Jon Gruden’s grubby bigotry could be just the start of the NFL’s problems

The Las Vegas Raiders coach resigned after messages showed him using racist and homophobic language. The NFL has another 650,000 emails in its possession

Say what you want about Jon Gruden – and plenty of people have – but he does have a novel take on equality.

In a series of emails reported by the New York Times and Wall Street Journal over the last week, the now former Las Vegas Raiders coach insulted pretty much every section of America. Black people (he said NFL Players Association leader DeMaurice Smith had “lips the size of michellin [sic] tires”); gay people (he bemoaned the fact that the NFL was encouraging teams to draft “queers”); women (he doesn’t like them refereeing games, preferring men to 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 clueless pussy” in 2012). To prove he wasn’t prejudiced he also insulted his own demographic: overpromoted, rich white guys who are not particularly good at their jobs (he called NFL commissioner Roger Goodell a “faggot” and a “clueless anti football pussy”). And that’s just the stuff he wrote down.

There are several takeaways from the incident. First of all, for a man who, judging by his emails, thinks the NFL is being overtaken by gutless cowards, Gruden sure looks like one himself. Because, despite making a career portraying himself as one someone who Tells It Like It Is, he didn’t even have the courage to insult any of his targets to their face.

The emails were sent during his time in the broadcast booth with ESPN, which spanned the period of NFL player protests. But at no point did he say he disagreed with them or think that Reid should lose his job. When one of his own players, Carl Nassib, became the first active NFL player to come out as gay, Gruden said: “I learned a long time ago what makes a man different is what makes him great.” In this case “a long time ago” is clearly after 2014, when he didn’t want gay players in the league. Gruden appears to think women in football are either to be despised (those pesky female refs) or ogled at (he exchanged topless photos of cheerleaders with former Washington Football Team president Bruce Allen), but he was happy to be paid by one – the Raiders had a female chief executive, Amy Trask, during his first stint with the team. And despite the fact that he thinks it’s acceptable to use racist stereotypes in emails to his friends, he showed a different side to his Black players: “He’s never rubbed me a certain way, that type of way,” said Raiders running back Josh Jacobs on Sunday.

But the sad thing here isn’t Gruden’s dismal brand of prejudice. It’s the damage it does to others in the NFL. Do the 65% of players in the league who are Black wonder whether the white coach (and he’s almost certainly white) who says he loves and values them in fact thinks in racist stereotypes? The next time Nassib is assured his sexuality isn’t a problem in the locker room, does he recall that that’s exactly what Gruden said? Do cheerleaders, who are already faced with hostile workplaces, fear their bosses are exchanging photos of them?

The league’s defenders will say that Gruden is an outlier, that his emails are from before he took over the Raiders in 2018 and the NFL – and America – is a different place now, after a summer of racial reckoning following the police murder of George Floyd. And the NFL has certainly paid lip service to that idea, with its apology for not listening to players during the national anthem protests started by Kaepernick.

But this is still a league – and a country – where a coach with a history of alleged racist comments can find a job. Where fans boo a moment of silence to acknowledge that, on balance, inequality is probably a bad thing. Where there were three Black head coaches in 2003 when the Rooney Rule was adopted and where there are now … three. Where a team changes its racist nickname only after pressure from sponsors. Where there are rumors that the emails were leaked to the Times and Journal by someone within the NFL not because they were bigoted, but because Gruden insulted Goodell.

We may discover whether Gruden is an outlier soon enough anyway. The emails were among 650,000 reviewed by the NFL during an investigation into misconduct at the Washington Football Team. On Tuesday, NBC’s Mike Florio reported that there is unease around the league that emails implicating other people who “sent or received emails with racist, homophobic, transphobic, and/or misogynistic content” could come to light. Hours later the NFL Players Association said it will ask the league to release the remainder of the emails. The league may refuse, of course, but that won’t necessarily stop leaks – we’ve already seen with the Gruden situation that people have scores to settle.

Few will be surprised if the rot goes a lot deeper than Gruden.


Tom Lutz

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
‘This ain’t it’: LeBron James rips Raiders for tone-deaf tweet on Chauvin verdict
The Las Vegas Raiders received backlash for a tweet the team sent after police officer Derek Chauvin was convicted of murdering George Floyd

Guardian sport and agencies

21, Apr, 2021 @4:49 PM

Article image
Jon Gruden was hostile to Black people for years before his emails came out
In his dealings with those in his immediate orbit, the former Raiders head coach long ago showed us where he thinks a Black man’s place in football should be

Andrew Lawrence

14, Oct, 2021 @12:24 PM

Article image
NFL players attack ‘fraud’ Jon Gruden after racist and homophobic emails
There was little sympathy from NFL players past and present on Tuesday for Jon Gruden after his resignation from the Las Vegas Raiders

Guardian sport

12, Oct, 2021 @8:46 PM

Article image
Will all four teams in the ridiculously loaded AFC West make the playoffs?
We all know about the skills of Mahomes and the Chiefs. But their divisional rivals look good enough to reach the postseason

Oliver Connolly

01, Oct, 2021 @9:00 AM

Article image
NFL Week 18 predictions: who will grab the last remaining playoff places?
For the first time in modern NFL history, teams will play their 17th regular season games. Here are our predictions of who will win the weekend’s deciding matches

Hunter Felt

07, Jan, 2022 @8:44 AM

Article image
Can the Las Vegas Raiders replace the fanaticism of the Black Hole?
The team is scheduled to play its first season in Nevada after moving from California. Whether they can replicate Oakland’s fans is debatable

Dave Caldwell

19, May, 2020 @11:00 AM

Article image
Four teams that deserved to make the NFL playoffs more than Washington
Washington made the postseason with a losing record by virtue of winning the putrid NFC East. There were better teams whose seasons ended early

Hunter Felt

04, Jan, 2021 @9:30 AM

Article image
Tom Brady's next move: Hollywood, Tampa Bay or the Las Vegas Strip?
Brady’s announcement that he will leave the Patriots after 20 seasons gives rise to the NFL’s biggest question: where will he line up in 2020?

Oliver Connolly

17, Mar, 2020 @3:38 PM

Article image
The NFL would love the mayhem of the Las Vegas Raiders
An NFL team in Sin City is almost definitely a terrible idea, but it will bring in money and headlines for the league

DJ Gallo

24, May, 2016 @10:00 AM

Article image
‘Proud of you’: NFL players welcome Carl Nassib’s decision to come out
Carl Nassib’s decision to come out as gay, the first time an active NFL player has chosen to do so, was welcomed by some of the biggest names in the sport

Tom Lutz

22, Jun, 2021 @8:35 AM