Fall Of The House of Gruden
Jon Gruden has had many descriptors in his long association with the National Football League. In 2001, he was named to People Magazine’s “Most Beautiful People” list. He was, at one point, the youngest coach in the NFL with the then Oakland Raiders. He has been a Super Bowl champion coach with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In 2018, Gruden signed the richest coaching contract in the NFL to helm the Raiders for a second time during their transition to Las Vegas.
And now he can add disgraced former NFL head coach to the ledger, as reported here by CBS Sports:
Jon Gruden is out as the Raiders’ head coach. Gruden has informed his staff he is resigning from his position in the wake of leaked emails in which he repeatedly used insensitive language, as NFL Media first reported, and CBS Sports’ Jason La Canfora confirmed.
Already under investigation by the NFL for a 2011 email in which he used a racial trope to criticize NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith, Gruden admitted Friday that he also used profane language to describe NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. According to The New York Times, however, Gruden’s questionable conduct extended far beyond those comments, with Ken Belson and Katherine Rosman reporting Monday that the 58-year-old “casually and frequently unleashed misogynistic and homophobic language” to denigrate NFL peers from 2010 all the way to 2018, when he rejoined the Raiders.
The issue that these comments go back over a decade — and clearly there was a drip-drip process forming of even more coming — will fade into the background with Jon Gruden resigning, though it probably shouldn’t. Like many scandals, now that it is out there will be a thread of “known knowns” of people who knew about these incidents for some time. That the initial comments that started this mess were directed at NFLPA executive direct DeMaurice Smith was bad enough on its own; not only the racial trope used but directing it at one of the most important figures in the league was very bad business on top of the bad optics and morally problematic aspects. With the NFL riding high right now, with soaring ratings and an income stream that makes the NFL the undisputed king of sports, such business and moral entanglements are just not going to be allowed.
Jon Gruden not only sinned, but sinned in the worse possible way for a multi-billion-dollar enterprise such as the NFL by having his transgressions documented with a paper trail. Add in that the NFL is a league with the majority of players being black while a majority of coaches, executives, and owners being white, there should especially be no tolerance for racial tropes said or written of any kind. The “old school” football folks might decry the passing of yelling obscenities at everyone in sight, but America’s most popular TV show — which the NFL is on top of being a sport — just isn’t going to tolerate such things in the modern day and age. Nor should they. Someone will no doubt write a think piece of how this is “cancel culture” again, but it is not. It’s evolution, of society just not putting up with such things as racial tropes and abusive language towards others in emails anymore because the glaring inappropriateness of them is clear to just about anyone objectively looking at the words that came from Jon Gruden.
“This is not about an email as much as it is about a pervasive belief by some that people who look like me can be treated as less” DeMaurice Smith wrote in a statement released following Jon Gruden’s initial apology and just hours before the resignation. “The email has also revealed why the comments by some with powerful platforms to explain this away are insidious and hypocritical. It is as if there is a need to protect football above the values of equality, inclusion and respect. The powerful in our business have to embrace that football itself has to be better, as opposed to making excuses to maintain the status quo. I appreciate that he reached out to me & I told him that we will connect soon, but make no mistake, the news is not about what is said in our private conversation, but what else is said by people who never thought they would be exposed and how they are going to be held to account.”
“I’m sorry, I never meant to hurt anyone” was the ending to Jon Gruden’s resignation statement late Monday night. Folks can make their own mind up to the validity of that statement, but the result is undeniable: not meaning to hurt anyone is not the same as policing yourself to make sure you do not. The status quo of tolerating racial and abusive language along with associated behavior isn’t good enough for the big business that is the NFL and shouldn’t be for the rest of society either.
Football is done with Jon Gruden, at least for now, because by his own actions Jon Gruden made himself ineligible to be a leader therein. If that means more accountability for powerful people’s actions when it comes to treating folks — all folks — with respect, then the end result is the advancement of equality further down the field of play. Which is long, long overdue.