Say whatever you want about Jon Gruden – and a lot of people have done it – but he has a new take on equality.
In a series of emails reported by The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal over the past week, the now former Las Vegas Raiders coach has insulted just about every part of America. Blacks (he said NFL Players Association leader DeMaurice Smith had “michellin-sized lips [sic] tires ”); homosexuals (he lamented the fact that the NFL encouraged teams to write “queers”); women (he doesn’t like them refereeing games, preferring that men make a mess of pass interference calls); peaceful protesters (he said Eric Reid, who knelt alongside Colin Kaepernick, should be fired – no idea where he got that one from); and future heads of state (he called then US Vice President Joe Biden a “nervous and helpless cat” in 2012). To prove he had no prejudices, he also insulted his own demographic: wealthy, overpromised white men who aren’t particularly good at their jobs (he called the NFL commissioner a ‘queer’ and of “ignorant anti-football pussy”). And that’s just what he wrote.
There are several takeaways from the incident. First off, for a man who, judging by his emails, thinks the NFL is overwhelmed by cowards with no guts, Gruden certainly looks like it himself. Because, although he has made a career of portraying himself as someone who says it the way he is, he didn’t even have the courage to insult one of his targets in the face.
The emails were sent while he was in the broadcast booth with ESPN, which covered the NFL player protest period. But at no point did he say he didn’t agree with them or that he thought Reid should lose his job. When one of his own players, Carl Nassib, became the first active NFL player to call himself gay, Gruden said, “I learned a long time ago what makes a man different is what makes a man different. which makes it great. In this case, “a long time ago” is clearly after 2014, when he didn’t want gay players in the league. Gruden seems to think women in football should be looked down upon (those pesky female referees) or ogled (he exchanged topless photos of cheerleaders with former Washington football president Bruce Allen), but he was happy to be paid by one – the Raiders had a female general manager, Amy Trask, on her first stint with the team. And despite the fact that he thinks it is okay to use racist stereotypes in emails to his friends, he has shown a different side to his black players: “He never rubbed me with one. certain way, that way, ”Raiders running back Josh Jacobs said on Sunday.
But what’s sad here is not Gruden’s dismal brand of prejudice. It’s the damage he does to others in the NFL. The 65% of league players who are black wonder if the white coach (and he’s almost certainly white) who says he loves and values them is actually thinking racist stereotypes. The next time Nassib is reassured that his sexuality isn’t an issue in the locker room, does he remember that is exactly what Gruden said? Are cheerleaders, already faced with hostile workplaces, worried that their bosses will exchange photos of them?
League defenders will say Gruden is an outlier, that his emails are from before he took control of the Raiders in 2018, and that the NFL – and America – is a different place now, after. a summer of racial reckoning after the police murder of George Floyd. And the NFL has certainly taken that idea on its own, with its apologies for not listening to the players during the national anthem protests launched by Kaepernick.
But it’s still a league – and a country – where a coach with a history of alleged racist comments can find employment. Where fans boo a moment of silence to acknowledge that, overall, inequality is probably a bad thing. Where there were three black head coaches in 2003 when the Rooney rule was passed and where there are now… three. Where a team changes its racist nickname only after pressure from the sponsors. Where there are rumors that the emails were leaked to The Times and The Journal by someone in the NFL not because they were fanatics, but because Gruden insulted Goodell.
We may soon find out if Gruden is an outlier soon enough anyway. The emails were among 650,000 examined by the NFL in an investigation into misconduct with the Washington football team. On Tuesday, NBC’s Mike Florio reported that there was unease around the league that emails implicating other people who “sent or received emails with racist, homophobic, transphobic and / or misogynistic content. Could be revealed. Hours later, the NFL Players Association said it would ask the league to release the rest of the emails. The league can refuse, of course, but that won’t necessarily stop the leaks – we’ve already seen with the Gruden situation that people have scores to settle.
Few will be surprised if the rot goes much deeper than Gruden.