Normally when we do an Absurdity Check, we are looking at it through the lens of fantasy football. After all, Football Absurdity is primarily a fantasy football site that was founded by three guys on a message board who love fantasy football and making fun of football. It makes sense how I got here. I love football. I love math. Fantasy football is the perfect intersection of those loves. There is nothing I love more than finding a player that is being undervalued or overvalued by the fantasy football community and quantifying why the market is wrong.
I was getting ready to do our New Orleans Saints fantasy football rookie roundup when I saw that late Friday, the story dropped that Jon Gruden was helping the Saints install their offense for the 2023 season. My initial thought was this will be a nice tie-in where I can make dumb jokes about Gruden. The more I tried writing the article though, the more annoyed and frustrated I got. As I said before, I love football, but sometimes the NFL makes it hard.
In case you aren’t aware, less than two years after emails from Jon Gruden were leaked that contained racist, misogynist, and homophobic content, a team has decided that it is okay to bring Jon Gruden back. I believe there is a moral imperative to delve into the optics of this entire situation because I have spent the last three days debating with myself on whether the New Orleans Saints should have brought Jon Gruden in to help install their offense.
What Jon Gruden Did
If you are a football fan, you already know what Jon Gruden did. However, two years is a long time so it is easy to forget everything that Gruden said in those emails. In fact, I believe the reason this was a Friday news drop was that the NFL was hoping you’d forget about this story. The original story from the New York Times covered this more thoroughly than I can. Below are some of the problematic things from Jon Gruden’s leaked emails that led to his resignation.
- Said of the current head of the NFLPA DeMaurice Smith, “Dumboriss Smith has lips the size of michellin tires,”
- Called the NFLs commissioner, Roger Goodell, a “f****t” and a “clueless anti football p***y”
- Said that Goodell should not have pressured Jeff Fisher to draft “q***rs,” after the Rams drafted Michael Sam.
- Said Eric Reid should be fired for kneeling during the national anthem.
- Exchanged emails of women wearing only bikini bottoms, including one photo of two Washington team cheerleaders.
- Asked Bruce Allen to tell Bryan Glazer to perform oral sex on him. Allen said Glazer would “take you up on that offer.”
- Mocked Caitlyn Jenner after she transitioned
- When a sexist meme of a female referee was sent to their group email, Gruden replied, “Nice job roger.”
- In response to Goodell and NFL Players promoting racial equality and criminal justice reform. Gruden said of Goodell: “He needs to hide in his concussion protocol tent.”
How Jon Gruden Responded
On October 11th 2021, Jon Gruden resigned as the head coach of the Las Vegas Raiders. Below is a breakdown of everything that followed once the emails were brought to light.
- 10/10/2021: Jon Gruden apologized for his emails in his press conference after the Bears/Raiders game.
- 10/11/2021: Jon Gruden resigned as head coach of the Las Vegas Raiders
- 11/12/2021: Jon Gruden files a lawsuit against the NFL, alleging that they purposely leaked the emails, forcing him to resign.
- 8/30/2022: Jon Gruden makes his first public statement after resigning as head coach of the Las Vegas Raiders
- 5/26/2023: Jon Gruden showed up at New Orleans Saints mini-camp to help them install their offense.
Before I can really delve into the subject of whether Jon Gruden deserves another chance to coach football, I need to peel back the curtain a bit as to who I am. If you are a regular at this site, you know me as a guy who loves football and comedy. I’m also an Egyptian-American who was raised by immigrant parents. One lesson I learned at an early age is if you look different, you will be treated differently. If I’m being honest, the younger me always found racism to be a little bit funny. I was never subjected to hate crimes. The worst thing I ever experienced was people using the wrong ethnic slur on me because all they knew for sure about me was that I am brown. They didn’t know what I was, they just knew they didn’t like it. It is hard to take someone’s hatred seriously when they are looking at you dead in the eye and hating someone else.
But I’d be lying if I said it didn’t hurt a little bit. As I grew older, I became more aware of just how insidious that type of behavior is. Then ten years ago, this country completely lost its mind. I was driving today and passed a truck with a Trump 2024 sticker pasted on the cabin of a truck that said beneath the slogan “F*ck your feelings.” How dark a place is this country that deriding basic empathy for your fellow human beings is now acceptable public behavior?
Having said all that, I am a big believer in forgiveness. Nobody is entirely good or entirely bad. If everyone were judged for the worst thing they had ever done in their life, none of us would be able to walk outdoors without being ridiculed for the monsters we are. If you believe otherwise about yourself, you are probably a bigger monster than the rest of us with no level of introspection. People are constantly evolving. I know I am not the same person I was five years ago. If people aren’t given the chance to be better, then what is the point of condemning their wrongful behavior? Punishment without the chance to reform is just a way to pretend we are superior to everyone else.
Now you hopefully understand why I find the question of whether Jon Gruden should be allowed to coach a challenging one. On the one hand, the scope of his transgression is staggering. We are not talking about an isolated incident. We are talking about emails over the course of seven years. It is a large enough transgression that I don’t believe a simple apology is enough. On the other hand, I do believe Jon Gruden should be given the opportunity to show he is a better person. The problem I keep coming back to is that Jon Gruden has not actually shown he is coming back a better person.
I might feel differently if Jon Gruden’s comments came from an isolated incident. They did not. Those comments came from a chain of emails spanning seven years. That is a pattern of behavior. It also might be easier to give Jon Gruden the forgiveness he claims he wants if after resigning, he didn’t immediately turn around and SUE THE NFL! These are not the actions of a man repentant for his behavior, just someone mad that they got caught. Did the NFL purposely leak those emails to tarnish Gruden’s reputation? Based on what I know of the NFL, it would not surprise me at all. That doesn’t change the fact that Jon Gruden was condemned by his own words and his immediate response to the fallout was to blame the NFL for the consequences of his actions.
The truest tenet of sports is you are what your record says you are. You are only defined by what you accomplish on the field of play. Applying that axiom to life, I think the truest test of how a person should be defined is not how they act when people are watching them, but how they act in private. How you act away from the scrutiny of the public is a much clearer indicator of who you are as a person. Everyone behaves at church. It is what you do when you leave consecrated ground that says who you are. Jon Gruden’s emails very clearly tell you what kind of person he is.
When nobody was watching, Jon Gruden felt comfortable denigrating people who were different from him. That should trouble you. An NFL team believes two years is enough to make you forget a documented chain of hate. That should concern you. Jon Gruden believes a public apology full of crocodile tears is all he needs to receive your forgiveness. That should infuriate you.
An apology is not enough. It is the first step. Before you can be forgiven for something you have done, you have to put in the work. All we’ve heard from Jon Gruden is that seven years of emails spewing hate is not who he is. Then who are you, Jon? Where are the actions that show you are not that person? Where is your advocacy for those groups you disparaged? For those of you who might say that Gruden could very well be doing this in private, I say that with such a public display of terrible behavior, any penance he serves needs to be equally public to balance out how public his fallout was.
For Gruden’s words to mean anything, he has to show contrition, not say he is contrite. Jon Gruden saying he doesn’t have a racist bone in his body in response to the racist things he has said isn’t just laughable, it’s offensive.
In the end, we are defined by our actions. Jon Gruden needs to earn our forgiveness through action, not words, before he is given another chance to coach in the NFL.