I have to preface this article with a note that (a) the opinions and ideas written here are strictly that of the author and do not represent the entirety of Pro Football Press, and (b) this article will get political. If this is a bother to you, click away now. If not, let’s take a political and football look at the Jon Gruden situation.
Former Raiders head coach Jon Gruden resigned from his position as head coach of the Las Vegas Raiders on Monday night. This move followed a report from The New York Times about the bigoted language he used in emails as recently as 2018. This new report follows an earlier report in which Gruden used a racist trope to describe NFLPA union president DeMaurice Smith, who is black. Gruden said in a statement, “I have resigned as Head Coach of the Las Vegas Raiders. I love the Raiders and do not want to be a distraction. Thank you to all the players, coaches, staff, and fans of Raider Nation. I’m sorry, I never meant to hurt anyone.”
Anytime we see someone who has past comments and beliefs exposed to the world, there are always two sides developed. One side impugns the person in question, criticizes them, and calls for them to face some sort of repercussion. The other side immediately runs to social media to call anyone who doesn’t like these comments/beliefs soft snowflakes and rage about cancel culture. And the cancel culture/culture war discourse is one that refuses to die down online.
So, I will not shy away from it, because I believe that Jon Gruden needed to go. And in this piece, I want to look at why Gruden isn’t a victim of being canceled for things he said years ago, as well as why Gruden needed to go from strictly a football point of view. Once again, if political discourse is something you wish to avoid, skip this piece. If it’s something that does not bother you, follow along with me.
A Political Examination
Jon Gruden is not a victim. The New York Times and the National Football League did not systematically single him out, and he is not a victim of this nefarious “cancel culture” that internet conservatives and centrists love to complain about. The only thing that Gruden could be a victim of currently is karma. This is a man who now has to live with the consequences of his own actions.
It seems like the most obvious and agreeable thing in the world. When someone says something racist, homophobic, sexist, etc, that person rightly deserves any backlash they receive. And yet we live in a world where a brigade of reactionary white knights will reflexively defend any sort of situation involving bigoted comments. Usually, this comes under the guise of being against cancel culture. There’s also a very popular argument that people can change. They’re not the same person now that they were back when those comments were made.
Honestly? I agree with that last sentiment. I’m a firm believer that people absolutely can change. I believe in reformative justice for everyone. However, my issue with this argument is that Jon Gruden hasn’t changed. There’s no evidence of this being a situation of Gruden saying something back then that he’s later changed his mind on. Again, he was using this type of language as recently as in 2018. That is rather recent. And while three years is definitely an amount of time in which a person can grow and change, let’s not pretend that the most old-school coach in the NFL before his resignation, bar maybe Detroit’s Dan Campbell, is secretly some huge liberal or progressive.
No Sympathy Warranted
I’m also not on the “Gruden was singled out” train. The investigation into the 650,000 emails had little to do with Gruden himself. It was an investigation into allegations of workplace misconduct within the Washington Football Team. His language was discovered because the group he sent the emails to included Bruce Allen, a former executive with the Washington Football Team. After finding Gruden’s first email that included a racist trope, only then did more of his comments receive any extra scrutiny. This doesn’t feel like someone getting singled out by cancel culture. It feels like someone got caught doing something wrong, and further examination brought more wrongdoing to light.
Jon Gruden made his bed, and now he has to lie in it. For all the talk conservative media will make about how “cancel culture strikes again,” this one doesn’t fit. Leaving aside the fact that cancel culture is just a spooky buzzword these days, this isn’t the case of someone getting canceled for out-of-context comments or beliefs they no longer hold. Gruden is the same now as he was then, and it is for that reason that Jon Gruden is only a victim of himself. He now has to live with his actions, which have now recently cost him his enshrinement in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers ring of honor.
A Football Purview
Online political discourse aside, Jon Gruden also needed to go from a sheer football point of view. He was coaching in a league where 70% of the players are black. He was coaching the first team in NFL history to field an openly gay player, defensive lineman Carl Nassib. There’s absolutely no way Gruden could have come back into that locker room knowing that their coach essentially puts on a mask in front of them that he takes off privately.
If you’re Carl Nassib, how do you reconcile the fact that your coach used homophobic slurs freely and without care? How do you reconcile him pushing for NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to pressure the then-St. Louis Rams into not drafting an openly gay player, Michael Sam, in the 2014 NFL Draft? How do you trust a man who says one thing to your face but mocks you to his friends in private?
If you’re a black player on the Raiders, how do you reconcile his locker room behavior with his private use of racist tropes to describe another black man? If you’ve kneeled for the national anthem, how do you reconcile his private push for more punishments for those who take a knee? How do you reconcile his desire to see former 49ers and Panthers safety Eric Reid “fired” for his protests? If you’re an advocate for social justice causes, how could you trust a coach who wants to curtail NFL involvement in these sorts of issues?
There was just no way for Gruden to continue with this team. It would lead to much distraction, too much to reconcile, and too much distrust. The Raiders organization could no longer ignore it, not with the NFL waiting to see how the team would respond to these emails. Not with this being public knowledge like it is now. The NFL couldn’t ignore it, given their public drive to be more inclusive and diverse.
So, even removed from online political discourse, there was just no way for Gruden to keep this job.
Regardless of how you slice this, Jon Gruden had to go. The NFL couldn’t allow Gruden to continue, given their public desire to be more inclusive and diverse. The Raiders organization couldn’t allow it to continue. And it was in the players’ best interest for Gruden to step away from this organization.
Simply put, this is who Jon Gruden is. Even in his statement to the media following his resignation, there was no genuine remorse for his language. “I never meant to hurt anyone,” he said. And yet, he meant to hurt people. No one in Gruden’s position uses that kind of language without the intent to hurt someone. And even without the language, there’s still the fact that he actively pushed to prevent an openly gay player from being drafted.
That would be enough to know that he intended to hurt people. Add in that he was also against the NFL’s push to decrease concussions, and we can see that in a literal and figurative sense, Jon Gruden intended to hurt people. Or, at the very least, he was okay with people being hurt. Anything to take this game back to 1998, I suppose.
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Photo Credit: Joe Robbins/AP