Column: A ‘Raid’ On Accountability: How the NFL’s culture needs improvement in light of hateful emails


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Former Raiders Head Coach Jon Gruden, “180807-F-LI975-0204” by Official Travis AFB, Calif. is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Antonia Sousa, news correspondent

Following the discovery of a series of misogynistic, racist and homophobic emails, Jon Gruden has resigned as head coach of the Las Vegas Raiders. The emails were made public by the New York Times after being uncovered by officials from the National Football League, or NFL. Officials found them whilst investigating a workplace misconduct case against Washington Football Team President Bruce Allen. 

In a statement announcing his resignation, Gruden apologized, saying he “never meant to hurt anyone.” Nevertheless, the fallout from this scandal has raised a string of questions regarding diversity and accountability within the NFL. 

For an organization that decorates its fields and uniforms with “Inspire Change” slogans, the room for growth is substantial. Gruden’s emails were laden with foul language, from homophobic insults toward other NFL officials to racist remarks regarding former President Barack Obama. Some of the correspondence went as far as to attach explicit pictures of women, including some of the Washington Football Team cheerleaders. 

As perplexing and upsetting as Gruden’s actions were, the issue at hand goes far beyond the finding of the emails. The former Raiders coach might no longer be part of the organization, but what about the individuals who enabled his behavior? Homophobic, racist and sexist mind frames still exist in the NFL. With an alleged 650,000 emails to comb through, league officials should use this opportunity to expose the rest of the recipients, promoting accountability across the NFL. 

Not only would this publicize the harsh realities of discriminatory attitudes within the league, but also it could bring a sense of clarity to past issues. This situation has reignited discussion about former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick. An email written in August 2016 reveals Gruden believed Kaepernick should have been cut due to his choice to kneel during the national anthem. If these emails were sent to league officials or other powerful figures of the NFL, could this serve as an explanation as to why Kaepernick was blackballed by the League?

Furthermore, Gruden’s actions have put the NFL’s culture on display for the world to rightfully criticize. As of 2020, 60% of the NFL’s players are Black, but 80% of coaches and staff remain white men according to the NFL’s report on occupational mobility and diversity and inclusion. Gruden was able to get away with his behavior because the culture of the NFL continuously swept it under the rug. It seems the organization has remained too comfortable for too long, promoting the aforementioned “Inspire Change” campaign, despite not standing behind the message. In order to even begin to inspire any change, the NFL needs to welcome more diverse perspectives into its core mix. The League must begin to focus on hiring minorities and women as head coaches, general managers, and key officials. Without that, the toxic culture will remain, and problematic behaviors will continue to be enabled. 

While some may argue that hiring decisions are based solely on qualifications, the NFL has consistently chosen less successful white candidates over their Black counterparts. Even with certain hiring measures in place, such as a recent resolution that compensates draft picks for hiring Black coaches, teams are failing to meet expectations. 2021 has been labeled as “historic” in regards to women’s involvement within the league. This year’s Super Bowl was the first to have women coaches on the sidelines — there were only two, and the 2021 season has a record number of 12 female coaches. How can something so long overdue be labeled as historic? Out of those twelve female coaches, not one holds the position of head coach. The NFL fan base is now made up of 47% of women according to a CNBC report, but the sexist culture hidden within the sport bars a sense of representation on the field. 

The NFL is arguably one of the most influential organizations in the country, often setting a precedent for young adults, aspiring athletes and individuals who view the organization as an American staple. Its lack of attention toward the bigotry unfolding behind closed doors has an impact on its audience, often promoting this unfortunate naivete. Gruden’s case has opened these doors and allowed for dialogue regarding workplace conduct, opportunities for accountability and, of course, improvement within the NFL’s culture. Bryan McCarthy, vice president of communications for the NFL said that the league has not disclosed all details found in the 650,000 emails and does not plan on doing so. 

Despite the evident lack of transparency, the NFL claims it condemns Gruden’s statements. When discussing social justice efforts with NPR, McCarthy said, “Our commitment is unwavering, and the progress we have made only strengthens our resolve to continue to improve.” As the story unfolds, only time will determine whether the NFL stands by this sentiment.