[Disclosure: This column contains offensive language, in context, necessary for understanding.]
I probably wouldn’t want Jon Gruden as a friend, but would I not hire him as a football coach?
I’ll answer that in a minute, but first I’ll bring you up to date with what created the latest cause celebre. The New York Times got its hands on emails, dating back 10 years, in which the coach and former ESPN analyst used racist, homophobic, and sexist language on his personal, not business, email account. Newsweek published a long story detailing the language, while cleaning some of it up, and lacking some detail.
We know he used “faggot” several times in referring to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, who has been called worse due to some controversial decisions he has made. Gruden also called Goodell (and Joe Biden) a “pussy.” Had Gruden called him an “asshole,” there would have been no public blowback.
This is not a cancel culture story because Gruden resigned as the head coach of the
Oakland Los Angeles Las Vegas Raiders, after the story broke.
Would Raiders owner Mark Davis have fired him? My guess is yes.
The emails were uncovered during an NFL probe into the Washington
Redskins football club, which stood accused of its own improprieties.
So how did the emails get to be public?
Is it likely Gruden or the other recipients — who apparently used bad language, too — released them?
I think not. I think the other party with access to them — the NFL — released them to take down Gruden. That is an opinion based on long experience.
I haven’t seen much commentary on how that happened. With other notable leaks — from the Pentagon Papers (Daniel Ellsberg) to Wikileaks (Julian Assange) — we know who went public. In this case, we don’t, and we should. Isn’t anyone going to claim “credit” for turning personal emails into public documents?
I spent some time Tuesday listening to MSNBC and CNN hosts go ballistic about the emails. They seemed to think Gruden actually hurt someone. He did not. Any hurt came after the Times published the emails.
Here’s my question: Do people have a right to their private thoughts, even when they are racist, homophobic, misogynistic, anti-Semitic, Islamophobic, transphobic?
My answer is yes. They are also permitted, under the U.S. Constitution, to speak these thoughts, or publish them.
It is not a crime to be racist, homophobic, misogynistic, anti-Semitic, Islamophobic, or transphobic. It is criminal only to act against such people, or to deny them their rights. (I know LGBTQ etc do not have guaranteed rights in all jurisdictions. They should.)
Back to my question, would I hire him, knowing he does not share my values and what I present as the values of the team? Maybe.
That is a choice of individual owners. I would not prohibit them from hiring him.
When Eagles owner Jeff Lurie hired convicted dog-torturer Michael Vick, I screamed bloody murder. He had served his time, and I knew some team would hire him. I just didn’t think it would be my team. Vick committed an actual crime, not a micro aggression. (Vick’s later actions convinced me that he was contrite and has reformed.)
When I read that Gruden had used the term “faggot,” it reminded me that State Sen. Vince Fumo used that same term on a fellow senator — on the floor of the senate!
The gay community immediately forgave Fumo for two reasons, Philadelphia Gay News publisher Mark Segal explained to me.
First, Fumo was a long-time supporter and protector of the gay community, and was actually arguing for gay marriage during that notable exchange on the senate floor.
Second, it was one time. If it happened more than once, “then I would educate him,” said Segal.
One difference is that Fumo used “faggot” publicly, while Gruden used it privately.
I am not defending him, I am pointing to an important distinction.
Words are malleable, and the gay community has been very clever in “owning” words used against them. They use “queer” — a word Gruden used — all the time, although it was once a slur. They have appropriated the word “gay” from the straight community, so is “faggot” (original meaning a bundle of sticks) actually so very terrible?
I understand why “cocksucker” is considered homophobic. It is used against men to suggest they engage in oral sex with men and that is wrong. (From the homophobic point of view.)
“Motherfucker” is pretty damn bad, suggesting the recipient engages in incest. But, really, wasn’t your father a “motherfucker?”
I’m drifting here.
The protagonist in my just-published novel, “Press Card,” uses horribly vile language. He never uses “faggot” or “cocksucker,” but does freely toss around “pigfucker.”
Can that get me trouble with PETA for suggesting bestiality?
Yes, it’s fiction, but that didn’t protect Mark Twain’s “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” from charges of racism.
Gruden used unspecified “racist terms” on NFL Players Association Executive Director DeMaurice Smith, who is Black. One reported reference was, “Dumboriss Smith has lips the size of Michelin tires.”
There is no indication Gruden ever used the N-word in public or against one of his Black players.
He also objected to “queers” playing in the NFL, but coached one gay player, who has not yet spoken, as I write this.
He also objected to women refs, and felt kneeling players should be disciplined. These last two are his opinion and protected speech. No one is asking you to agree.
Gruden and his male pals passed around pictures of topless females, as if that had never happened in the history of the world. Female careers have been built on toplessness, as in Playboy. It is jock mentality, but women freely posed for the pictures, so let’s measure our outrage.
If you believe in free speech, you must understand that ugly speech, and even hate speech, are protected.
Yes, free speech can be emotionally harmful.
But when you ban it, you stifle first the language, and then the thought.
And you are no longer free.