How Gruden’s emails expose NFL’s regressive attitude, and what change should look like

One of the National Football League’s most well-known head coaches — Jon Gruden of the Las Vegas Raiders — is out of a job after a series of highly offensive emails were publicly disclosed by The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. Gruden's swift resignation Monday raises larger questions about representation and inclusion in professional football. William Brangham has the story.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    One of the NFL's most well-known head coaches, Jon Gruden of the Las Vegas Raiders, is out of a job after a series of highly offensive e-mails were publicly disclosed by The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.

    William Brangham has the story.

  • William Brangham:

    Judy, these e-mails show Gruden repeatedly using racist, anti-gay and misogynistic language. They date back to 2010, when Gruden was an analyst for ESPN. He rejoined the Raiders as head coach in 2018.

    As reported, Gruden was communicating with, among others, Bruce Allen, who is the one-time president of the Washington Football Team. In one exchange, Gruden used a racist stereotype to describe DeMaurice Smith, head of the NFL Players Association, who is Black.

    Using an anti-gay slur, Gruden complained when, in 2014, an NFL team drafted Michael Sam, the first openly gay player. Carl Nassib, who's the first active NFL player to come out as gay, plays for the Raiders, Gruden's former team.

    William C. Rhoden is a columnist for the sports media site The Undefeated.

    Bill Rhoden, great to have you back on the "NewsHour."

    I wonder if you could just give me, what was your reaction when you first heard about this whole saga?

  • William C. Roden, The Undefeated:

    Yes.

    Well, I was surprised, not because I was surprised by what Gruden said and that he said it, but more that I know that he is very popular, people like him. He's kind of known in the business as a guy's guy. And the owner likes him a lot. In fact, he gave him this unprecedented 10-year contract.

    And I know that he did not want to see him leave. So I thought that he was just going to try to run out the clock and play it out. But it just got to be too much, with — if it had been just DeMaurice Smith and the racism, maybe he could have walked with that, but you're calling the commissioner a slur. He checked every single box of bigotry and racism.

    And in this NFL, where they're talking about diversity and inclusion, he just could not survive that. So I was surprised that they did it so quickly. I was not surprised at what he said.

  • William Brangham:

    In your column for The Undefeated, you wrote not just about Gruden, but Grudenism and how this represents a much larger culture within the NFL.

    What did you mean by that?

  • William C. Roden:

    There are a lot of people — the NFL is very regressive, despite all the efforts of being open.

    There are a lot of people who really agree with everything that Gruden said. They're not crazy about women becoming officials or anything in a position of power. They're not crazy about athletes getting their voice. You know, they don't say anything, but this is an attitude that's there.

    And I'm also really curious about these others. Going forward, who did he write these e-mails to? Who's on the receiving end? And what was their reaction? You know, I really would hope the Players Association will force NFL to give us more information. Who are these people and what was their reaction?

    Because Gruden was enabled. And I want to find out who these enablers were. It's one thing to get rid of Gruden. But when I refer to Grudenism, I'm talking about that sort of sensibility that he represents, which I feel is alive and well, not just in the NFL, but, as we have seen in the past few years, throughout our country.

    So that's what's a little disturbing. I mean, he's gone. Sort of like the nail is gone, but the hole is still there.

  • William Brangham:

    The NFL, as you pointed out, has decried these comments and has tried over the years to push what it argues are anti-racism efforts.

    From a management and a leadership perspective, what would you like to see the league do to make sure that this is more of an aberrant type of event?

  • William C. Roden:

    Well, that's hard, William, because it's hard to legislate what's in somebody's heart. You could pass all the type of rules, but if you're homophobic, you're homophobic. If you're not crazy about women in position of power, that's what it is.

    I'm not sure what the NFL could do, except, in this case, find out who were his enablers? Who are the people who he was writing to? Who were the people who were on the receiving end? Who are his sort of his guys, his clan?

    And, also, by the way, let's get beyond having three or four Black head coaches. Let's get Black executives, because actions speak louder than words. You can say all this stuff, but if you don't do business with Black vendors, if you don't promote Black executives, if you don't — that's really the tale of the tale.

    And this with Gruden is sort of where the rubber hits the words. So, I'm really interested in deeds, not just words.

  • William Brangham:

    These e-mails came out as part of an investigation into culture within the Washington Football Team.

    Do you think we're ever going to find out who are about that? Because that seems to have sort of hit something of a dead end.

  • William C. Roden:

    Well, I'd like to. And I think that's absolutely the point. It can't just stop here.

    And like I said, the Players Association wants to get more, and I know that there are probably a lot of people around the league who are holding their breaths. They want it to stop here, because no telling where this can go. You know, where there's smoke, there's a lot of fire.

    And, like I said, it's easier just to get rid of Gruden and then let's call it off. I would like this to be the beginning point, and I think that this will be a season like no other.

  • William Brangham:

    Bill Rhoden of The Undefeated, always good to see you. Thank you very much.

  • William C. Roden:

    The pleasure is mine. Take care.

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