On October 11th, the National Football League (NFL) community was shocked when news surfaced that Las Vegas Raiders Head Coach Jon Gruden announced his resignation just five weeks into the season. Gruden was one of the most high-profile figures in the NFL over the last 20 years, serving both as a Super Bowl-winning Head Coach and Monday Night Football Commentator. His resignation came after a slew of emails sent by him were made public that included a racial trope, antigay language, and a generally wide range of hurtful and insensitive rhetoric. The news was groundbreaking and hard to fathom for many who had beloved Gruden over the years, but there’s more to the story. The focus has rightfully been exclusively on Gruden and his fall-from-grace. Still, the lens of judgment has failed to focus on the multi-billion-dollar organization that has facilitated such behavior for far too long: the NFL. In the following, we’ll break down the necessary details of the Gruden case and why his resignation was essential. But we’ll also take a look into the NFL and what this case means for an organization that has a lousy track record of failing to support social justice issues, its players, and what’s morally right.
Details of the Case
As tends to be the norm in situations like this, there are many moving parts and details that are perhaps too complex to cover for this piece. With that being said, we must understand the chain of events here to better comprehend the whole picture.
From a public perspective, the Gruden ordeal began on October 8th, just a few days before his resignation. That Friday, The Wall Street Journal published a story revealing that the NFL was investigating Gruden for using a racial trope in a 2011 email to describe the NFLPA Chief DeMaurice Smith. Additionally, WSJ also reported that the NFL had been analyzing over 650,000 emails as part of their investigation that had begun back in June of 2021. The NFL’s investigation was spawned from a separate investigation on the Washington Football Team for workplace misconduct – a perhaps even more disturbing case if you’re unfamiliar.
In part of the NFL’s investigation, they came across the initial email in question, sent to then Washington Team President Bruce Allen. At this point, the NFL stated that the investigation had been launched under NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s direction. Goodell had then received a summary of the inquiry earlier in the week the story was published. The NFL also stated that it was sharing emails related to Gruden to the Las Vegas Raiders, who then employed him as their Head Coach.
The WSJ story broke headlines and sent a shockwave throughout the league. Many instantly began calling for Gruden’s resignation and action from the NFL. However, the NFL simply stated at the time that it was reviewing Gruden’s status for potential discipline. Gruden went on to coach his team’s game that Sunday, and it seemed as if a suspension, at best, was looming in the near future for Gruden. But then Monday came around.
On October 11th, The New York Times reported that Gruden was cited using anti-transgender, antigay, and much more offensive language in additional email correspondence with Bruce Allen for several years. Once again, the story shook up the league, and it seemed inevitable that Gruden would not escape this one. By the end of the day, Gruden met with the owner of the Las Vegas Raiders and would shortly thereafter announce his resignation as Head Coach.
A Word on Gruden
Before we look at this issue in a broader scope, we must be clear on Jon Gruden and his fate. Without question, his fall-from-grace was well-deserved, and he certainly doesn’t belong on an NFL sideline, now or ever again, for that matter. Gruden was a beloved coach and personality for many years, but no resume or persona outweigh actions. If we’re serious about shifting societal norms and scales of what’s accepted and not, then individuals who engage in such behavior must be dealt with in such a fashion. But with that being said, there’s a bigger issue at play here that hasn’t gotten enough press, and that’s the continued incompetency and lack of authenticity from the NFL to take social justice issues and questions of morality seriously in favor of the bottom line.
The NFL’s Culpability
Let’s start with the case in question. For starters, it’s a bit questionable that an investigation of emails, especially once the initial one was found, took nearly five months. According to the NFL, it took from June to the second week of October for a summary of the investigation’s findings to be presented to the Commissioner, the same one who supposedly launched the investigation in the first place. Even if this is true, it shows a severe lack of legitimate and effective protocols in place at the NFL to take matters like this as seriously as possible. Five months is far too long for a multi-billion-dollar organization that claims these issues are among their top priorities.
Then there’s the inaction after the initial story. Gruden faced no discipline, not even an indefinite leave of absence when the initial racist email was made public. For a league that has recently launched a massive social justice campaign that allows players to wear decals such as “End Racism,” “Stop Hate,” “It Takes All of Us,” and more, it’s highly problematic that they let Gruden go on to coach a game just a few days later. Plus, they hadn’t even met with and briefed the team that employed Gruden as their Head Coach: the Las Vegas Raiders.
The way this whole case played out and the lack of action from the NFL is concerning, to say the least. It begs the question, what happens if the second story never came out? Better yet, what about the first? It makes one seriously wonder if this issue would’ve ever seen the light of day. When it comes to racism or any form of hate for that matter, we all know by now that it takes more than just being opposed to the actions; you have to be anti-racist, anti-hate, and do more than just launch a multi-million-dollar PR campaign. I said before, and I’ll say it again, nothing outweighs actions here. And once again, the actions, or lack thereof, show that the NFL is still miles behind in taking social justice issues seriously.
It may seem as if the criticism of the NFL is perhaps too harsh for just this one incident, but the point is, it’s not just one incident. The way the NFL handled the Colin Kaepernick situation and players kneeling during the national anthem is a perfect example of a league that has failed to evolve and support its players above all. This is the same league that has banned multiple players for over a year for Marijuana usage, yet they hesitated with Jon Gruden. This is also the same league that has repeatedly shown that they don’t take domestic violence or sexual misconduct actions seriously either. The NFL has a bad track record when it comes to how they handle social justice issues, and if this case proves anything, it’s that they haven’t seemed to learn much of a lesson. A PR campaign might inspire some change, and we can all support that, but when your actions don’t reflect your words, then words mean nothing.