Jeff Gordon: Gruden's emails remind us why NFL struggled to evolve

Jeff Gordon, St. Louis Post-Dispatch on

Published in Football

Thanks to a trove of Jon Gruden’s offensive e-mails, the public got a look inside one of the NFL’s inner circles.

And what was seen isn’t pretty.

Reporting by the Wall Street Journal and New York Times shed light on Gruden’s character, or lack thereof. That work also provided a glimpse of how some movers and shakers of the pro football industry think and why the sport struggles with so many lingering issues.

Player relations have always been problematic in the NFL. The league has treated rank-and-file players as disposable. It downplayed its concussion crisis and failed to adequately aid former players in distress.

The league remained tone deaf to the social crises that prompted player protests. It was slow to respect the rights of those in the LGBTQ+ community. It shamelessly exploited its female cheerleaders and it was slow to allow women to advance in non-playing positions.

In missives exchanged with former Washington Football Team president Bruce Allen and others between 2011 and 2017, Gruden covered these topics and more.


He railed against the St. Louis Rams’ drafting of Michael Sam, the former Mizzou star who went on to become the first openly gay player to be drafted by an NFL team; the NFL’s efforts to curtail concussions; player demonstrations during the national anthem; and the employment of female officials.

He used homophobic slurs to describe NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. He used racist tropes to describe DeMaurice Smith, the executive director of the NFL Players Association.

“Dumboriss Smith has lips the size of michellin (sic) tires” was one of Gruden’s deplorable quips.

These weren’t the opinions of some fringe caveman character. Gruden is one of the NFL’s highest-profile coaches — or at least he was until he resigned his post Monday with the Las Vegas Raiders with more than six years and $60 million left on his contract.


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