Another day, another bigot begging for karma to bite him in the ass. This time it’s Jon Gruden, who never thought the racist remarks he made in correspondence several years ago would see the light of day.
According to a report by Andrew Beaton of the Wall Street Journal, the Las Vegas Raiders head coach used a racially charged description of NFL Players Association President DeMaurice Smith in an email to former Washington GM Bruce Allen. Gruden, who worked for ESPN at the time, sent the message to Allen during the NFL lockout of 2011.
“Dumboriss Smith has lips the size of michellin [sic] tires,” Gruden wrote.
To be a 58-year-old white man in America and have zero knowledge surrounding the racial implications of describing any Black person that way? It’s bullshit. You can miss me with that nonsense. Gruden knows exactly what he did. He knew the history and the context when he sent that email. The racial trope Gruden used to describe Smith is in line with Mammy, Aunt Jemima, and some of Disney’s racist cartoons using anti-Black imagery dating back to the 1920s.
“I was upset,” Gruden said this week. “I used a horrible way of explaining it.”
“I don’t think he’s dumb. I don’t think he’s a liar,” he told WSJ. “I don’t have a racial bone in my body, and I’ve proven that for 58 years.”
So Gruden doesn’t think Smith is dumb. Alright, he was angry and went overboard. But apparently Gruden stands by his “lips the size of michellin tires’’ comment — there was no mention of it in his apology, besides explaining how he’s used the term “rubber lips’’ in the past, referring to people he thought were lying. This certainly doesn’t prove that Gruden has no “racial bone in his body,” as he claims.
Of course, the NFL was quick to condemn the remarks of one of its most popular coaches over the past two decades, as if the league’s own moral compass had finally led it in the right direction. Gruden should be called out by the NFL, by ESPN, and by anyone who’s sick of attitudes like this toward people of color and other minorities in this country.
“The email from Jon Gruden denigrating DeMaurice Smith is appalling, abhorrent, and wholly contrary to the NFL’s values,” said league spokesman Brian McCarthy. “We condemn the statement and regret any harm that its publication may inflict on Mr. Smith or anyone else.”
The Raiders also released a statement addressing Gruden’s comments, taking great care to pass the buck by making it clear that he wasn’t employed by the team when he sent the message.
It’s especially appalling to see this type of incident happening within the Raiders organization. Under Al Davis’ guidance, the Raiders were known for inclusion and diversity. The team had always been known for giving high-profile opportunities to racial minorities and women.
Davis appointed Tom Flores to succeed John Madden in 1979, making Flores the league’s first-ever minority head coach. In 1989, Davis made Art Shell the first Black head coach in professional football history. And Davis named a woman, Amy Trask, to the position of team CEO in 1997. Davis wouldn’t have given a rat’s ass that Gruden’s comments came before he worked for the Raiders — I don’t believe he would have been OK with any of this.
Now the onus is on the current Raiders owner — Davis’ son Mark — and, ultimately, the NFL. Even if the Raiders do nothing to discipline Gruden, the league can and should step in with some type of disciplinary action. If they’re as committed to diversity and inclusion as they claim to be, this is the perfect opportunity to prove it. Send his ass home for a few games. Send his ass home for the rest of the season. Show us this type of behavior won’t be tolerated, no matter whose watch it’s on. As a head coach, Gruden represents the NFL. Protect the shield. Isn’t that the NFL’s slogan? Well, this is a horrible look for the shield. That is, if they are as genuinely concerned as they claim to be.
As for DeMaurice Smith, he’s chosen to take the high road in response to this story.
“This is not the first racist comment that I’ve heard, and it probably will not be the last.” Smith told the Wall Street Journal. “This is a thick skin job for someone with dark skin, just like it always has been for many people who look like me and work in corporate America. You know people are sometimes saying things behind your back that are racist just like you see people talk and write about you using thinly coded and racist language.
“Racism like this comes from the fact that I’m at the same table as they are, and they don’t think someone who looks like me belongs. I’m sorry my family has to see something like this, but I would rather they know. I will not let it define me.”
In the following days and weeks, NFL fans will be watching to see how the NFL handles this story. It has also come out that Gruden made disparaging remarks about Commissioner Roger Goodell in the same 2011 emails. The exact comments Gruden made about Goodell have not been made public (yet), but those will almost surely be “leaked” eventually. Maybe that’s what it’ll take for the NFL to care.