On Oct. 11, former Las Vegas Raiders head coach Jon Gruden resigned after emails he sent to former Washington Football Team executive Bruce Allen containing homophobic, racist, sexist and otherwise vulgar language were leaked.
The emails sent by Gruden were only a few of 650,000 emails in review by the NFL. Another related investigation into misconduct by the Washington front office has revealed a toxic, abusive culture centered around executives’ behavior toward the team’s cheerleaders.
Then, a month later, Gruden sued the NFL, alleging that the league selectively leaked his emails in an effort to jettison him from football. While Gruden’s emails were unquestionably grounds for his removal, there is clearly widespread, inexcusable behavior propagating through the NFL. It is fairly evident that Allen, Gruden and the handful of other executives named and punished are not the only guilty among the senders of the 650,000 emails.
This is why the NFL must take the hit and accept the demands of Gruden and NFL Players Association Executive Director DeMaurice Smith, who was a target of Gruden’s hateful remarks. Smith is calling on commissioner Robert Goodell to release the rest of the emails, likely beginning a long, treacherous fight for the NFL to rid itself of its own archaic culture.
There is no place in the United States’ top professional sports league for the language used by Gruden. The league’s only current openly gay player, Carl Nassib, plays for the Raiders. Nassib publicly came out on June 21, and then for four months was coached by a man who stated that lineman Michael Sam shouldn’t have been drafted due to his sexuality.
It is time for Goodell and the rest of the league to snap out of their self-protecting ways. As white owners and executives cling to power and sweep scandal after scandal under the rug to ensure their own sanctity, players will become more and more disenfranchised by the lack of representation in front offices.
Black players make up almost 70% of the league’s playing rosters, yet only eight of the NFL’s general managers and coaches are Black. It took until this June for the NFL to stop using a formula for concussion protocols, which assumed that Black players had lower cognitive functioning.
Racism clearly permeates the league, from Colin Kaepernick’s blackballing to Gruden’s remarks. Whatever lies in the unreleased emails will, if publicized, likely expose even more executives’ hateful rhetoric.
Despite the PR nightmare that the league will face, it will ensure a necessary cleansing of those behind the NFL’s cultural hell. Players, cheerleaders and other personnel should feel both respected and represented by those in their front offices. Even if it is a self-battering blow, Goodell needs to allow the evidence he has collected speak for itself in a public forum.
Gruden’s resignation must also set the stage for how the NFL handles a hypothetical release of the emails. Whether the executives leave on their own accord or are given a push out the door, it is time for the league to make a turn in the right direction. Rid the sport of those who promote the culture of toxicity.