Gruden had no choice but to spare Raiders owner Mark Davis, his greatest advocate, and resign. He should take the $30 million-plus he has stolen from the Raiders since 2018 and go somewhere remote. Go somewhere so far away there’s not even a signal to send an email. As a matter of fact, he should just retire from typing because apparently he can’t control his bias when his fingers start moving.
Gruden was already engulfed in controversy over a 10-year-old racist email about NFL Players Association Executive Director DeMaurice Smith. Now, after an explosive New York Times report, Gruden must answer for a slew of hateful messages sent over several years. The Gruden email saga is no longer just about racism. He has been exposed for making homophobic and misogynistic comments, too. In emails that included longtime friend and former colleague Bruce Allen — who at the time was president of the organization now known as the Washington Football Team — Gruden had disparaging words about nearly every progressive thing that has occurred in the NFL over the past decade.
He denigrated the historic draft selection of the openly gay Michael Sam, the addition of female referees and the player protests of racial inequality and police brutality during the national anthem. He exchanged emails with Allen and others that included lewd photos of women. His reputation turned out to be collateral damage from the NFL investigation of workplace misconduct in Washington.
Don’t feel sorry for him, though. Don’t dare. No one ever wants their worst private comments brought to light, but as a public figure who became wealthy presenting himself as a steward of the game, Gruden must be held accountable now that he has been revealed as fraudulent and full of deplorable viewpoints.
There is no way for him to rationalize getting caught several years later. It was bad enough that his 2011 comments questioning Smith’s intelligence and mocking his lips became public. He tried to explain it away by declaring he didn’t have a “racist bone” — nor a “blade of racism” — in his body. He thought he could combat the controversy with an obligatory apology and a whole lot of dismissive Chucky facial expressions.
Has Gruden scanned his bones for homophobia yet? For sexism? For stupidity in leaving a virtual paper trail of the worst of himself? It’s shocking how quickly his career fell apart — and for reasons that we had no clue about until a few days ago. On Friday morning, he awoke as the coach of a 3-1 team that seemed in a good place to start his fourth season back with the Raiders. By Monday night, he was gone in the most shameful fashion.
And he’s gone for good. He won’t be calling games again for ESPN or any other media company that still has principles. It’s well known that the NFL struggles to live up to its stated values, but it is trying, no matter how clumsily, to move to a better place. From the looks of his emails, Gruden wanted to make football great again. He wanted that exclusive atmosphere, where men were free to be good ol’ boys and anyone who saw things differently was subject to ridicule.
After the Wall Street Journal broke the original story — in which Gruden wrote, “Dumboriss Smith has lips the size of michellin tires” in an email to Allen — Gruden told ESPN that he was just in a “bad frame of mind” 10 years ago during an NFL labor dispute. He spent the weekend offering vague apologies and frequent reminders that he’s a good guy. Good people can’t be racist, you know. Not in a dismissive American culture in which the perception of decency matters more than exploring complicated, buried truths.
“All I can say is I’m not a racist,” he said during his postgame news conference Sunday. “I can’t tell you how sick I am.”
He couldn’t tell you because, it seems, he’s sicker than you could fathom.
In trying to defend himself over the weekend, Gruden didn’t address anything — not specifically, not thoughtfully. He tried to escape the controversy without asking much of himself. He made his “I’m not racist” play, knowing that most people prefer not to linger in uncomfortable discussions and figuring that he could define, on his terms, a concept as incalculable as racism.
There is no rubric to determine how racist you are. There is no meter to measure it. And racism is not a pass/fail proposition. It’s not as simple as either you are or you aren’t. Gruden pointed to his track record and sought immediate absolution, even though we were still processing the vile thing he wrote.
It’s embarrassing how many people bought his tired explanation and wanted to move on. The opportunity existed to lift the conversation from trashy gossip to a meaningful societal lesson. But that would have required sincerity from Gruden, who was only interested in controlling the damage and focused on keeping the rest from coming out.
Now it’s all out. Gruden doesn’t have a problem with racism. His conflict includes a whole lot of “-isms.” He will be known not just as the coach who led the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to their first Super Bowl title, not just as an offensive innovator during his prime and not just as a compelling former “Monday Night Football” color analyst. He’s also a man who had it all, who lived a privileged football life, and then threw it all away because he couldn’t resist writing vile and belittling things, trying to be the guardian of an old game growing more inclusive.
All genres of bias are like a spectrum. It means everyone possesses some level of insensitivity, and those who live without acknowledging it are destined to do something stupid eventually.
Ignorance cost Gruden more than his job with the Raiders. It cost him his place in football. What a sad, despicable way to go.