Opinion: Getting rid of Jon Gruden was easy. How will NFL root out other bigots?
Jon Gruden was right when he said Sunday that he doesn’t have an “ounce of racism” in him. It was more like a metric ton. Along with misogyny, homophobia and every other brand of bigotry.
Getting rid of Gruden – if you believe he “resigned,” I’ve got a bridge to sell you – was easy. But Gruden is hardly an isolated case. Shocking as the crude and hateful language that Gruden used in emails was, anyone who has followed the NFL even just a little knows there is surely more where this came from.
“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, the executive director of the NFL Players Association, said in a cryptic series of Tweets on Monday night that, within a few hours, made a whole lot more sense.
“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.”
And therein lies the problem.
Too many of the NFL’s powers that be – owners, executives, the league office, coaches, media partners – still believe that straight, white men have the only world view that matters. They don’t see Black people, women, the LGBTQ+ community or other marginalized groups as equals, and they’re sure as hell not going to treat them as such.
Oh, they’ll say the right things in public to avoid being criticized for the Neanderthals they are, some even giving lip service to the NFL’s window-dressing efforts to promote equality. But behind closed doors, in their private conversations and chummy emails, they reveal who they really are.
Late Houston Texans owner Robert McNair once described players who were protesting racial injustice as “inmates running the prison.” Women who worked for and covered the Washington Football Team described a toxic atmosphere where they were objectified and demeaned by repeated sexual harassment.
And I’ve lost count of how many team owners have turned blind eyes to players credibly accused of domestic abuse because, as Chicago Bears chairman George McCaskey said, “much like anybody else who has a bias in this situation — there's a certain amount of discounting in what they have to say.”
It should not go unnoticed that the emails that were Gruden’s undoing were uncovered during the investigation into the dumpster fire at the Washington Football Team – an investigation the NFL has tried mightily to bury.
The league has refused to release any of Beth Wilkinson’s detailed findings and, in contrast to previous NFL investigations, told her to present them verbally rather than in a written report. Paper trails, as we’ve seen the past few days, have an uncomfortable way of surfacing.
As for any specific accusations made, including one against now kinda, sorta, not really banished WFT owner Daniel Snyder, the NFL has declared the topic off-limits.
No wonder, then, that Gruden thought he could escape accountability for emails sent when he was working as a television analyst.
He shut down questions Sunday about the Wall Street Journal report of his racist description of Smith, and did so again Monday. Raiders owner Mark Davis, who was so hellbent on hiring Gruden in 2018 that he essentially ignored the Rooney Rule and apparently did little if any vetting of him, was still dithering until the New York Times forced his hand.
The Times reported that casual misogyny and homophobia were a regular part of Gruden’s vocabulary in emails to NFL executives and friends. He called NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell a “clueless antifootball (homophobic slur),” and mocked his efforts to make the game safer.
Gruden criticized the Rams for drafting Michael Sam, who is openly gay, and players who protested racial injustice. He disparaged Congressional efforts to force the Washington Football Team to abandon its previous, racist nickname. When he was sent a sexist meme of a female referee, Gruden responded, “Nice job roger.”
If this was bigotry bingo, Gruden would have had almost every square covered. His attitudes are disgusting, reprehensible and, considering Carl Nassib, the NFL’s first active player who is openly gay, plays for the Raiders, terrifying.
“I’m sorry,” Gruden said in a statement the Raiders posted on Twitter, “I never meant to hurt anyone.”
More like he never considered he was hurting anyone, so assured was he of his superiority to anyone who doesn’t look and love like him.
But Gruden is, sadly, not alone. Not in this country, and certainly not in the NFL.
Follow USA TODAY Sports' Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.