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Solomon Jones is an opinion columnist for The Philadelphia Inquirer.
For those who believe in swift justice, Jon Gruden’s downfall seems to fit the bill.
After all, Gruden’s resignation Monday as head coach of the Las Vegas Raiders came just hours after The New York Times reported that he sent racist, homophobic and misogynistic emails to NFL executives for the better part of seven years.
I know some see this as a victory in the battle against bias, racism and other forms of hate. But Gruden stepping down doesn’t amount to a hill of beans when it comes to addressing the NFL’s tortured record on race. Whether we’re talking about the ban on Black players in the 1930s and ‘40s, the role of race in evaluating Black quarterbacks or the dearth of Black head coaches, the league still has much work to do to reckon with its history.
Another racist could easily step into Gruden’s spot and keep the hate coming. Judging by Gruden’s emails, though, it might be hard to match the scope and venom of his insults.
According to The Times, Gruden sent his emails beginning in 2011, while he was employed as an analyst for ESPN’s “Monday Night Football.” In those messages, which were sent to former Washington Football Team President Bruce Allen, among others, Gruden railed against female referees and used a homophobic slur to describe NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. He also opined that Goodell should not have pressured a coach to draft “queers,” in reference to a gay player named Michael Sam who was selected in the 2014 NFL draft.
In a 2011 email first reported by The Wall Street Journal, Gruden employed a racist trope to refer to DeMaurice Smith, the executive director of the NFL Players Association. Misspelling Smith’s name to indicate his low opinion of Smith’s intelligence, Gruden wrote, “Dumboriss Smith has lips the size of michellin tires.”
Asked to respond to Gruden’s comments, Smith did not mince words. “Racism like this comes from the fact that I’m at the same table as they are and they don’t think someone who looks like me belongs,” Smith told The Journal. “I’m sorry my family has to see something like this but I would rather they know. I will not let it define me.”
Smith is right. In an industry where Black men make up the majority of the players who put themselves at risk to entertain the masses, white men like Gruden are the power brokers. Among the NFL’s 32 teams, there are no Black team owners, three Black head coaches and only five Black general managers.
And if Gruden’s emails are any indication, that blindingly white power structure condones having Black men on the menu, to be carved up and consumed by a sport that can destroy both their bodies and their brains. But it’s not OK for Black men to have a seat at the table.
If the power structure did not support Gruden’s views, someone would have told him to send his bigoted drivel elsewhere. But apparently no one offered sufficient pushback, and he continued peddling hate for years.
So, when commentators like Gruden level cruel criticism at Black quarterbacks like the Eagles’ Jalen Hurts, is it because they truly believe the player is awful, or are they doing it because Hurts took over for a white man when he displaced Carson Wentz?
In a system where one of the league’s most prominent leaders freely spouts hate, it’s clear that there are those in positions of power who don’t mind racism, homophobia and misogyny.
Some of them got emails from Gruden. Sadly, none of them did enough to change the game.