First things first: Hopefully, Urban Meyer has sent Jon Gruden a nice fruit basket and a giant thank-you card for knocking Meyer off the front page and into a secondary spot within the coaches-acting-like-idiots subsection of the 24-hour news cycle.
In a sudden and stunning fall from grace, Gruden, the coach of the Las Vegas Raiders and the former Super Bowl-winning coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, not only lost his job, he lost his place in the Bucs’ Ring of Honor in the wake of ugly, offensive emails he sent several years ago becoming public. The emails contained comments that were racist, homophobic and misogynistic, making Gruden the first known NFL coach in history to ever record a bigotry hat trick.
It goes without saying that Gruden had to be jettisoned after the Wall Street Journal and New York Times revealed his horrible emails, but this entire scandal speaks to a much bigger problem in sports than an old white coach sending intolerant emails. I believe a much more troubling issue are the teams and leagues themselves — leagues like the NFL and the National Women’s Soccer League — seemingly only doing the right thing when abhorrent behavior is exposed by the media.
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In case you didn’t know, the NFL has had these Gruden emails for months because they became part of the NFL’s laughable workplace and sexual misconduct investigation into the Washington Football Team — an investigation in which not a single bit of evidence against team owner Daniel Snyder was uncovered and no written report was issued. In other words, it was a traveshamockery of an investigation.
It turns out the only person who was truly punished as a result of the NFL’s investigation is Gruden, and only because his offensive emails were sent to Washington general manager Bruce Allen — Gruden’s old buddy whom he worked with in Tampa Bay. As fate would have it, Gruden’s slur-filled emails to Allen were among the hundreds of thousands of emails the NFL reviewed during its workplace investigation into the Washington Football Team.
Except the NFL took no action against Gruden — until the emails were made public by reporters at the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times. If not for those two media outlets, Gruden would still be pulling in $10 million-a-year to coach the Black and gay players he ranted against in his emails.
How pathetic that the NFL was going to just allow Gruden to coach into perpetuity to protect the shield, not to mention one its most charismatic and popular coaches? This is essentially what the NWSL did when it ignored past allegations of sexual coercion against prominent coach Paul Riley of the North Carolina Courage and allowed him to keep coaching.
It wasn’t until two weeks ago, when The Athletic published an alarming story about the sexual allegations and the league’s farcical investigation, that Riley was fired, Commissioner Lisa Baird and general counsel Lisa Levine resigned, and players joined together and forced the cancellation of a week’s worth of games.
Isn’t it sad that sports leagues and teams have to be dragged kicking and screaming to do the right thing? One of the most glaring examples of this troubling trend came in our own state when Jameis Winston was accused of rape while he was the quarterback at Florida State. Coaches, school administrators and even the Tallahassee Police Department buried the allegations until the Tampa Bay Times and TMZ started snooping around. Only then did FSU launch a Title IX investigation before eventually paying Winston’s accuser nearly $1 million to settle a legal case against the school.
Or if you want to go even further back, what about the NBA allowing former Clippers owner Donald Sterling to remain a part of the league even though everybody knew he was a blatant racist? The U.S. Department of Justice sued Sterling — a real-estate developer and slumlord — way back in 2006 for housing discrimination after he said, “Black tenants smell and attract vermin.”
In 2009, Sterling paid nearly $3 million in fines for what the Justice Department said was discrimination against blacks, Hispanics and families with children in his rental properties. Then, of course, there was the discrimination lawsuit against Sterling filed by ex-Clippers general manager Elgin Baylor, who said Sterling had a “plantation mentality” and claimed Sterling once told him, “I would like to have a white Southern coach coaching poor black players.”
As I wrote at the time: “Former NBA commissioner David Stern and his right-hand man — current commissioner Adam Silver — did absolutely nothing. That is until TMZ aired an audio tape of Sterling’s young mistress wheedling the doddering old fool into a racist diatribe. A public outcry ensued and only then did the NBA act.”
“What bothers me about this whole Donald Sterling affair isn’t just his racism. I’m bothered that everyone acts as if it’s a huge surprise,” NBA legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar wrote at the time in an editorial for Time.com. “Really? All this [stuff] has been going on for years, and this ridiculous conversation with his girlfriend is what puts you over the edge? That’s the smoking gun?
“... If we’re all going to be outraged, let’s be outraged that we weren’t more outraged when his racism was first evident. . He was discriminating against black and Hispanic families for years, preventing them from getting housing. It was public record. We did nothing. Suddenly he says he doesn’t want his girlfriend posing with Magic Johnson on Instagram and we bring out the torches and rope. Shouldn’t we have all called for his resignation back then?”
The same could be said about the NFL and Jon Gruden.
The league should have forced Gruden’s resignation when it first learned of his offensive emails instead of waiting for the public outcry.
To paraphrase the late, great John Wooden, “The true test of a league’s character is what it does when no one is watching.”