Back in 2016, Bleacher Report wrote this in a profile of former Raiders head coach Jon Gruden:
When he was the head coach of the Raiders and Buccaneers, Gruden famously awoke every morning at 3:17 to the Notre Dame fight song. The alarm clock that played it, a relic from his childhood, expired of natural causes.
These days, he is awakened by cellphone. He chooses between alarms set for 4:29, 4:15, 4:04, 4:00, 3:52, 3:47, 3:45, 3:30 and 3:15—”just in case I need to cram a little.” Most days, he is at his desk by 4 a.m., and he stays there, save for a workout, for about 12 hours.
It’s not the first time we’ve seen a man’s maniacal obsession with football written about as if it were a positive, rather than an obsessive compulsion that probably requires therapy. Former Jets coach Adam Gase reportedly abandoned his wife shortly after she gave birth, opting to meet with Peyton Manning.
“Jennifer says, “They didn’t even put my organs back and sew me up before he’s like, ‘You good?’ I said, ‘Yeah, I’m good.’” He said, ‘All right then, I’m out.’ They said, ‘You want to cut the umbilical cord?’ He said, ‘No, I’m good.’”
This story flew all over the footballverse as if it were some kind of charming anecdote about all the “sacrifices” Gase was willing to make, rather than straight up psychopathic behavior. Stories of Gruden’s obsession with all things football, to the exclusion of everything else in life, are legendary.
So it shouldn’t surprise anyone that a coach so obsessed with football, and only football, turned out to have an entire trove of sexist, racist, homophobic emails just waiting to be leaked to the public. In fact, it’s amazing we didn’t find out about these emails long ago. Football, and the NFL in particular, doesn’t care about employing well-rounded, worldly individuals. It cares only about winning football games. Which is why we’ve all laughed at the league’s attempts to make up for decades of racism and sexism and homophobia with a few token hires and a few end-zone slogans. The entire league is broken because of the people who run it.
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Gruden is a man who had no problem signing notorious sexist, racist, homophobic bully Richie Incognito to play for his football team, despite a history of behavior that goes well past bullying and into some form of sociopathy. Here’s what Gruden had to say about Incognito’s signing with the Raiders:
“Last time [Incognito] strapped it on, he was one of the best. We need to solidify that position [left guard]. That was a sore spot last year, we played four different left guards and it hurt us. Hopefully, Richie finds his stride like he had a couple years ago because when he’s right, he’s one of the best in football.
Yeah. Screw the fact that this man tormented a younger player out of the game and attacked a guy at his gym. We need a left guard!
Jon Gruden went on to decide what his team really needed was Antonio Brown, a player who, at that point, hadn’t yet been accused of sexual misconduct by multiple women, but had settled a lawsuit for throwing furniture off his 14th floor balcony, nearly hitting a 2-year old child below. How that isn’t an enormous red flag for any adult human of what was to come from Brown is bewildering, but again, FOOTBALL.
For the decades that I’ve been a football fan, I’ve watched men in positions of power in the NFL overlook the harm they and their players cause to those around them because of football. Football trumps domestic abuse. Football trumps sexual assault. Football trumps child abuse. Football trumps and even excuses racism. Football demands you keep playing with a concussion, a broken neck, a cracked spine, your quality of life after the game be damned. Football must be fed, appeased, prioritized over all else.
When teams hire men who are celebrated for caring only for football, don’t be surprised when it turns out they don’t really care for anything or anyone else. Are we really shocked that a “football, fuck yeah!” NFL coach sent around topless pics denigrating female referees? Or that a white man who makes his money off the battering of Black bodies is a racist? We are not, but propriety demands we pretend to be. Because buying into the NFL means agreeing to just not think about some things until we are forced to confront them. But we all know what kind of guys thrive and succeed in the NFL. It’s bizarre that the league keeps hiring the same types of coaches, praising their myopic view of the world, and then shaming and firing them when the truth comes out.
The next time a media outlet comes out with a puff piece about all the “sacrifices” a head coach makes for FOOTBALL, maybe we should take a step back and ask whether this is really the kind of person we want to put in charge of other people. Do we really expect a person with blinders on for anything but football to create a healthy environment for their players? To put their health and safety first? To care about violence against women, racism, and homophobia? To stand with players in protesting injustice? To balance football with the more important things in life?
The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. It’s time to change our framework for what a “football guy” is.