I would venture to say that most of us enjoy a good football game. Perhaps more than many other popular sports, it connects us socially and promotes togetherness. Organized sports can promote a healthy community culture because of the way they bring people of different cultures and backgrounds together. And generally speaking, sports accentuate the values of fair play and sportsmanship.
It’s too bad coach Jon Gruden of the Las Vegas Raiders doesn’t seem to value fair play and keeping a healthy community culture.
On Oct. 11, Coach Gruden resigned in the wake of a New York Times report revealing that he sent appalling emails to multiple people in the NFL. The emails were discovered when NFL officials were investigating office misconduct issues of the Washington Football Team, and Gruden at that time wasn’t on their radar. But the Raiders coach sent emails to then-WFT president and general manager Bruce Allen, who was also an executive in the Raiders and Tampa Bay Buccaneers organizations. Allen worked for the Washington team from 2010 to 2019. Gruden had been employed by ESPN from 2010 to 2018, and it was during those years that he sent the emails — emails that reveal a history of racist, sexist and homophobic comments.
One racist comment Gruden made was concerning NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith: “Dumboriss Smith has lips the size of michelin tires,” Gruden wrote. The coach claimed he didn’t remember any such thing and even tried to cover by saying he uses the term “rubber lips” about anyone he thinks is lying. But there is no evidence of him ever using this term.
Gruden also called Commissioner Roger Goodell a well-known homophobic slur in other emails. He said that the commissioner shouldn’t have pressured the Rams to draft gay players — a reference to Michael Sam, a gay player drafted by the Rams in 2014. Jeff Fisher, former head coach of the Rams and the Tennessee Titans, took to Twitter to defend Sam, saying the player was drafted on his “defensive production and pass rushing skill set on the field.” Fisher added that one’s sexual orientation should never play a part in the selection process, and he applauded Sam for having the courage to “serve as a role model for those competitive football players who may also happen to be gay.” I think Fisher speaks for many in the NFL community.
What’s more, Gruden was coaching a team that has an openly gay player in defensive lineman Carl Nassib. It’s been difficult not only for Nassib but for the entire team and their coaching staff, all of whom have been caught off guard by these findings.
But Gruden didn’t stop with racist or homophobic comments. He also made disparaging remarks about women in the league, saying they didn’t belong there — that is, that they don’t belong as coaches or referees. But what he didn’t mind doing was exchanging inappropriate pictures of cheerleaders with Bruce Allen. The fact that these photos were discovered is concerning, especially considering a number of Washington cheerleaders had already sued the franchise for inappropriate behavior over a “secret uncensored video” taken without their knowledge during swimsuit photo shoots. The footage was circulated among the Washington executives, including owner Dan Snyder. Snyder of course denies the allegations. The cheerleaders’ lawsuit ended in an out-of-court settlement.
A question comes to mind when reading about Gruden’s exchanges with Allen: Why did Gruden feel so comfortable sharing these types of degrading comments and photos with other industry professionals? It seems he should have been concerned about pushback. Where was the pushback from Allen? Why did these “exchanges” not end up getting someone fired long before now?
Gruden’s behavior is demeaning and flat-out unacceptable. And this NFL investigation is the result of a look at just one team in the league. What might be found if others were investigated? I’m grateful for the coaches like Fisher, who concern themselves with a player’s talents rather than their sexual preference or the color of their skin. I’d also like to believe most teams play by those same values, but I guess that remains to be seen.
No matter how you slice this, it does not reflect well on NFL culture. The Ringer reports: “There are only three Black head coaches in a league in which almost 70 percent of players are Black. It took until 2015 for any team to hire a female coach. And it took until 2021 for a gay player to decide that coming out wouldn’t immediately jeopardize his job status.”
I don’t know what the NFL powers-that-be are thinking, but they should be thinking about getting their heads into the 21st century.
Bill Freeman is the owner of FW Publishing, the publishing company that produces the Nashville Scene, Nfocus, the Nashville Post and Home Page Media Group in Williamson County.