Jon Gruden is the perfect example of how mediocre white men get to thrive in the workplace

An average, overpaid white male leader saying racist things behind closed doors isn’t surprising

We may earn a commission from links on this page.
Jon Gruden’s coaching career is somehow celebrated despite a lifetime record barely above .500.
Jon Gruden’s coaching career is somehow celebrated despite a lifetime record barely above .500.
Photo: Getty Images

Jon Gruden isn’t good at his job. His true talent is making you think he is.

The Oakland Raiders head coach has been able to stick around the NFL as both a coach and commentator because he has a Super Bowl ring. However, smart people will quickly remind you that Gruden’s crowning achievement was given, not earned, as the 2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers weren’t his creation. The team, and most notably its standout defense, was built by Gruden’s predecessor, Tony Dungy — a Black man.

Dungy’s race has to be mentioned because “race” is why Gruden is in hot water for making racist comments about NFL Players Association president DeMaurice Smith — a Black man — in 2011 when he said, “Dum­b­oriss Smith has lips the size of michellin [sic] tires.”

“This is not the first racist comment that I’ve heard and it probably will not be the last,” Smith said. “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.”

Ironically enough, on the same day the news broke about Gruden’s past comments, NFLPA team representatives voted to keep Smith in his role, a move that was not guaranteed amid multiple reports earlier this year speculating that Smith might have been on his way out.


Black people tend to come together in the face of racism.


But instead of using this moment to show actual remorse for what he did, Gruden — like most white men who get caught saying or doing something wrong — made things worse with his indignance at being held accountable. And after Sunday’s loss to the Bears, Gruden went full Brett Kavanaugh.

“I’m not a racist,” he declared. Which is what all racists say when they get exposed. He followed that up by saying, “I’m not going to answer all these questions today,” as he felt that a series of questions about the biggest story in the NFL was overkill.


When things you’ve never been qualified for get handed to you, it makes you soft. Like how when Gruden got a TV show when he was at ESPN, Jon Gruden’s QB Camp, he proceeded to fawn over every prospect he met with, and failed more than he succeeded with his predictions on their NFL careers. And then, when he returned to coaching, the Raiders signed him to a 10-year, $100 million contract, although his winning percentage is barely over .500 and he’s only made the playoffs five times in his 15 years as a head coach. However, rewarding a mediocre coach with a ridiculous contract wasn’t the most egregious thing the Raiders did in 2018 — it was whom they chose to put in power, and how they did it.

In case you forgot, Raiders owner Mark Davis basically admitted to hiring Gruden before he fired then-head coach Jack Del Rio. The Raiders skirted the Rooney rule, their interviews with Tee Martin and Bobby Johnson all for show. Then, with Gruden in place, the Raiders hired Mike Mayock to be their general manager. Mayock had no prior front office experience before he got the job — he was previously an NFL Network draft analyst who once said he’d take Blaine Gabbert over Cam Newton. But, according to reports, Gruden wanted Mayock, and the Raiders weren’t going to let the Rooney Rule stop them.


Two white men, in a Black league, were hired in positions of power from which people of color are often excluded, all because their employer finagled a rule put in place to prevent these exact situations from happening — or at the very least making them less common — all while neither Gruden nor Mayock had proven that they were worthy of the jobs, or the salaries that come along with them.

If this isn’t a picture-perfect example of how race and gender work for the benefit of unqualified white men in America, then I challenge you to find a better example.


Ultimately Gruden may be fined for his words, and could even face a suspension of some sort. However, whatever the “punishment” is, it won’t fit the crime. The league can’t come down on him too harshly since he wasn’t an employee at the time, and the Raiders’ hands are tied as well, as Gruden was working for ESPN when he hit send on that email.

So if you’re looking for somebody to make an example out of Gruden, that’s not going to happen. This is just the latest incident in which the flawed character of a white man in charge has been exposed, as we’re seeing just how so many people really think about people of color. However, the silver lining in all of this is that on Sunday, the Bears beat the Raiders. The win gave Justin Fields — a young Black quarterback — a winning record for the season, while Gruden was forced to play Nathan Peterman, the worst quarterback in NFL history. That’s sweet serendipity.