FRISCO, Tex. — Charlotte Jones Anderson got the phone call that every football parent dreads. It was a Thursday afternoon, and she was about to catch a ride to an important work event when the high school coach called. Her 16-year-old son had broken his collarbone during practice and would need surgery. Ms. Anderson dropped everything and rushed to the hospital, as any football parent would. She took the family helicopter.
Ms. Anderson, 51, is the executive vice president and chief brand officer for the Dallas Cowboys, the National Football League franchise that her father, Jerry Jones, bought in 1989. The work event she missed was a Cowboys home game against the Washington Redskins. Nearly 30 years after Mr. Jones paid $140 million for the franchise, the Cowboys are a global brand at the center of a $4.8 billion business, and she is one of the most powerful women in the N.F.L. and in professional sports.
“Charlotte clearly is one of the movers and shakers in the Cowboys organization,” said Indra K. Nooyi, the chairwoman and chief executive of PepsiCo, a Cowboys sponsor. (Don’t try to order a Diet Coke anywhere in or even near the team’s headquarters.) “She does everything to amplify the Cowboys image. She is charming, she is lovely, she is tough.”
She better be. It is her job to promote “America’s Team” at a time when football is in crisis.
Football safety is the subject of unresolved nationwide arguments, for amateur and professional players of all ages. Lawsuits surround the N.F.L.’s handling of concussions and head trauma. This season’s games (significantly, its nationally televised ones) have been particularly bruising, leading critics and fans alike question how seriously the league is willing to protect concussed players.
At the same time, the league is a proxy for questions about racism in America and about the First Amendment, thanks to the “take a knee” movement, initiated in 2016 by Colin Kaepernick.
N.F.L. television ratings are down, and President Trump bashes the league on Twitter. Data journalists for The Times have described the N.F.L. as “one of the most divisive brands in the U.S.”
The Jones family is in the middle of each of these controversies. Mr. Jones has been vocal in expressing unhappiness with how the league commissioner, Roger Goodell, has handled the “take a knee” protests, as well as the six-game suspension of the Cowboys’ star running back Ezekiel Elliott for allegations of domestic abuse (which Mr. Elliott has denied; he was neither charged nor arrested).
Earlier this fall Mr. Jones threatened to sue the league and six of its team owners who were negotiating a contract extension for Mr. Goodell. (Mr. Jones’s unusual actions generated a good deal of press; subsequently he backed off. Ms. Anderson said she and her brothers supported their father in threatening a lawsuit.)
Against this complicated backdrop, Ms. Anderson — a Stanford University graduate whose carefully calibrated utterances are couched in the warmth of a Southern drawl — has become an increasingly valuable part of her family’s brand.
“I support the First Amendment,” Ms. Anderson said in an interview conducted before she got the news of her son’s injury.
She was sitting with ramrod posture on a backless sofa in her Sue Ellen Ewing-meets-Elle Décor office, just down the hall from her father’s. Her view was of an outdoor practice field at the Star, the Cowboys’ new headquarters in Frisco, a $1.5 billion project that she oversaw, and can be thought of as Disneyland for Dallas Cowboys fans.
Facing her on a credenza, among a display of uncluttered but blingy memorabilia, was a black-and-white football helmet made by the fashion designer Narciso Rodriguez and a bejeweled World Wrestling Entertainment championship belt given to her by her friend Stephanie McMahon, the chief brand officer of WWE and the daughter of the chairman and chief executive, Vince McMahon. Ms. Anderson led the pitch to bring WrestleMania32 to the AT&T Stadium in 2016. The event drew 101,763 spectators, making it the fifth-most-attended event at AT&T, an arena she and her family built for $1.2 billion and which opened in 2009.
“I certainly support the players’ rights to express themselves about issues they care about,” Ms. Anderson said. “I don’t believe it should fall around the anthem.”
When the Cowboys played the Arizona Cardinals just after President Trump fueled the flames on Twitter over the kneeling protests, the Jones family and the team knelt on the field and then stood as the national anthem was played. This was a move that Ms. Anderson helped to choreograph, according to her father. “I spent hours with her and we thought about the issues, and right up until game time she was working with the networks and the team,” Mr. Jones said in a phone interview.
However, the family has since decreed that any player who takes a knee during the anthem will not play in that game. Would they fire a player for taking a knee? “I talk to our players all the time and what they want is they want to play this game,” Ms. Anderson said. When pressed for an actual answer, Ms. Anderson said, “No.”
She is adroit at neither avoiding difficult conversations nor engaging in them explicitly.
How does it feel to wake up in the morning and read a tweet from the president of the United States saying, “Ratings for N.F.L. football are way down except before game starts, when people tune in to see whether or not our country will be disrespected!”
“Is it like, ‘Oy oy oy’?” this (not Southern) reporter asked.
“That!” she said, pointing in agreement and laughing, but never actually uttering words.
Ms. Anderson did not grow up knowing the ins and out of a football franchise. Her father was an oil-and-gas man who raised his family with his wife, Gene, in Little Rock. After Ms. Anderson graduated from college in 1988, she was hired as the administrative assistant to Representative Tommy F. Robinson, a congressman from Arkansas. Mr. Robinson had been the director of the department of public safety, appointed by Bill Clinton, the governor of Arkansas at the time.
Mr. Robinson “chained prisoners to the jailhouse fence, he was the long arm of the law, he was that guy,” Ms. Anderson said. (Ms. Anderson has on display in her office a photograph of her with Mr. Clinton; nearby is another with Warren Buffett, in which he is handing her his wallet.)
One day when she was in Washington, her father called her and said, “‘There’s a line of women outside my office telling me I’m trying to change their uniform. Do you know what biker shorts are?’”
She flew to Dallas to help sort out the crisis with the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders, and soon took on a full-time gig.
When Ms. Anderson said to her father, “I don’t know anything about running a professional football team,” he replied: “Don’t worry, neither do I.”
Ms. Anderson’s first task was to help cut costs. She decided to move the summer training program from California to Austin, Tex., and convinced a dry cleaner to wash “the jocks and socks” in exchange for a sign on the practice field. This was her first foray into corporate sponsorship.
For a few years, while she was a young parent, she commuted between Little Rock and Dallas, before she and her husband, Shy Anderson, made the move west.
All three of Mr. Jones’s children work for the Cowboys, in jobs that often overlap. “My father believes in blurred lines,” Ms. Anderson said.
Mr. Jones indicated that all three are poised to one day own and run the team as a unit. “I don’t need a succession plan,” he said.
At the moment Ms. Anderson’s responsibilities seem to center on finding ways for the Dallas Cowboys brand (and the revenue it can generate) to transcend what takes place on the field during the 16-game season.
She oversees the design and positioning of Cowboys merchandising, a significant arm of the business considering the Cowboys are the only team in the league that controls the design, manufacturing and distribution of its own apparel. Statuesque and always to-the-nines, Ms. Anderson loves fashion and recently opened the Charlotte Jones Collection, a boutique of fashion and novelty items for ardent Cowboys fans, in the Omni hotel on the grounds of the Star.
She also created a connection between the team and the Salvation Army, conceiving of the Thanksgiving game halftime show in 1996 that is now a mainstay of the annual game.
Ms. Anderson has helped raise $2.4 billion for the Salvation Army and served as the first female chairwoman of its national advisory board, from 2010 to 2014.
Yet however often she finds herself the only woman in the room, she says she has had no #MeToo moments. The sexism in Washington, she said, was far more pronounced than anything she has seen around football fields, though she acknowledges her family name may have protected her. But that connection can exacerbate other insecurities.
“My bigger struggle in my career has been to prove myself as an individual mind and not ‘You’re daddy’s daughter and that’s why you’re there,’” she said. She is not sure her brothers face the same scrutiny. “It’s harder for me because I am a woman. And because this is football.”
On very high heels, Ms. Anderson walked through the Star at a quick clip, as if she owned the joint, which she does. Heading toward a restaurant near the executive suite of offices, she saw Joe Looney, a center for the Cowboys. They hugged. “You ready for tonight?” she asked. “We need that W.”
This was a game day and the players were boarding the bus to AT&T Stadium for the contest against the Redskins, so she continued on her way into the locker room, which is shaped like a football and has special venting to fumigate the pads. “Expensive,” she said, “but worth it.”
There was a player still tying his tie by his locker: Jason Witten, the tight end who later that day would catch a touchdown pass. First he chatted up the boss. “We are ready for this one,” he said.
After he left, Ms. Anderson walked over to the locker of Dez Bryant, the wide receiver, and opened a bottom drawer. It was crammed with cleats embroidered with his number, 88. “Dez has the greatest shoe game,” she said. (She herself was in $950 Sergio Rossi stilettos.)
Finding events to attract ticket buyers to the stadium on days when the Cowboys are not playing at home is a big part of her purview. The challenge is to find ways to “make a venue like that successful on its own right when you’re a tenant for only 10 days a year,” Ms. Anderson said.
She has done this by helping to bring events like WrestleMania (along with Super Bowl XLV in 2011, the 2014 NCAA Final Four and the Academy of Country Music Awards in 2015) to AT&T Stadium, which she has decorated with a 59-piece modern art collection that includes pieces by Anish Kapoor and Ellsworth Kelly. Visitors pay $26 for guided art tours.
The Star as well is open for $32 tours. The corporate office space and team training facilities are decorated in homage to the team and its history. The scouting report on Troy Aikman, a former star quarterback, is on display outside the war room where the Jones family and Jason Garrett, the head coach, draft players. Along a hallway facing an outdoor training field are mannequins displaying each iteration of the team’s uniforms.
A huge display celebrating the history of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders stands next to a glass-walled studio where tourgoers can watch the high-kickers practice.
A 12,000-seat indoor training stadium, called Ford Center (as in the Ford Motor Co.), can be observed from a windowed catwalk above that connects the Omni hotel (half-owned by the Jones family) to the “Cowboys Club,” a membership spot for Dallas and Frisco locals who want to meet for lunch or drinks at the Cowboys headquarters.
The stadium also doubles as the home field for nine local high schools. “We built this facility so we could be connected to high school football, because that’s the heart of our game,” Ms. Anderson said.
About four years ago, the Frisco Independent School District approached the Cowboys about a partnership. Ms. Anderson and her brothers saw a huge opportunity to bolster their future fan base and extend the spectacle of Cowboys football beyond game days. Her father was less sure, however.
But Ms. Anderson pushed. “When there is convincing to be done, that’s who they send in,” Mr. Jones said. “Charlotte does the convincing.”
Convincing an increasingly skeptical audience of the safety of football may be her toughest test to date.
She is the chairwoman of the N.F.L. Foundation, a charitable organization that helps support football at high school and amateur levels. The foundation has made a five-year, $45-million pledge to USA Football, the governing body for amateur football, in part to support health and safety in young players. Yale University released a study this past fall that estimates American high schools incur as much as $19.2 billion in costs because of injuries from contact sports. This does not include the long-term economic, physical or emotional impact on players from their concussions and other injuries.
Ms. Anderson says she is aware of the dangers of her family’s chosen sport. “We have made massive improvements” as a league and as a team, she said, “but it’s not a totally safe game.” She believes the risks to students is not as significant as they are to professional players. “I’m probably the most informed parent in making decisions about risk and reward, and I still allow my children to play the game,” she said. Her injured son, she said, is expected to return to the field next season.