The United States is in a period of dramatic cultural change that has seen homophobia and misogyny take its place, and arguably surpass racism against Black men and women, as deleterious acts of bias that subverts one’s career opportunities, social standing and legacy.
All are reprehensible. But while racist tropes and connotations voiced or written by high profile public figures ascribed to Black folks are still met with widespread indignation and stern rebuke, such incidents are often survivable. Obligatory censures are issued while seven-and eight-figure salaries and powerful positions are retained. Not so much when it is homophobic and misogynistic slurs.
Jon Gruden is the latest catalyst of the “what if?” hypothetical discussions taking place among Black people. What if Gruden’s words were solely of a racist nature. Would he still be the head coach of the Las Vegas Raiders today? On Monday night, the 58-year-old resigned only four years into a 10-year, $100 million contract with the team before inevitably being fired by owner Mark Davis.
Gruden stepped down less than an hour after a New York Times report exposed emails the Sandusky, Ohio native had purportedly sent, many to erstwhile Washington Football Team president Bruce Allen dating back to 2011, using explicit racist, antigay and misogynistic language.
The scandal came to light last Friday when the Wall Street Journal reported that during the 2011 National Football League player lockout, Gruden, who at that time was working as a broadcaster for ESPN after being let go as the head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in January of 2009, emailed Allen ranting about NFL Players Association President DeMaurice Smith.
“Dumboriss [sic] Smith has the lips the size of michellin [sic] tires,” wrote Gruden. On Monday, Smith, who is a Black man, tweeted: “The email from Jon Gruden—and some of the reaction to it—confirms that the fight against racism, racist tropes and intolerance is not over. This is not about an email as much as it is about a pervasive belief by some that people who look like me can be treated as less.”
Gruden put forth penance to the Wall Street Journal on Friday, in part stating, “I don’t think he’s dumb…I don’t have a racial bone in my body.”
Other leaked emails, which were discovered as part of the NFL’s investigation into the toxic workplace culture of the Washington Football Team that began in July 2020 and led to the league fining the franchise $10 million this past July, revealed Gruden referring to commissioner Roger Goodell as a “fat” and “py,” chiding the NFL’s public embracing of players engaging in racial justice demonstrations and critical of the league hiring female referees.
Gruden deserves the extensive backlash and ostracizing to which he is being subjected. Frustratingly, we will never know with certainty if the pressure on him would have had the same intensity absent his homophobic and misogynistic vitriol.