8:45 p.m., Nov. 17, 2021
Jones calls his best friend Jimmy Lawson 15 minutes before he is denied phone access for seemingly their last conversation. Nov. 18, 2021 Stitt commutes Jones’ death sentence at 12:07 p.m., hours before it was scheduled to occur at 4 p.m., issuing an executive
order to maintain Jones’ sentence as a life sentence without the possibility of parole. Nov. 21, 2021 Madeline Davis Jones and Antoinette Jones had their first contact visit with Julius Jones in state penitentiary. Rachel Hubbard, The Daily
the leaders of the campaign. “The times you just think about what’s at stake and the trauma that’s associated with that, it’s one thing to just be working hard,” Eddy said. “It’s another thing when there’s the kind of pressure of a man’s life on the line in every moment.” The execution date, originally set for Oct. 18, later shifted to Nov. 18, with a second clemency hearing scheduled in between on Nov. 1. In those seemingly final weeks, the Justice for Julius campaign held more frequent events, including prayer vigils every Tuesday night in Oklahoma City. Those vigils turned into daily gatherings outside the Oklahoma History Center starting Oct. 15 as Jones was placed on death watch, a block of four constantly lit cells where inmates are moved 35
days before their scheduled death and are allowed to bring only a Bible, family photos and a pen and paper. On Nov. 1, the date of the clemency hearing at the Department of Corrections, supporters gathered across the street in the parking lot of Evangelistic Baptist Church of Christ along Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in northeast Oklahoma City. Antoinette recalls feeling confident that day as it fell on her late grandmother’s birthday. “I was just adamant ... that he’s going to have clemency,” Antoinette said. “He’s not going to be executed. They might give him an execution day, but he shall not be executed.” When the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board voted 3-1 to recommend commuting Jones’ sentence to life in
prison with the possibility of parole, the final decision fell to Stitt. From there, the Justice for Julius campaign continued its vigils and added events outside of the governor’s mansion, where the Oklahoma City Police Department had lined the streets in front of the house with barriers. The week of the would-be execution, the rallies moved inside the state Capitol’s rotunda outside of the governor’s office. Jones-Davis said it all represented something bigger than one man’s life. “I’ll never forget all those people in the (state) Capitol building,” JonesDavis said. “I’ll never forget the amount of strangers who came together to fight for one Black man’s life. … I had no idea that there were so many brave people and so many strong folks. I just didn’t have an idea that so many people care
AT RIGHT: Julius Jones supporters outside of the governor’s mansion Nov. 16.
to the degree that they will make considerable sacrifices to try to help Julius.” ‘A chance for you to fight’ The day before the scheduled execution, Jones’ family trekked roughly 130 miles to McAlester for what they expected would be their final time together with Julius. Originally promised a contact visit before his execution, they arrived at the state penitentiary and learned contact was out of the question. Although Antoinette called that news “very disheartening,” she was nonetheless, she said, “divinely undeterred.” She then scheduled a visit for Nov. 21 — three days after her brother was to be put to death. “God told me to schedule a visitation
to see Julius,” Antoinette recalled. “And I didn’t ask no questions.” Jones-Davis said this movement is now “an international human chain” for Jones. One in which hope lives only through continued commitment to the cause, challenging though next steps may be. Dunham said the conditions of Stitt’s decision make it unknown if new evidence would help Jones or if a subsequent governor could overturn the decision. Lawson said he hopes for a new governor to begin a news process of appeals. While many who rallied to Jones’ cause last fall have turned elsewhere, the Justice for Julius movement’s supporters have begun to touch base again to discuss moving forward and what legal steps are next, according to Jones-
Davis. Jones-Davis said the movement will now use every social media platform to continue telling their stories and “make sure the world doesn’t forget about Julius Jones.” Looking back on the movement and the uncertain future, Antoinette said she still has faith for this fight and she echoed that to Julius. “I was like, ‘You’re not gonna be stuck in prison your whole life … The devil is a lie. You hold on to the fact that you were not killed 22 years ago, and we’re going to go from there. Remember if you have life today, then we have a chance for you to fight,’” Antoinette said. “God didn’t bring us this far for no reason.”
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Their seat at the roundtable Oklahoma’s first nonbinary, Muslim representative’s road from activism to state-level politics STORY BY JAZZ WOLFE • JAZZWOLFE@OU.EDU
Mauree Turner was around 7 years old when they first sat at a community roundtable. The table wasn’t actually round. It was a long, white, folding table common at company picnics or school cafeterias. Turner had practically begged to join their mother at the meeting in their hometown of Ardmore around 1999. That roundtable discussion was Turner’s first exposure to the 2SLGBTQ+ community. The conversation focused on ways to prevent the spread of HIV and support those who had contracted it or developed AIDS. Just a couple years prior, HIV/AIDS had been declared the leading cause of death among people ages 25-44 by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. In that age group, HIV/AIDS remained the leading cause of death for African Americans. The epidemic — which has taken the lives of 36.3 million people according to the World Health Organization — was what brought Turner to that rectangular roundtable. It introduced Turner to not just the 2SLGBTQ+ world, but also to the practice of community organization and action. “I guess it all started there, in a way,” Turner said. Turner — Oklahoma’s first nonbinary and first Muslim legislator — continued their involvement with the community long after that meeting. Today, they represent District 88, an area largely between Interstates 44 and 235 north of downtown Oklahoma City, in the State House of Representatives. That position was not their original plan, though. For as long as Turner could remember,
‘RADICALIZATION CAME REALLY EARLY ON IN LIFE. IT DIDN’T MAKE ME THE MOST POPULAR KID ON THE PLAYGROUND.’ their mom had been attending community meetings. Most of the time, Turner said they would stay with their grandmother during those hours, as their family couldn’t afford a paid babysitter. Some nights, Turner said they just wanted to spend time with their mom, even if it meant sitting through a meeting most first graders would find stuffy and boring. They tried to carefully follow the conversation, asking their mom questions afterward if they were confused. “When people ask you to show up, you do,” Turner said. “I also have a really bad problem (with) saying no.” They would ask simple questions, like what some new words meant. They would ask more complicated ones, like how someone contracts HIV/AIDS. They would ask hard questions, like how many people died from the disease. Their mom gave them as many answers as she could. “Radicalization came really early on in life,” Turner said. “It didn’t make me the most popular kid on the playground.” As Turner grew up, they worked to figure out who they were and who they wanted to be. Like most kids, Turner struggled with what career path they wanted. Were they going to be a doctor? A teacher? An astronaut? All of the above? Even after graduating high school, they weren’t entirely sure of their path. They
PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY MEGAN FOISY/ THE DAILY
enrolled at Oklahoma State University, taking general education classes while trying out various electives. It was at a predominately white institution their background in community organizing and advocating came into play. Turner found themself pushing back against the school’s administration, feeling like the university didn’t understand the need to work more intentionally to retain students of color. According to the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, in 2014, only 46 percent of OSU’s African American students graduated within six years of beginning their full-time program. Meanwhile, 67 percent of OSU’s white students graduated within that same time. “It felt like I had to be an activist,” Turner said. “No one can advocate for you like you.” Turner found themself going further down the path of activism, becoming the regional field director for the Campaign for Smart Justice of the ACLU and working with the NAACP of Oklahoma. While at the ACLU, Turner convinced themself they’d never run for public office. They insisted that “people at the capital make policies about us but will never have to live on the other side of it.” Turner felt they would be able to find better solutions if they stayed close to the issues. “Also, Oklahoma politics are just messy,” Turner said. Despite Turner’s concerns about Oklahoma’s political landscape, they found themself running for the state legislature in 2020. The decision came after months of prodding from friends and peers. Turner ultimately felt it was their duty to represent the
22 people they care about. “When people ask you to show up, you do,” Turner said. “I also have a really bad problem (with) saying no.”
‘Here we go’ In July 2020, Turner won the Democratic primary race for District 88, unseating incumbent Jason Dunnington by 250 votes. On Nov. 3, Turner won the seat and officially became the first nonbinary legislator in the U.S. Turner said they entered the position aiming to address the issue of systemically underrepresented Oklahomans being ignored by the legislature. They wanted to address dozens of policies, ranging from nonbinary gender markers to economic equality among people of color. Despite their progress, their seat at the state’s roundtable posed some personal challenges. It wasn’t all bad, especially in the beginning, they said. During freshmen orienta-
‘THIS IS HOW I KNOW PEOPLE GET IT. THIS IS HOW I KNOW THOSE EXCUSES AREN’T REAL.’ tion, they were standing in an elevator with a fellow legislator. Turner believes he was at least 65, though they did not share the name of the lawmaker. At first, the silence was awkward. Bad elevator music rang through the small space as the pair waited patiently for their stop. Then, the man looked at Turner and asked, “So, you said something about pronouns?” Turner froze, thinking, “Oh, here we go.” Despite their fears, Turner said they ended up having a pleasant conversation with the man. He asked about how to refer to them appropriately, even requesting that they correct him if he ever messed up. Turner’s mind was blown. In just a few short minutes, they had found an ally where they didn’t expect one. They had been expecting excuses from the other legislators, claiming age, habit or the culture they grew up in. “This is how I know people get it,” Turner said. “This is how I know those excuses aren’t real.” Still, it wasn’t perfect. There are plenty of times they have been misgendered when
they go into the office, sometimes mockingly. Many of their coworkers have spoken publicly about how they believe transgender and nonbinary people are mentally unstable. “Sometimes, I’m just like, ‘Oh, you are bold to say that out loud,’” Turner said. Turner says they cope with such words and actions in a variety of ways, mostly relying on their support system in and outside of the legislature. Rep. Emily Virgin, the Democratic minority leader representing the Norman area, said she hopes colleagues who “cling to traditional values” don’t push Turner away from the House. “They are wise beyond their years,” Virgin said. “They’ve lived a lot of life, and that makes them vital to our legislature.”
Progress In Turner’s first term, they’ve sat in on dozens of interim studies, submitting many of their own to be discussed. As of December, they authored 14 measures in 2021 to be considered by the legislature. There has been some progress with their goals. In October, the Oklahoma Department of Health came to an agreement with nonbinary Oklahoman Kit Lorelied to allow residents to replace their gender marker with an “X” on their birth certificate if they are nonbinary. It was considered a welcome change among the 2SLGBTQ+ community in the state. That progress didn’t last long. A few weeks later, Gov. Kevin Stitt issued an executive order to stop the change. Suddenly, adjustments to birth certificates were halted and nonbinary residents were left wondering if they would get the gender-affirming status on their documents at all. Turner responded on Twitter, writing they didn’t “expect anything less from” the legislators who supported the governor’s executive order. Megan Sibbett, an assistant professor in OU’s department of women and gender studies, explained why representatives like Turner are important to the battle for policies related to the 2SLGBTQ+ community. “Marriage equality wasn’t the end all, be all,” Sibbett said. “There’s plenty of work to be done.” Even in the House, Turner faces a fight to be seen and recognized in the most basic ways. Virgin explained how the House has a dress code for men and women, stating that both should dress in “professional business
attire” without defining what that is. There is no rule for how someone outside of the gender binary should dress. “It’s a little bit silly to have a dress code as an adult,” Virgin said. “Not to mention the fact that it’s almost an attack on the community (Turner) belongs to.” Turner and Virgin have worked to update the policy but have found plenty of resistance from other legislators. “They’ve never met someone like Turner,” Virgin said. “That can make a lot of people uncomfortable.” In Turner’s time in the legislature, they said they have been most concerned about making sure as many people as possible were working to make even the smallest communities safe and secure in the coming years. According to the U.S. census, the population in Turner’s district is around 40 percent people of color. As of 2019, 17.5 percent of their district lived below the poverty line. “In a position like that, you have to be looking at the margins,” Sibbett said. “That’s
‘IN A POSITION LIKE THAT, YOU HAVE TO BE LOOKING AT THE MARGINS. THAT’S WHAT TURNER DOES.’ what Turner does.” More recently, Turner authored HJR 1050, a bill that would allow Oklahoma voters to decide if the state will end the use of the death penalty. The bill follows stateand nation-wide protests for Julius Jones, a former OU student who was sentenced to the death penalty before Stitt granted him clemency hours before he was set to be executed. Turner was 27 when they first walked into the Oklahoma State Legislature as an elected representative. Rather than a school cafeteria filled with white plastic folding tables, the large rectangular room is packed with wooden desks. They also didn’t have to beg their mother to bring them this time. “I have — and always have had — faith in our communities to show up to the table and raise our voices,” Turner said. “We’ll push back against the system that was built without us in mind. We’ll make it our system.” Now, Turner is sitting at their own community roundtable.
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