Jon Gruden has left as coach of the Las Vegas Raiders because of what he wrote in private emails. The emails are described by the media as ‘racist’, ‘homophobic’ and ‘misogynist’.
As far as I can tell, the racism consists of ridiculing the lip size of the head of the players’ union who is black. The homophobia consists in calling NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell the other “f” word and criticizing the Commissioner for allegedly pressuring an NFL team to draft an openly gay college player – a “queer” in Gruden’s lexicon.
The misogyny consists of emailing pictures of topless women. There may be other manifestations of one or more of these biases, but these are the ones I’ve read about.
My analysis of this case begins with the fact that Gruden did all these things in private. It should end there too, but, as you can probably guess, it won’t.
In my opinion, no one should ever lose their job because of private statements unless the statements are criminal in nature (e.g. planning a riot in private emails) or rightly considered highly offensive by the person to whom they are made .
Neither of these conditions is met here. First, there is nothing criminal about the emails.
Second, Gruden wrote them to his friend Bruce Allen, then the president of the Washington Redskins as the team was called at the time. The emails were discovered due to an investigation into alleged sexual harassment within the Redskins organization. They have been made public because. . .I’m not sure. No other emails from the survey were received. Perhaps Goodell wanted them released because he was the target of some of the abuse.
In any case, there is no indication that Allen was offended by what his friend wrote to him.
Gruden should therefore not be punished. (He resigned, but was reportedly on the brink of being fired.) Punishing people for what they say in private is a hallmark of totalitarian societies.
One could argue that, private or not, the comments in the emails were such that, once reported, Gruden was unable to effectively coach the Raiders’ players. This may be true, but I doubt it.
Only the racist comment could be a barrier (although the Raiders have one openly gay player, a spare). But the black players know Gruden. They know if he’s a racist. If, based on their dealings with him, they were satisfied that he isn’t, he probably could have continued to coach them effectively.
If Gruden had made his statements publicly, I would understand if he punished and even fired him. In a calmer, less identity-obsessed society, discipline probably wouldn’t be dismissed anymore. That would be fine and probably preferable, assuming a decent apology.
But firing Gruden, had he made his comments publicly, would not be unreasonable given the lack of mitigating factors in his case. The coach certainly could not advocate youth. Nor would a defense of “stray comments” hold up. Apparently Gruden’s salty remarks to Bruce Allen were persistent.
It should be within Gruden’s right to criticize (even publicly) pressure a team to draft a player for being gay. Teams should rank players based on football factors, not sexual orientation. And the word “queer” (the “Q” in LBGTQ) is not insurmountable.
But calling someone the other “f” word goes too far, I think, even if the word isn’t directed at someone who is gay (which I think is the case with Goodell). So is making fun of a black man for having big lips.
But again, Gruden’s writings were private and so (1) should not have been released and (2) should not have been the basis for disciplinary action or the threat thereof.
One final note. Tampa Bay, the team that led Gruden to his first Super Bowl win, takes the coach out of his Ring of Honor. Still, like Ben Domenech points out, Warren Sapp, who pleaded guilty domestic violence continues to enjoy that honor.
An America in which bad words are considered a greater offense than bad deeds is an America that is rapidly going downhill.