WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 13, 2021
ESPN, plus the Post and the Times: Does former Raiders coach Jon Gruden possess even "a blade of racism?"
In part for a reason we'll detail below, we aren't sure how to answer. That said, we talk about journalists at this site, not about former coaches, and the journalism about this matter has been insultingly bad.
We saw conversations on ESPN yesterday which went several leagues below phony. Mina Kimes, Ryan Clark, Dan Orlovsky? It's sad to see how far people will go to adhere to the demands of their corporate coaching—to advance the mandated corporate pose.
(Laura Rutledge was the one who didn't bow to the corporate mandate in the pseudo-discussion on yesterday's NFL Live, the program Rutledge hosts. While the others took turns denouncing the "privilege" Gruden was somehow supposed to have displayed, Rutledge offered words of self-criticism when it came her time to speak. Perhaps for that reason, her statement was dropped from the videotape the channel posted. ESPN gets dumber and slimier on a corporate basis with every passing day.)
Back to Gruden. Does he possess a blade of racism? Below, you see the start of the Washington Post's editorial on this topic. Remember, we're here to assess the journalism, not to assess the latest devil himself:
WASHINGTON POST EDITORIAL (10/13/21): The National Football League spent 10 months investigating the toxic culture of the Washington Football Team after dozens of women came forward with complaints of sexual harassment and mistreatment. It interviewed hundreds of witnesses and collected some 650,000 documents. No information, nothing but a vacuous statement, was released. That made it easy for the league to let owner Daniel Snyder off with only a slap on the wrist.
The league didn’t coddle Jon Gruden in the same way, and he was forced to resign as coach of the Las Vegas Raiders after offensive emails he wrote became public. Deservedly so: His messages were contemptible. In a 2011 email published last week by the Wall Street Journal, he used racist language when referring to the executive director of the players’ union. After he apologized and said he didn’t have “a blade of racism in me,” the New York Times detailed emails written during a seven-year period while he worked for ESPN, in which he casually and regularly used racist, homophobic and sexist language. No matter his success on the football field, Mr. Gruden’s words, and the attitude they reflect, are disqualifying.
Remember, we're assessing the journalism here. We'll examine several questions:
Is it true that Gruden "used racist language when referring to the executive director of the players’ union?" The email in question certainly might convey that impression!
That said, Gruden offered an explanation for the expression he used in that email. If we were speaking about only one email, a person could even imagine that his explanation was sincere.
Luckily, there are all those other emails! The editorial board of the Post describes those emails as shown:
After he apologized and said he didn’t have “a blade of racism in me,” the New York Times detailed emails written during a seven-year period while he worked for ESPN, in which he casually and regularly used racist, homophobic and sexist language.
Did Gruden "casually and regularly use racist language" in those seven years of additional emails? As far as we know, that claim just isn't accurate.
This is the New York Times report to which the editors refer. You'll note that the headline refers to "homophobic and misogynistic emails," not to racist statements.
In fact, there is no claim in that full-length report of any additional use of racist language. No such claim is made at any point in that full-length report.
(In that report, we're told that Gruden even went so far as to "criticize President Barack Obama during his re-election campaign in 2012!" It's astounding to think that a private citizen would dare to criticize a sitting president, even in a private email. But the Times report doesn't say that Gruden used any inappropriate language when he misbehaved in this plainly deplorable way.)
It does sound like Gruden and his friends regularly engaged in the rough talk of rude men. We refer to the p-bombs and f-bombs they directed at men they judged to be unmanly, even including Commissioner Roger Goodell and then-Vice President Biden.
We think the rough talk of rude men is pathetic, unfortunate, sad. (In fairness, we'll note that these examples of rough talk were being offered in private, among consenting if childish adults.)
In our view, it's stupid and sad when grown men engage in such swaggering talk. But there is no claim, at any point in that New York Times report, of any further racist language on Gruden's part. We'll guess that, if other examples existed, we would have been told about them.
The Times reported no other examples of racist language by Gruden. Inevitably, the Post editorial board failed to notice this fact and actually stated the opposite.
Our press corps tends to play this way when it stages a moral stampede. In large part, this explains how George W. Bush got into the White House, and therefore how the United States Army ended up in Iraq.
In fairness to the Washington Post, we noticed a similar error in the front-page New York Times report to which the editors linked. Here's how that report began:
BELSON AND ROSMAN (10/12/21): Jon Gruden stepped down Monday as the coach of the Las Vegas Raiders football team hours after The New York Times detailed emails in which he had made homophobic and misogynistic remarks, following an earlier report of racist statements about a union leader.
His resignation was a striking departure from the football league for a coach who had won a Super Bowl, been a marquee analyst on ESPN and returned to the N.F.L. in 2018 to lead the resurgent Raiders, which he had coached years before.
Is the highlighted reference accurate? Had there really been "an earlier report of racist statements" (plural) about that union leader?
In fact, Belson and Rosman linked to this earlier report. That earlier report cites only the one allegedly racist statement. For reasons only they can explain, Belson and Rosman proceeded to take it plural.
(More than twenty years ago, we began noting this remarkably common journalistic practice, which we described as "the power of pluralization." When journalists behave this way, they take a single instance of behavior and they make it plural. All of a sudden, just like that, there could be hundreds of examples of the undesirable conduct in question!)
Yesterday's conversations on ESPN were journalistically heinous. The pseudo-conversations were fraudulent, fake, phony, faux. They'd be an embarrassment to the species, until you stopped to realize which species you were talking about. When Rutledge dared to offer a word of self-criticism, her comments were disappeared.
Those conversations featured two former NFL players saying they were shocked, shocked to think that someone associated with the NFL would ever speak the misogynistic and homophobic language of rough, rude men. (Orlovsky actually kept using the word!) We're not sure we've ever seen overpaid cable hustlers offering such ridiculous "imitations of life."
(Rutledge said that she hasn't spoken up sufficiently in the past when such terms are used. She seemed to be the only one who seemed to know that some rough men speak in the manner described! Orlovsky and Clark were shocked.)
In fairness, the people we saw on cable are simply corporate actors. The corporation in question is ESPN, a corporation which now seems devoted to staging transparent gong-shows featuring either 1) phony staged disputation (First Take) or 2) phony staged clubhouse-style camaraderie with plenty of staged group laughter (NFL Live).
Yesterday's pseudo-discussions on ESPN were part of our dying entertainment culture. But the Washington Post and the New York Times are supposed to be sunk in journalism.
Your lizard brain will want you to be angry with the observation we've made. But the point we're making is this:
Unless there's something we have missed, there is only one alleged use of racist language by Gruden in those seven years of emails. Had other racist language been used, we're willing to guess that it would have been mentioned.
We leave you with an observation from Cassandra, daughter of Priam and Hecuba:
This is the way our childish, insecure species plays when on the road to perdition. The pig is killed to help us ignore the endless things we ourselves haven't done.
Full disclosure: The journalism has been stunningly bad in ways we haven't mentioned. As Cassandra constantly says, this is the way the children play as the road nears its end.