Pro-football takes a stand
A distasteful expression occasionally comes up, “Opinions are like assholes, everyone has one.” It’s a wonderful string of letters, into words, into one strong sentence that proves the written word is often more powerful than the spoken word. However, the actual phrase is “Opinions are like assholes, everyone has one, but they think each other’s stink.” Now before you decide to cancel me, please let me weave this into a tale about professional sports and their people.
Today you will be reading about a firing, “resignation” — or whatever — of Jon Gruden, the head coach of the Las Vegas Raiders. Many of his texts and emails that brought on his demise were written years before working for the Raiders, but we’ll get to that shortly.
Perhaps you don’t know that the Oakland Raiders was one of the original teams in the American Football League, which opened in 1960 as a competitor to the National Football League. Because they played in cities where the NFL was absent, the games became very popular, and eventually the AFL and the NFL merged into what most would consider an ordained monopoly in the US.
Al Davis, the man own worked his way from coach to owner, created the the Raiders image of being a tough bunch from every player, every coach and all the fans. While their black and silver uniforms and logo depicting a football player in a silver helmet and eye patch is scary enough, they added two crossed swords that promise death to their enemies. Al Davis used to say, “Just win, Baby!” They players knew that if they didn’t, it would be time to find a new team. Much has been written about the Raiders because they tend to make news.
They’ve also been nomads. When Davis didn’t get what he wanted from the city of Oakland, he packed up the team, shuffled them to Los Angeles (1982–1994) and grew the fan base in southern California. Then, when L.A. proved too much for the man, he moved his team back to Oakland (1995–2019). Then, in 2020, he shifted the Raiders to Las Vegas. Along with all the moving, they won many division and conference championships and they topped the Super Bowl two times.
Al Davis died in 2011. His son Mark now runs the show. He has a bowl haircut that many believed was a wig, until someone asked why a $500 million man would buy such a god-awful hairpiece. That haircut has been likened to the style of a Roman centurion. See how I have set the stage for a sort of roman gladiator purge?
Last night (10-11-2021), Jon Gruden resigned as coach of the Las Vegas Raiders because of the embarrassment his emails caused the team. His alleged language was said to be racist, homophobic, and misogynistic. What a beautiful bouquet of hate. Gruden released a statement Monday night which included the words, “I’m sorry, I never meant to hurt anyone.” That common lie is the same one we always hear when a sin is in writing.
Gruden is an atypical football guy. He grew up in Ohio and played football for the University of Dayton, but there are no statistics about his playing. Maybe he went into coaching because he wasn’t a good player. He was an assistant coach at eight different schools until he landed a coaching job with Al Davis and the Raiders in 1998, where he lasted for three years. Then Davis did something strange. He traded his head coach for players from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Amazingly, Gruden won the Super Bowl with the Bucs in 2003, beating the Oakland Raiders! This brought him instant fame, notoriety and, shall I say, respect in this machismo world.
Gruden became less successful, and after he was dismissed from Tampa he began a career as a commentator for ESPN. He was extremely well-suited for this role because of his knowledge, loquacious personality and, at times, colorful language. It was surprising when Mark Davis asked Gruden to return as the Raiders’ head coach in 2018, but a ten-year, $100 million contract sealed the deal. The team had been lackluster and Davis felt Gruden had the ability and skills to turn the Raiders around. The team finished 4–12 in Gruden’s first season back, but after finally moving into a brand-new Las Vegas stadium they opened this year 3 and 0. Since then, they have lost two games.
Now let’s look into the what and when of Gruden’s emails? The funny thing about electronic correspondence is the text is stored on servers, even after an author believes they deleted them. Old e-mails are often discovered when a lawsuit enters the discovery phase. In this case, it was a discrimination and harassment suit brought by employees of the Washington Football Team, you know, the one that used to be called the “Redskins.” Gruden had corresponded with an employee of that organization, President Bruce Allen (a former Raiders colleague of Gruden’s), and his emails are now part of the public record. I have no desire to disclose Gruden’s exact language, you can find that published by other sources, but all of this reveals some interesting things.
Gruden seems to have many entrenched opinions and he has been exposed as a right-wing nutjob with deep seated and disturbing prejudices and phobias. It has been disclosed he was dreadfully against having gay players in the NFL, and he continuously referred to NFL Commissioner, Roger Goodell, using a gay slur. Mr. Goodell is not gay, but his views on the LGBT community have been shaped by his gay brother, Michael. For whatever reason, Jon was bothered by this and attacked Roger.
Some of the email discussions were about Michael Sam, the first openly gay player in the NFL. Gruden used an anti-gay slur to claim that Goodell pressured the Rams to draft the player, which is probably not true. Ironically, this year Las Vegas Raiders‘ defensive end Carl Nassib came out as being gay, the first on the team to do so. Wow, how did Gruden miss that one? I guess his “gaydar” was down.
The New York Times claims that in 2017 Gruden responded to a sexist meme of a newly minted female NFL official on the field by writing, “Nice job Roger.” In the legal discovery of the Washington Football Team case, Bruce Allen and Gruden shared pictures of the team’s cheerleaders clad only in bikini bottoms. So, who has the redskin now? You know, red-faced embarrassed?
Gruden has been very vocal against players taking a stand, by taking a knee. Like a certain former president, he does not like Obama, Biden, or anyone else having a desire to express their views, especially those he thought had a bad smell. He’s a closet racist, which is not a good orientation when 68.7% of players in the pro-football industry are African Americans.
It appears that we can now check three boxes: racism, homophobia and misogynism. Now I know this is football, but those embody the “three strikes and you’re out” concept used in our nation every day. But let’s not miss this point. Mark Davis is not only a good businessperson, he’s also an honest football executive. I am sure his old man is proud of him, despite Mark’s horrible haircut.
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