The Devil Is In the Details

Jon Gruden is at the center, but the powerful people on the email threads is something to keep in mind.

The Devil Is In the Details
Photo Credit: Ben Liebenberg/AP

When the word of a leaked 2011 email of former coach Jon Gruden came out from a conduct investigation into the Washington Football Team, the public found out Gruden described NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith as “Dumboriss Smith has lips the size of Michelin tires.” Gruden promptly apologized soon after. He told the Times that he used the term "rubber lips" to describe anyone he thought was lying. So, why not just say rubber lips and not specifically refer to the size of his lips?

Now, if that 2011 email wasn’t enough, then the trove of information released by the NY Times on Monday night was the nail in the coffin. It was like derogatory bingo - where Gruden stated misogynistic and anti-LGBTQ slurs, criticized players who kneeled for the anthem and even exchanged topless photos of cheerleaders with then GM of the Washington Football Team Bruce Allen. It’s easy to focus on the individual, and Gruden is not without massive fault here. His comments were horrid. To think that he was doing this while, every single off-season, teams were angling for him to take a head coaching job is insane. “Will he leave the Monday Night Football booth to take this job or that job?” It’s not only Gruden, but those who are chuckling on the other side of their devices that is the issue.

A massive appalling issue is who was on these email threads; Ed Droste, the co-founder of Hooters; Jim McVay, an executive who has run the Outback Bowl, annually held in Tampa, Fla.; and Nick Reader, the founder of PDQ Restaurants along with Allen. All white males who are in a position of power in various industries. NBC’s Mike Tirico and Tony Dungy stated that they “weren’t going to chalk up everything to racism,” and knowing Gruden personally, he didn’t exhibit these behaviors. However, note that these views went back and forth in company emails on a public server. Please speak to any minorities or LGBTQ-identifying people in the workplace; they are subject to snide comments, microaggressions, and incidental prejudices that prevent them from moving forward in their careers.

Where does that begin and fester? Email chains of male leadership who feel as if they are above the consequences for their actions. WhatsApp chats, iMessages - you name it. How would Jon Gruden or Bruce Allen learn from their mistakes and grow if their conduct went unchecked? Hell, even after the public knew the 2011 contents of Gruden’s derogatory comments, he coached a game after - a losing effort that marks a lot of his recent coaching tenure.

Since the 2002 Super Bowl win in Tampa, Gruden-led teams have been to the playoffs twice. He had two consecutive losing seasons with the Raiders before the 2021 season. Thus, he was able to obtain a 10-year, 100 million dollar deal. The NFL currently has no minority ownership outside of Shad Khan of the Jacksonville Jaguars, co-owner Kim Pegula of the Buffalo Bills, and five minority head coaches (Mike Tomlin of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Robert Flores of the New York Jets, Mike Flores of the Miami Dolphins, David Culley of the Houston Texas, and Ron Rivera of the Washington Football Team). For all the racial justice campaigns, slogans, and halftime shows, the NFL has a lot of work to be done yet. Hell, there’s still this prejudice over dual-threat Black quarterbacks and if they can “throw down the field” baked in most pundits’ minds.

Playing ‘Lift Every Voice and Sing’ alongside the National Anthem is a mirror image of the Gruden/Allen email situation. There’s a concurrence of two things existing that don’t necessarily mesh. A coach could lead a league that consists of 70% Black athletes with these views. 2011 was where Gruden was 48 years of age, and the conduct continued for seven more years. At the same time, he was under a lucrative deal with ESPN doing Monday Night Football and Gruden’s QB Camp. It’s almost comical to think that this man was tutoring a position known to be the field general of the offense.

It’s not cancel culture for you to feel how hot the embers burn from the anger of people who’ve hurt. Will Gruden ever coach in the NFL again? Probably not, and it wouldn’t be a good idea. How could a team of diverse individuals ever look him in the eye and take his game plans seriously? Isn’t it ironic that someone, as qualified as Kansas City Chief’s offensive coordinator Eric Bienemy can’t get a head coaching job, but the Grudens of the world can? So, who really gets canceled? The humbling and frightening thing is that there are more Jon Grudens and Bruce Allens out there. Those in leadership positions with excessive power and salaries seem fine on the surface, but are having those same hidden conversations. Sadly, others will line up behind them and profess that they couldn’t possibly say those things because “he or she has always been nice to me.”

Gruden’s last line in his farewell address was, “I never meant to hurt anyone.” Were those emails meant to spark joy, like he’s some open mic comic? No, his punchline were those who he perceived as beneath him. Gruden expected the same people to go to war for him and justify that gaudy contract he got. It’s only when people get caught when they show this empty kind of virtue remorse. “Oh, I didn’t mean that.” When you use your words to hurt and divide, you don’t get to decide how people forgive you for them. With the progress that the NFL has strived to make, it’s one step forward and two steps back. We should all demand more from our leaders, who oversee all kinds of people - the NFL included.