Gruden’s retirement wasn’t enough: combating hate in football
Trigger Warning: This article contains content related to sexual assault
October 29, 2021
Earlier this October, Jon Gruden retired as coach of the Las Vegas Raiders after it was revealed that he sent racist, sexist and homophobic emails to many other people in the NFL. The Raiders, currently 5-2 and the leaders of the AFC West, are home to the only out gay player in the league, defensive end Carl Nassib. The NFL has recently done a sweep of over 650,000 emails, many of which they are yet to release. According to the New York Times, in the emails Gruden “said that the leader of the N.F.L. players’ union, who is Black, had ‘lips the size of Michelin tires,’ and used homophobic and misogynist language to denigrate people in football including Roger Goodell, the N.F.L. commissioner.” Sadly, hate is a common trope throughout football at all levels.
Gruden is not the only former NFL member that has come under fire for these emails. Bruce Allen, former Washington Football Team owner, was one of the frequent recipients of Gruden’s emails. According to NBCSports Pro Football Talk, Bruce Allen sent “a questionable photo to multiple members of the league office. The photo depicted two scantily clad women.” The article reports that one was giving the other a fake shot with a fake syringe, and Allen captioned the photo with something along the lines of “For our next meeting on HGH.” Allen was copied on or sent many more of emails of a similar vulgarity to this one, according to the New York Times. According to Tom Davis, a former chairman of the House Oversight Committee, “This isn’t unique to the Washington Football Team. It’s all over sports. It’s all over locker rooms and college campuses.” The toxic environment surrounding sports at all levels pushes many people away from sport as a whole. Sport is supposed to be a fun event that can be witnessed and participated in by all, not something an elite few can control based upon ideals and hate.
Racism, homophobia and sexism run rampant throughout the NFL and football as a whole. It is important that the NFL takes steps to help root out hate in the league. Firstly, the NFL needs to publish the rest of Allen’s emails. Only a portion of them have been released, and it is important that we see how this man, one of the former most powerful figures in the NFL, thought about the players, staff and many other members of the organization. This will still not be enough. The Miami Dolphins are currently engaged in trade talks with the Houston Texas for star quarterback, Deshaun Watson. Watson has recently come under fire because of over twenty civil lawsuits and ten criminal complaints accusing him of sexual misconduct and sexual assault. Is the prospect of winning so important that a team would intentionally trade for a player who is accused of sexual assault? Watson has yet to play a snap this season for the Texans this NFL season.
“Somewhere along the lines, the owners have to play a part in this and make head coaches realize, ‘You can’t hire all your buddies just because you know them.'”
The NFL needs to stop the performative action that it is taking and incite real change within the football community. Sacrifices will need to be taken and there will certainly be pushback, but in the end, it is more important and better to have a football community that is accepting of anyone and everyone than it is to deal with internet trolls and naysayers. According to NBC, roughly 70% of the players in the NFL identify as black or African American. Currently, only 3 of the NFL’s 32 teams are coached by black head coaches, less than 10%. Not a single NFL team has a black owner. Professional football is far less diverse than we would to believe, and it is important that more black people are hired for leadership and ownership positions in the NFL. Former Super Bowl MVP and Black College Football Hall of Fame co-founder Doug Williams TODAY NBC that “Somewhere along the lines, the owners have to play a part in this and make the head coaches realize, ‘You can’t hire all your buddies just because you know them. You have to look outside … because there’s some talent out there that you might be overlooking, and a lot of that talent is in this minority pool that we have here,’” referring to the lack of minority coordinators and coaching staff in the NFL.
Recently, two House Democrats sent a letter to Roger Goodell requesting documents and files relating to the NFL’s investigation of the Washington Football Team. A toxic workplace culture in the NFL that disrespects minorities, women and people of different sexualities is not sustainable, and we must work towards a football future that is accepting of everyone.