Jon Gruden is out as coach of the Las Vegas Raiders because of what he wrote in private emails. The emails are described by the media as “racist,” “homophobic,” and “misogynist.”
From what I can tell, the racism consists of making fun of the lip size of the head of the players’ union who is Black. The homophobia consists of calling NFL commissioner Roger Goodell the other “f” word and criticizing the commissioner for allegedly pressuring an NFL team to draft an openly gay college player — a “queer” in Gruden’s lexicon.
The misogyny consists of emailing pictures of topless women. There may be other manifestations of one or more of these forms of bias, but these are the ones I’ve read about.
My analysis of this matter begins with the fact that Gruden did all of these things privately. It should also end there but, as you probably can guess, it won’t.
In my opinion, no one should ever lose one’s job over statements made in private unless the statements are criminal in nature (for example, planning a riot in private emails) or are correctly viewed as highly offensive by the person to whom they are made.
Neither condition is satisfied here. First, there’s nothing criminal about the emails.
Second, Gruden wrote them to his friend Bruce Allen, then the president of the Washington Redskins as the team was called at the time. The emails were discovered because of an investigation of alleged sexual harassment within the Redskins’ organization. They were made public because. . .I’m not sure. No other emails from the investigation have been. Maybe Goodell wanted them released because he was a target of some of the abuse.
In any event, there’s no indication that Allen was offended by what his buddy wrote to him.
Thus, Gruden shouldn’t be punished. (He resigned, but reportedly was about to be fired.) Punishing people for what they say in private is a hallmark of totalitarian societies.
It might be argued that, private or not, the comments in the emails were such that once they were reported Gruden could not effectively coach the Raiders’ players. This may be true, but I doubt it.
Only the racial remark might have posed a barrier (although the Raiders do have one openly gay player, a reserve). But the black players know Gruden. They have an understanding of whether he’s a racist. If they were satisfied based on their dealings with him that he’s not, he probably would have been able to keep coaching them effectively.
Had Gruden made his statements in public, I would understand punishing him and even firing him. In a calmer, less identity-obsessed society, the discipline would likely stop short of discharge. That would be fine and probably preferable, assuming a proper apology.
But discharging Gruden, had he made his comments publicly, wouldn’t be unreasonable given the absence of mitigating factors in his case. The coach certainly couldn’t plead youth. Nor would a “stray remarks” defense hold water. Apparently, Gruden’s salty comments to Bruce Allen were persistent.
It should be within Gruden’s rights to criticize (even publicly) pressuring a team to draft a player because he is gay. Teams should draft players based on football factors, not sexual preference. And the word “queer” (the “Q” in LBGTQ) isn’t beyond the pale.
But calling someone the other “f” word goes too far, I think, even if the word isn’t directed at someone who’s gay (which I think is the case with Goodell). So does ridiculing a black man for having large lips.
Again, though, Gruden’s writings were private and thus (1) shouldn’t have been released and (2) shouldn’t be a basis for disciplinary action or the threat of it.
One final note. Tampa Bay, the team Gruden guided to its first Super Bowl victory, is removing the coach from its Ring of Honor. Yet, as Ben Domenech points out, Warren Sapp, who pleaded guilty to domestic assault, continues to enjoy that honor.
An America in which bad words are considered a greater offense than bad actions is an America headed downhill fast.