On Jan. 6, the entire world saw an angry pro-Trump mob storm our nation’s seat of power in hopes of overturning an election they believed to be fraudulent because they’d been fed bullshit for months, even before said election occurred. But they weren’t just violently protesting the results of a valid election, they were seeking to overturn the will of the American people.
In the immediate aftermath of the attack on American democracy, a majority of Republicans disavowed what happened. Some prominent Republicans even laid the blame at Trump’s feet for promulgating the Big Lie. But it didn’t take long for them to reverse course. Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), who had initially levied criticism against Trump for inciting the insurrection, found himself traveling to go kiss Trump’s ring and make amends. Now believing and promoting, or at least not dispelling, the GOP have made the Big Lie part of the the party’s platform as the 2022 midterms and 2024 presidential elections loom large. In order to re-engage the conservative base, Republicans have no other choice than to whitewash the insurrection and embrace the Big Lie.
So now the GOP lives in a world totally separate from reality. They’ve decided that no problems in their world exist, that everything is fine and normal, and that all the plagues affecting them will just be forgotten if they just gloss over them before pretending like nothing ever happened.
Which brings us to the NFL and the Jon Gruden scandal.
Quick recap: Gruden sent racist, misogynistic and homophobic emails to football executives. He even sent nude photographs of cheerleaders. But these emails weren’t sent while Gruden was a direct member of the NFL community; rather, he was an employee of ESPN where he served as an analyst for the company’s prolific Monday Night Football games. On its surface, the Gruden saga appears to be one big time asshole being an asshole, and purging him should be enough to correct the League’s PR headache. But it’s blatantly clear that a much bigger problem exists, one that could potentially explode into a major scandal. And the NFL seems all too eager to sweep this under the rug and carry on business as usual instead of working to correct the issue and move forward to the betterment of its widely-varied fan base. And the NFL isn’t the only organization eager for this situation to end.
Sound kinda familiar?
First of all, Gruden felt comfortable enough to send these emails to a former executive of one of the NFL’s most high-profile teams. Recent history aside, the Washington Football Team has entrenched itself as a prominent organization in the NFL and still commands a national presence with its widespread fan base. Gruden said in an email that the head of the NFL players union, an organization that is without question comprised of a vast majority of Black players, had “lips the size of Michelin tires.” Bruce Allen, the aforementioned former WFT executive, didn’t push back against this statement. Nor did he push back on Gruden’s other offensive emails.
Now normally this is just one dude being an old-school asshole former football coach talking to an asshole former football executive. But Gruden, in his role of serving as one of ESPN’s most visible profiles in connection to the company’s biggest asset, was obviously not only talking to just one single football executive. It was his job to cover any and every team that was featured during the Monday Night Football broadcasts. Having served as a Super Bowl-winning coach before the ESPN gig, he was obviously plugged into the inner workings of the League. He coached with other men who would go on to coach for other teams after he was fired by Tampa Bay in 2008. He knows the NFL culture and was paid for that very insight.
Gruden worked for ESPN from 2009 until 2017. He undoubtedly sent a lot of emails to various people. Perhaps he sent some 650,000 emails during that time span. It was his job to stay plugged into the inner workings of both the League and the teams that comprise it. But damn, that’s a lot of emails y’all, and we only know about a handful between a couple of people. What else could exist in the rest of those emails? And how many more could there be?
But this isn’t just an NFL problem, it’s now become an ESPN problem too. The first 24-hour sports network has hitched its wagon to the NFL’s star. Most of its programming is dedicated to covering the League. Now again, it’s being made out to be that Gruden was the lone troglodyte amongst the group. But then we found out that Adam Schefter, the network’s preeminent insider, was sending stories to an executive before they were published so that said executive could give his input on how the story was framed. So much for objectivity and journalistic integrity.
But that’s not all. Allen was a former executive for the Washington Football Team. Despite the reverence shown by its fans, the organization is no stranger to controversy. After years of protests, it finally dropped the name “Redskins” and is currently considering a new, less controversial team name. Team owner and prominent businessman Dan Snyder is no stranger to scandal either. While he denied involvement in a couple of incidents alleging misconduct, one of which centered around questionable videos made during a WFT cheerleader swimsuit calendar shoot, he did reach an undisclosed settlement with a woman over the matter. Now it’s been reported that Gruden was emailing photos of topless cheerleaders to team executives. And what does the Washington Football Team do in response? Schedule a hastily put-together number retirement for Sean Taylor, an All-Pro former player who was gunned down in his prime. This seems to be the type of event that would be scheduled and announced months in advance, one that would also be planned for a home game against a lesser team to try and ensure a good fan turnout. However, the WFT did it within a week after the Gruden emails came to light against a team that has appeared in two recent Super Bowls. Strange.
So, we have 650,000 some-odd emails, a backwards-ass former coach-turned-analyst-turned coach, an NFL insider exposed for cozying up to team executives, and a team involved in the situation doing a rush job to celebrate a beloved former player who was tragically murdered in his prime. And only one guy has (deservedly) paid a price. What is the NFL hiding? What role could ESPN possibly play in this mess? Why is there not a full accounting of this to correct various issues that have plagued the League in recent years?
Much like Congress’s Jan. 6 Commission, there needs to be a thorough accounting for the various plagues infecting our nation’s premiere sports league. Colin Kaepernick took a knee to protest police brutality and a jilted justice system. Others joined him, jeopardizing their standing in the NFL along with multi-million dollar contracts. Perhaps they were protesting more than that though.