Jon Gruden had to go.
At a time when messages such as “It Takes All of Us” and “End Racism” are stenciled into every end zone in the league, when women have joined the ranks of front offices, coaching staffs and officiating crews and a player on his own team came out as gay, Gruden’s emails revealing racist, homophobic and misogynistic comments were antithetical to the modern NFL.
Gruden resigned as coach of the Las Vegas Raiders on Monday night, releasing a statement that said, “I love the Raiders and do not want to be a distraction. Thank you to all the players, coaches, staff, and fans of Raider Nation. I’m sorry, I never meant to hurt anyone.”
His departure was the only acceptable resolution to this quagmire of his own creation because the NFL has made too much progress of late for Gruden to keep his job and roll back that evolution, suggested ESPN football analyst Booger McFarland.
“This is something that had to happen,” McFarland said. “This is something he couldn’t deny. This is in emails where you’re going against what the NFL is trying to do. The players have stickers on their helmets and they have phrases in the end zone: ‘End Racism. Stop Hate. It Takes All of Us. Inspire Change.’ So, we’re trying to get rid of the very things that Jon Gruden is promoting through his personal emails.”
Gruden’s rapid downfall began Friday when The Wall Street Journal reported that Gruden used a racist term to describe NFL union chief DeMaurice Smith, who’s Black, in a 2011 email to former Washington executive Bruce Allen.
If it had ended there, Gruden might have survived.
Following the Raiders’ 20-9 loss to Chicago on Sunday, Raiders quarterback Derek Carr said he was among many players who were shocked to hear about Gruden’s racist remark but made clear his coach had his support.
Carr said Gruden addressed the issue and gave his side of the story in a team meeting the morning before that story broke: “He was honest. He was up-front with it, and us as a team were like, ‘Yeah, coach, it was 10 years ago. We love you, man. We’ve got your back.’”
Gruden insisted Sunday that he wasn’t racist, revealed he was sickened by the controversy he’d created and again apologized to Smith.
“But I feel good about who I am and what I’ve done my entire life,” Gruden stressed, adding he hadn’t been contacted by the NFL about his racist remark but “we’ll see what happens here in the next few days.”
What happened was another bombshell: The New York Times reported late Monday that Gruden’s transgressions weren’t limited to a single racist comment but that he frequently used misogynistic and homophobic language directed at Commissioner Roger Goodell and others in the league.
A league source confirmed the accuracy of the emails and said they were sent to the Raiders last week. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the league hasn’t made the emails public.
The report, which came out during the “Monday Night Football” telecast where Gruden burnished his chops as an NFL icon between coaching stints, showed Gruden denouncing the drafting of a gay player and the tolerance of players protesting racial injustice and police misconduct during the playing of the national anthem.
The emails also reveal him using a gay slur to insult Goodell and saying the commissioner shouldn’t have pressured the Rams to draft “queers,” a reference to Michael Sam, who was the first openly gay player drafted by an NFL team.
Raiders defensive end Carl Nassib came out as gay in June and is the first openly gay player to appear in an NFL game.
In a 2017 email, the Times said Gruden responded to a sexist meme of a female official by saying: “Nice job roger.” The paper also said Gruden criticized Goodell and the NFL for trying to reduce concussions, said that Eric Reid, a player who had demonstrated during the playing of the national anthem, should be fired, and mocked an article in 2017 about players calling on Goodell to support their efforts promoting racial equality and criminal justice reform.
It’s long been part of the job description for NFL head coaches to manage the fallout when a player says or does something stupid. Inevitably, a boneheaded decision off the field will create waves, headlines and maybe even the dreaded distraction for a team.
That makes crisis management as much a part of the head coach’s duties as creating game plans for the upcoming opponent.
Thanks to Gruden and Urban Meyer, those roles have been reversed in 2021.
The winless Jacksonville Jaguars had to come to Meyer’s defense after their gaffe-prone rookie head coach skipped their flight home from Cincinnati earlier this month and was captured on camera partying like a college kid with embarrassing video clips quickly spreading on social media.
That led Meyer to apologize on three consecutive days for his “inexcusable” behavior at an Ohio bar two weekends ago. He said several veteran players expressed their support as he tries to make amends: “I had at least eight to 10 phone calls where they called me and they were over-the-top supportive and said, ‘We got you, man. Move forward.’ A common thing was, ‘Coach, we all did stupid things.’”
Meyer’s mess pales in comparison to Gruden’s imbroglio, which erupted into a split with the Raiders 24 hours after his players vouched for their head coach.
While Meyer, an NFL newcomer, hasn’t received much in the way of public support from former pro players and coaches, several people lined up in support of Gruden with endorsements that came well before the the scope of his misdeeds was revealed.
NBC analyst Tony Dungy said he’d never heard of an NFL head coach skipping out on the flight home with his team like Meyer did. For Gruden, he offered harsh words but also grace.
“What Jon Gruden did in that email: definitely insensitive, definitely inappropriate, definitely immature. I thought he attacked the character of a man,” Dungy said during the Bills-Chiefs rain delay Sunday night. “But he apologized for it. He said it wasn’t racially motivated. I have to believe him. This was an incident that was 10 years ago. He apologized and I think we have to accept that apology and move on.”
Instead, the league is moving on without Gruden.
—Arnie Stapleton, The Associated Press