Commentary: Jon Gruden is gone, but NFL’s troubles may be just beginning
This feels like an iceberg.
We’ve seen a handful of Jon Gruden emails, and they’re career-destroying bad, but how many more are beneath the surface? Which other NFL careers are on the line?
Gruden resigned Monday night as coach of the Las Vegas Raiders after more of his old emails were leaked to the New York Times. Those emails, sent before he was hired as coach of the Raiders in 2018, were laced with racist, homophobic and misogynistic comments.
“I have resigned as head coach of the Las Vegas Raiders,” Gruden said in a statement posted Thursday on Twitter. “I love the Raiders and do not want to be a distraction. Thank you to all the players, coaches, staff, and fans of Raider Nation. I’m sorry, I never meant to hurt anyone.”
The emails were written to Bruce Allen, president of the then-Washington Redskins and a longtime friend and colleague from Gruden’s coaching days in Oakland and Tampa Bay. We didn’t see the back and forth. Allen was fired by Washington in 2019.
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The Gruden emails came to light during the course of a review of workplace misconduct within the Washington Football Team that was completed this summer, and, according to a league source, the NFL was informed of the existence of emails that raised issues beyond the scope of the investigation.
During the past few months, senior NFL executives reviewed the contents of more than 650,000 emails — including the ones Gruden sent — and last week those executives presented a summary to commissioner Roger Goodell and the Raiders. Gruden sent those emails before he returned to coaching, and some were at least a decade old. Still, they rose to the level of red alert.
How much more is out there? What else will be revealed? It’s hard to imagine any NFL team weathering that level of scrutiny unscathed.
As for Gruden’s downfall, it’s shocking. In 2018, he signed the richest coaching contract in league history, a 10-year, $100-million pact to lead the franchise back to prominence. It was his second go-round with the Raiders, the first beginning 20 years earlier when he became the NFL’s youngest head coach and rose to prominence for both what he did on the field and his colorful personality.
I was a Raiders beat writer at the time and felt like I got to know Gruden. That feeling grew in later years, when he launched the next phase of his career as an ESPN “Monday Night Football” analyst. I spent a weekend with him in Tampa at “Gruden’s QB Camp,” while he put a young Andrew Luck through the paces.
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In those instances, there was never a hint of the kind of the hateful sentiments or language he used in those emails. He seemed singularly focused on the X’s and O’s of football, and the personality stuff, including the “Chucky” scowl, seemed more like comedic theatrics.
In the past couple of weeks, we’ve seen the Gruden emails and the Urban Meyer bar video, in which the Jacksonville Jaguars coach is caught on tape seated at a bar, with a young woman, not his wife, grinding on him. Both are sins of stupidity, revealing hubris and a stunning lack of good judgment.
But the Gruden mess feels more like the beginning than the end.
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