4chan troll forced out as Raiders coach

Jon Gruden lost his job, Tony Dungy lost a bit of respect and the NFL lost its focus while investigating the Washington Football Team. That last part certainly wasn't an accident.

Jon Gruden’s exit as Raiders coach is an NFL scandal that doesn’t really involve the NFL. It’s important to remember this as we sift through all of the different characters of this NSFW email investigation and its implications.

Emails spelled the end of Gruden’s tenure with the Raiders. Racist, sexist, homophobic and profane emails. They were found during a league-ordered investigation into the culture of the Washington Football Team, a franchise with a history of sexual harassment. It has never employed Gruden, though. He only came to the league’s attention because of his emails to a close friend and former colleague: Bruce Allen, former president of the Washington franchise. And it is Allen’s work email that Gruden was emailing while he was a broadcaster with ESPN.

The emails don’t really need any context. They’re hateful, they’re mean and it’s impossible to hear about the contents and think that any one sending them should have any managerial authority in any company let alone one like the NFL that is seeking to maintain the image of being inclusive. Just don’t confuse the NFL with acting for a greater good here or having a social conscience. The NFL is protecting itself by offering up a coach who made chauvinist, crude and racist comments, rendering himself a liability to the league’s image.

Now let’s look at how the past five days have changed the perceptions and public image of those involved.

Jon Gruden

Initial perception: Snarling football man.

Current perception: Snarling football man with the social conscience of a 4chan poster.

What happened: The contents of some particularly vulgar, bigoted and just awful emails that Gruden sent were reported first by the Wall Street Journal and then by the New York Times. A cursory inventory of the egregiousness:

  •  Racism? Yup. He insulted the intelligence of DeMaurice Smith, who is Black and the head of the NFL players union. Gruden also invoked racist imagery by saying Smith’s lips were “the size of Michelin tires.

  •  Homophobic? Uh-huh. He referred to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell using a slur, alleged the commissioner forced Rams coach Jeff Fisher to draft Michael Sam, a linebacker from Missouri who came out while in college. Fisher subsequently denied this. Gruden used a derisive term in referring to Sam. It’s worth noting that Gruden currently coaches Carl Nassib, who came out during the offseason.

  •  Misogynist? That, too. He criticized the inclusion of female officials and frequently used crude terms for female genitalia.

  •  Lewd? Actually, worse than that. Perhaps predatory. Images circulated in the emails, which pictured women wearing bikini bottoms and no tops. At least two women in these pictures were Washington cheerleaders, which is particularly problematic given revelations about the nature of the photo shoots involving those cheerleaders. We’ll explain more below, but it’s possible if not likely these images could amount to coerced or nonconsensual pornography.

What he does now: Fight with the Raiders over the $60 million that was remaining on a 10-year contract. No way he gets a job in broadcasting back at ESPN. Hard to imagine even FOX would consider that. The fact Gruden wrote that safety Eric Reid should be fired given his protests against police brutality provides a political manifestation of the racist hostility he expressed toward the NFL players union chief. I don’t think we hear much from Gruden for at least a year or two, and this might in fact be the end of him as a public figure.

Tony Dungy

Initial perception: The NFL’s earnest, compassionate grandpa.

Current perception: Apologist for a white man’s obvious racism.

What happened: Dungy vouched for Gruden or at least urged us to take Gruden at his word even though that word was an utterly ridiculous attempt by Gruden to claim his comments about Smith didn’t have a racial component. Gruden said that he used the term rubber lips to refer to someone who lies hence his mention of Michelin tires. This is utterly unbelievable. Yet there was Dungy running cover on NBC’s “Sunday Night Football.”

“We heard Jon Gruden say he addressed this,” Dungy said. “He gave his side of it. He said it wasn’t racial. He was making a comment about DeMaurice Smith and he basically attacked his character. I will accept that, and just say, ‘You know what, it was an immature way to do it. It wasn’t the right way to do it, but it was 10 years ago and I’m not going to chalk everything up to racism.’ I think we accept his apology, move forward and move on just like he did with his team.”

Dungy didn’t have to do this. He even has reason to be a little bit salty with Gruden, whose Super Bowl victory came with a team that Dungy had overseen and groomed for years before Gruden’s arrival in 2002. Dungy’s image is as a caring, empathetic man who appeals to everyone’s best intentions. He comes across as kind, but he shouldn’t be mistaken for being entirely progressive. He told a reporter he would not have drafted Sam, and Dungy has a tendency to run cover and vouch for the better intentions of people who work for and within the NFL

What he does now: Nothing different really. But whenever he talks about issues regarding social justice going forward, he should be prepared to catch some serious side eye. If he’s interested, “Steady’s Rules of PR” could help. It’s a list of guidelines developed by Astead Herndon, reporter for the New York Times. Rule No. 1: Bigotry Bad! Rule No. 2: Don’t take L’s on behalf of someone already taking L’s. Rule No. 3: No IG Live! Rule No. 2 would have helped Dungy here.

Bruce Allen

Initial perception: Awful cretin.

Current perception: Awful cretin who should be investigated for circulating what might be nonconsensual pornography.

What happened: Hard to imagine Allen looking any worse than he already did, having stepped down as president of the Washington Football Team after a raft of scandals from a front-office employee making lewd remarks to a female reporter to office workers being berated to the exploitation of the team’s cheerleaders. Somehow, Allen managed to do it.

While an executive with the Washington football team, Allen used his work email for distinctly NSFW purposes. Allen, who left the team in 2019, had his email history searched as part of the NFL-ordered investigation to the toxic culture at the Washington Football team. The fact that pictures of two Washington cheerleaders wearing only bikini bottoms were included in the emails is specifically troubling. The New York Times reported that in 2013, the team’s cheerleaders were flown to Costa Rica for a calendar photo shoot at an adults-only resort. Some of the cheerleaders said they were required to be topless for the photos, and while the photos used for the calendars would not show nudity, the photo shoot itself had an audience: suite holders at the team’s stadium. All of that audience was male. Throw in the Washington Post report of a 2008 video that was made showing outtakes from a similar photo shoot and it’s clear that Washington’s cheerleaders were put in a position that images of their nude bodies were seen by an audience without their consent.

What happens now: Allen is even more unemployable than he was before, which is saying something, and if he did circulate photos of nude women without their consent, here’s hoping that leads to some sort of charge. At a minimum, he is an utterly awful creep who allowed an NFL franchise to become a den of predatory behavior. Also, he’s an idiot about using email.

Washington Football Team

Initial perception: Team with a toxic, hostile workplace that has been insulated because it is part of a cartel.

Current perception: Team with a toxic, hostile workplace that has been insulated because it is part of a cartel.

What happened: The only reason these emails were accessed is because the NFL ordered Washington to open up its servers as part of an investigation. But that investigation was not summarized in a written report. Yep. You read that right. There wasn’t a final written report of what the investigators found. The conclusion was that it used to be awful there, but all of the bad people who allowed the bad things to happen have been banished, Allen foremost among them. There’s a new team in place running things and owner Daniel Snyder even had his access to the team restricted.

What happens now: Washington is going to make no noises, no sudden movements, nothing to attract any sort of attention. They also may decide to consider “Firewall” as the new nickname.

The NFL

Initial perception: A hypocritical corporate entity that publicly supports its players, but frequently undermines them privately.

Current perception: A hypocritical corporate entity that publicly supports its players, and in this case decided it couldn’t privately ignore Gruden’s egregiousness.

What happened: Hard to imagine this story proceeding the way it did without the NFL being involved in the release of those emails. Reporters don’t have subpoena power. These weren’t public records. Somebody with the league decided that there was too much liability to hope they just stayed hidden. Either that or they decided that Gruden had to go. On Friday, the Wall Street Journal reported on the racist trope included in an email. If the weekend was a test to see how people reacted to the initial news, Monday’s report showed that the NFL decided it was time to get Gruden up out of the paint.

Now I’ve got a couple of questions: If the league did in fact play a role in the release of the emails, why was the insult of Smith put out first and by itself? Next, how about the contents of the 650,000 other emails? Because the idea that the only thing actionable in that slew of information was done by one guy who’s no longer employed by the team and another who was working for a broadcast company at the time is as impossible to believe as Gruden’s assertion that his comments on Smith weren’t racial in nature.

What happens now: The NFL is going to go mum, stare at the floor and shift awkwardly from side to side hoping that attention shifts. They want people to feel the departure of Jon Gruden excises a residual wart in the NFL ecosystem instead of spurring the question of what else was contained in the 650,000 emails that were searched as part of the investigation. Remember, these emails were found as an investigation done to identify and root out the sexual harassment and toxic workplace that seemed endemic to the Washington franchise. Is it reasonable to think that the most noteworthy discovery of this investigation was the offensive emails sent by a guy who was broadcasting games at the time? No. That’s not a reasonable conclusion.

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