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Gruden is gone, now the NFL should get rid of those who enabled him

Racist, anti-gay and misogynistic attitudes still exist in the NFL. Can the enablers be flushed out?

Jon Gruden is gone.

In a stunning turn of events that unfolded on Monday, Gruden was forced to resign as Las Vegas Raiders coach in the face of an avalanche of racist, anti-gay and misogynist emails first disclosed by The New York Times.

So, Gruden, who was in the fourth year of a $100 million contract, is history. That’s a good thing. But my concern is about the legion of enablers who supported Gruden all of these years.

What about them? Who are they?

The NFL has gotten rid of its Gruden problem. It has not gotten rid of Gruden-ism: regressive sensibilities that stand foursquare against diversity, inclusion and tolerance.

Gruden’s trip to the gallows began Friday when The Wall Street Journal reported that the 58-year-old coach used a racist trope in a 2011 email to then-Washington Redskins team president Bruce Allen to describe DeMaurice Smith, the NFL Players Association executive director. At the time, Gruden was the lead analyst for ESPN’s Monday Night Football. The leaked emails were part of an NFL investigation into workplace conditions inside the Washington Football Team organization. The investigation was concluded last summer.

What we don’t know is how Allen replied to Gruden. Was he sympathetic? Did he chastise Gruden? Did he respond with a LOL? Depending on his response, Allen, who was fired in 2019, should never again be allowed to work in the NFL.

As it pores through 650,000 emails, the NFL should round up the recipients of Gruden’s rants and out them as well. Tell us who they are. Did they know that Gruden held these views? Did they pass them off, as Donald Trump did during his presidential campaign, as “locker room talk”? People like Gruden need an audience. They thrive on friends and cronies who laugh at the racist jokes, who egg them on, who provide aid and comfort.

The reality is that the NFL, for all of its attempts to move forward, has been revealed as a regressive organization populated by white men who hold views about race and power that are antithetical to progress and enlightenment. Trust me, Gruden is not the only person who holds these beliefs. He’s the only one stupid enough, or emboldened enough, to express them via email.

Typically, Gruden does not see himself as a bigot. In reaction to The Wall Street Journal disclosure last week, Gruden defended himself by saying that he did not have a racist bone in his body. Indeed, the deluge of emails reported by the Times on Monday revealed that Gruden did not have just one racist bone: His entire being was consumed by bigotry.

Gruden checked all the boxes:

Racist. Check.

Bigot. Check.

Anti-gay. Check.

Misogynist. Check.

Just read his quotes. In the emails reviewed by the Times, no one was spared. He used “f—-t” to describe NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. He chastised the NFL for forcing the St. Louis Rams and then-coach Jeff Fisher to draft “a queer.” The reference was to Michael Sam, an openly gay player who was drafted by St. Louis in 2014. Gruden did not like the idea of women rising through the ranks as officials, either, and he certainly did not like player protests, complaining that NFL player Eric Reid, who continued to kneel during the playing of the national anthem, should have been fired.

My question is to whom was Gruden writing? Who was his audience? Were they league executives, powerful entities in other areas in the sports and broadcast industry? This could explain why former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick was blackballed.

The people who enabled Gruden, who laughed at his racist jokes, guffawed and winked at his anti-gay quips, are still around. So why is it important that we root out these enablers? These enablers are in positions of power and control, making important decisions about who gets hired, who gets promoted and which initiatives are launched.

We need to know who these people are. How do we flush them out?

Am I surprised that Gruden resigned? I thought Gruden would only resign if Raiders players demanded his resignation. That was a battle the players would have not been able to win.

His persona was that of an entitled, charismatic frat boy who made thoughtless, off-the-cuff comments that were passed off as Jon being Jon. That was his allure in the broadcast booth: He would tell it like it is.

Raiders owner Mark Davis was so enamored with Gruden that he gave him an unprecedented 10-year, $100 million contract. Davis was forced to finally accept Gruden’s resignation after the deluge of email disclosures became public. You can’t have a person who spews this kind of ignorance working in your organization in any capacity.

As for Gruden, I was not surprised that he made the comments via email that were attributed to him. His persona was that of an entitled, charismatic frat boy who made thoughtless, off-the-cuff comments that were passed off as Jon being Jon. That was his allure in the broadcast booth: He would tell it like it is. That he has.

As for the 10 years that have passed since the recovered emails were revealed, in the war on racism, there is no statute of limitations. War criminals should be sought out and punished.

Jon Gruden is gone. Now the NFL should go after his enablers.

William C. Rhoden, the former award-winning sports columnist for The New York Times and author of Forty Million Dollar Slaves, is a writer-at-large for Andscape.