Inside Jon Gruden’s mind

[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.

Coach Jon Gruden called NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell a bad name. (Photo: N.Y. Post)

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. 

15 thoughts on “Inside Jon Gruden’s mind”

  1. Further proof that anyone who thinks we still have freedom of speech is a fool.The internet totally destroyed what was left of it.And it never really existed in the workplace.Cancel culture marches on fueled by the Marxist,lying media who throw all logic and common sense out the window.

      1. The term (I’ve never seen it or heard it used before either!) seems to suggest that one can be guilty of something, but disclosing it is the real crime! WTF! “Yeah I cheated, but they knew and didn’t tell, so they’re more guilty!”

    When we talk, sometimes you cringe. Go figure. When I call Dom, his finger is poised over the dump button. Can’t figure out that one either. We grew up using all the words that are not permitted today. Some times, those words were spoken out of anger, sometimes not. When you’re Italian and you call another – ‘wop’, well, you get the idea,
    First amendment is alive and well. Work place ethic codes are a necessity. One cannot attend a board meeting after climbing out of a sewer. One can curb his tongue out of respect for the people at that meeting, if not yourself included.
    I believe that when you’re in the sights of someone with power, it’s only a matter of time till they get you. Be it Gruden or Johnny Doc or often times, me.

  3. I am in agreement with your remarks but I really get my balls in a tangle when anything like this is written spoken against any person public or private for the use of words that are in the Dictionary. We thought when George Carlin went all the way to the Supreme Court that was a victory to say IN PUBLIC those seven words. Nobody owns a word so if I choose to use any of the words that he used they may be taken in the context that I may have used them improperly but to make demands of a firing, career condemnation, family, and friends on the defensive is a regressive step by the political correct assholes who have used most of his words in private and now jump on his use of them in an e-mail. I also remember the private comments on Facebook resulting in the dismissal of police officers who stupidly made them without knowing city policy. I never liked Jon Gruden but I would like him now if he would take an offensive position to strike back against a media and sports players who have probably used more invective curse words when he won a game against them or failed to respond to a sports writers question. I think I will respond on a media and sports platform using Carlins’ seven words to show my disdain for the two-faced commenters who have joined the fear crowd to stand up against those who slowly are erasing the first Amendment. I am a proud supporter of the free use of any word said privately where the context is not meant to abuse or incur physical harm.

  4. Stu, Another excellent commentary. I will be forever grateful that these bastards can’t lock me up for what I think. I might never get out.

  5. I agree. I’m no Constitutional scholar, but I’m pretty sure nowhere in that document does it say American citizens have the right to not have their feelings hurt. Outlawing personal opinions and certain words is far more damaging than those words and opinions could ever be.

    1. Chuck,well said.
      As Salman Rushdie asked: ” What is freedom of expression? Without the freedom to offend,it ceases to exist”.
      It also reminds me of Jerry Seinfeld’s concerns about the censorship police( my words) who exist everywhere- particularly affecting the young, who dare not cross the heterodox line..
      ” They don’t know what the f–k they’re talking about”.(I believe he is saying that young people are still developing…and in order to learn,they gotta make some mistakes)

      Stu,Spot on as usual.

  6. While I agree with a number of the things said here by Chuck Darrow, Thomas Garvey, Anthony Clark, etc. I believe there a point that is being overlooked or ignored. The following quote from Elisabeth Kubler-Ross sums it up.

    “I believe that we are solely responsible for our choices, and we have to accept the consequences of every deed, word, and thought throughout our lifetime.”

  7. The NFL ought to release the other 650,000 e-mails. Why just release Gruden’s? What else is in those e-mails? Enquiring minds want to know.

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