Ryan Russell: Jon Gruden Emails Should Have Shocked Me. They Didn'tBreaking News
tags: racism, football, diversity, NFL
Ryan “R.K.” Russell played for the Dallas Cowboys and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and was the first active N.F.L. player to come out as bisexual. He is working on a memoir about that experience.
In emails written between 2011 and 2018, Jon Gruden, then an ESPN analyst and past and future N.F.L. head coach, said that the leader of the N.F.L. players union, who is Black, had “lips the size of Michelin tires,” and used homophobic and misogynist language to denigrate people in football including Roger Goodell, the N.F.L. commissioner. It says a lot about the culture of football that it took years for these emails to come to light. The emails shocked me, but when I look at the bigger picture, I realize they shouldn’t have.
As a former N.F.L. player who is Black and bisexual, I’m familiar with the culture that Gruden’s comments exemplify, and the complicity of silence within the sports industry that kept his emails under wraps. The culture runs deeper than just one head coach: Gruden’s emails are not just the hateful rant of a bigot, but a written history of the vast mistreatment of marginalized voices throughout the N.F.L.
The long delay in disclosing these emails, coupled with their conversational nature, suggests that others in the N.F.L. are, at best, tolerant of these divisive views. At worst, they share them.
Of course, the language and opinions of Jon Gruden are not the language and opinions of all coaches and football executives. Even so, some have not only shielded, but rewarded, this kind of behavior for years. Many in the league have learned nothing from Colin Kaepernick, the Black Lives Matter movement’s influence in sports, the advocacy of the W.N.B.A., Carl Nassib and so many others who have moved the world of sports forward.
Gruden’s resignation this week as the head coach of the Las Vegas Raiders on the heels of reporting on the emails is merely a reaction to damage that’s already been done. The N.F.L. has to take proactive steps in supporting its players, staff and spectators.
Too often, the burden of trying to fix the league’s shortcomings has been placed on the shoulders of players and players alone. In the conversation around the lack of openly L.G.B.T.Q. players, the question is always, “Are N.F.L. locker rooms ready for an L.G.B.T.Q. player?” It’s never, “What can N.F.L. officials do to make sure that players feel comfortable coming out?”
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