Jon Gruden & The Complicity Enabling Madmen in the NFL
Jon Gruden resigned this week as Las Vegas Raiders head coach after derogatory emails surfaced including homophobic and misogynistic remarks. These new emails were released following an earlier report of racist statements made about a union leader. While there is no place in the NFL for Gruden's behavior, the complicity that enabled this to continue over a prolonged period of time is more concerning to the league. But much like the rest of corporate America, the NFL tolerates controversy if money still gets made. Even before becoming Las Vegas Raiders head coach for a second time, Gruden was the color commentator for Monday Night Football on ESPN. The NFL is a business with an image to maintain, so choices like broadcast teams are things the league is concerned with year to year. With millions of viewers tuning in each week, Gruden had a national audience at his disposal, becoming a common face and voice to football fans everywhere.
The seven year collection of hate filled emails dates back as late as 2018. This means that both the Raiders and ESPN likely had some knowledge of these traits and chose to do nothing. Gruden walked away from the Raiders and $60 million still left on his contract this week. Only when the damage was so extensive that it impacted the bottom line of ownership was Gruden asked to resign. It proves that the NFL and ESPN were more concerned with short term profits then timely accountability. This scandal also undercuts efforts made by the NFL as a whole to be more safe, diverse, and inclusive. From hiring female executives to diversifying staffs, Gruden represents an old guard in a white owned league.
Gruden is the embodiment of a mediocre white man who reached his apex off the hard work of others. It was Tony Dungy who built Tampa Bay into a championship level team when Gruden took over. Dungy had winning seasons four of his six years in Tampa Bay, being fired for a lack of postseason success. Dungy's soft spoken nature led to a hardened Gruden changing the tone. Ultimately, Gruden's edge gave Dungy's roster the push it needed to reach a championship pedigree. But to call Gruden's Super Bowl run self-earned is laughable. Plus, it was Dungy who went on to craft a championship team in Indianapolis, showing he could repeat success elsewhere.
Gruden also took time in his rage to repeatedly criticize calls for increased player safety. What's concerning is that Gruden had this distain for change when he had made his money off the bodies of players broken by the game. A coach is supposed to have his team's best interest at heart, which includes preservation of a roster's health. It should make fans wonder if Gruden pressured players to play when they weren't healthy enough to do so. It also reveals the sadist nature of the NFL as a business built on human capital. Gruden can enjoy the spoils of a $30 million fortune because of the bumps and bruises taken by his players. For Gruden to be this ignorant about the costs of a violent game, demonstrates he's about his own ambitions before anything else.
Sports at its best brings out teamwork toward a common goal. At its worst it becomes what it has in the United States, a way to monetize and distract. While no one can take away the accomplishments of Jon Gruden on the field, he will be notoriously known for the hate he spewed off of it. But what shouldn't get lost in the shuffle is a league and a network that were both complicit in allowing the behavior to continue.
Jimmy Kennedy, who believes Jon Gruden and anyone who enabled him is despicable, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org