By:
October 13, 2021

The sports world is still buzzing about Jon Gruden stepping down as head coach of the Las Vegas Raiders following the discovery that he had sent multiple emails to associates using racist, anti-gay and misogynistic language. Less than an hour after The New York Times’ Ken Belson and Katherine Rosman published a story Monday night with the details of the emails, Gruden resigned.

Gruden’s emails were over a seven-year period while he was an analyst for ESPN. Originally, just one email in which Gruden used a racial trope to describe NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith was known publicly — thanks to a story last week by The Wall Street Journal’s Andrew Beaton. Gruden apologized for what he said.

That led to various reactions, from condemnations of Gruden (his former player Keyshawn Johnson called him a “fraud”) to calls for forgiveness.

During the “Sunday Night Football” telecast on NBC, analyst Tony Dungy said, “What Jon Gruden did in that (racist) email — definitely insensitive, definitely inappropriate, definitely immature — I thought he attacked the character of a man. But he apologized for it. He said it wasn’t racially motivated. I have to believe him. I think this was an incident that was 10 years ago. He apologized. I think we need to accept that apology and move on.”

Interestingly, Gruden replaced Dungy as head coach of the Tampa Bay Bucs in 2002 and immediately won a Super Bowl. After additional emails came to light on Monday in the Times story, many who had accepted Gruden’s initial apology, such as Dungy, were widely criticized. That led Dungy to use his Twitter feed to clarify his comments on “Sunday Night Football.”

Dungy tweeted, “On @SNFonNBC I commented on an email sent by Jon Gruden. I did not defend it. I said ‘inappropriate, immature, attack on a man’s character. Wrong!’ I did not attribute it all to racism and said given a single incident 10 yrs ago we should accept his apology and move on.”

Dungy continued, “Now more emails have come. More inappropriate, immature, wrongful attacks on the character of people from all walks of life. I don’t defend those either and given the apparent pattern of behavior the Raiders did the appropriate thing in terminating Jon Gruden.”

Dungy then concluded with, “That being said, if Jon Gruden shows TRUE remorse — and more importantly changes his mindset and actions — I would forgive him. As Christians that’s what the Bible commands us to do because that’s what God does for us. I know that’s not popular but it’s biblical.”

Dungy then posted a quote (Matthew 6:14-16) from the Bible: “If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.”

Many of Dungy’s Twitter followers responded to Dungy’s tweets, and Dungy engaged with several to share his beliefs.

Meanwhile, Sports Illustrated’s Jimmy Traina — who covers sports media and hosts a sports media podcast — wrote, “It does seem like Tony’s standard M.O. for any and all controversies is ‘let’s forgive.’ Well, that’s a cop-out. You can forgive, but you can also call for consequences. Every incident should be judged on its own. Sometimes a person deserves a slap on the wrist. Sometimes they deserve 24 hours of getting crap on social media. Sometimes they deserve to be fired. The blanket take on every single issue can’t be, ‘Let’s forgive and move on.’ Tony Dungy should do better and so should NBC’s studio show.”

Not surprisingly, the usual conservative middle-aged white guys — radio host Clay Travis, podcaster Matt Walsh, Donald Trump Jr., radio host Jesse Kelly and Newsmax’s Greg Kelly — took to Twitter to complain about a fellow white guy losing his job for saying a bunch of awful stuff that can’t possibly be excused or defended. Kelly called it “cancel culture (expletive)” and said Gruden was “totally screwed over,” while the others used the tired whataboutism arguments. It was all about what you would expect.

More Gruden coverage ….

Writing for The Ringer, Rodger Sherman with “This Is Who Jon Gruden Always Was.”

Sherman wrote, “But this isn’t just about Gruden’s emails or words. It’s what they indicate about the culture he fostered. Despite coaching a diverse team, Gruden repeatedly expressed that he doesn’t believe Black people, gay people, and women are qualified for jobs in the NFL. That’s not just an indictment of Gruden; it’s an indictment of everyone who enabled him, and a league that limits opportunities for those who don’t look like him.”

The Washington Post’s Sally Jenkins, whom I believe is the best sports columnist in the country, wrote, “Gruden is not some bygone relic. He is the current NFL, and as the Las Vegas Raiders head coach he was at the very top of its pay hierarchy. He wrote those things between the ages of 48 and 58, some of them as recently as 2017, and it matters not at all that they are private expressions. In fact, that only makes them worse — there’s an unnerving divergence from his chatty charm-boy act for cameras that won him such rich contracts. He has spent his life culling rewards in a public-facing business, in which 70 percent of player-colleagues are Black and nearly half the audience is women, in which he had every opportunity to grow a respectful heart. His facile, favored-son abuse of position strikes at the very heart of the league’s public meaning. He made a farce of it.”

Jerry Brewer, also of The Washington Post, wrote, “Now it’s all out. Gruden doesn’t have a problem with racism. His conflict includes a whole lot of ‘-isms.’ He will be known not just as the coach who led the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to their first Super Bowl title, not just as an offensive innovator during his prime and not just as a compelling former ‘Monday Night Football’ color analyst. He’s also a man who had it all, who lived a privileged football life, and then threw it all away because he couldn’t resist writing vile and belittling things, trying to be the guardian of an old game growing more inclusive.”

And even more on the Gruden story …

This story is far from over. Don’t forget, these emails were discovered because the NFL is looking into the work environment with the Washington Football Team. In August 2020, The Washington Post’s Will Hobson, Beth Reinhard, Liz Clarke and Dalton Bennett wrote, “Lewd cheerleader videos, sexist rules: Ex-employees decry Washington’s NFL team workplace.”

The NFL Players Association is planning to ask the league to release the rest of the emails in its investigation. USA Today’s Mike Jones wrote that a league spokesperson said there were no plans to release the emails because confidentiality was an element of the investigation.

Like the Gruden emails, many of the emails are ones that were sent to and from former Washington Football Team executive Bruce Allen. ProFootballTalk’s Mike Florio, who is pretty plugged into the NFL, wrote, “The people who know Bruce Allen and who communicated with him during his time in Washington are nervous about what’s in there. About who else sent or received emails with racist, homophobic, transphobic, and/or misogynistic content. About whether they will be exposed, the same way Gruden was.”

In other words, don’t be surprised if we see more NFL and business types exposed for their words and actions in the coming days and weeks. Could this turn out to be a reckoning for pro football and how it treats women, LGBTQ people and people of color? That remains to be seen. After all, it’s not as if we should be shocked that someone like Gruden talks the way he does, and we would be naive to assume he’s the only one who thinks that way.

But expect to see places like The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal and others battling each other and delivering blockbuster scoops on this story.

The wait is almost over

Actor Brian Cox, from HBO’s “Succession,” in January 2020. (Willy Sanjuan/Invision/AP)

If you’re like me, you can’t wait for Sunday. It’s the start of season three of HBO’s “Succession.” It’s the wickedly funny — and yet completely enthralling — dramedy about the Roy family, which shares some (wink, wink) similarities to Rupert Murdoch and his media family.

For my money, it has been the best show on TV over the past decade.

And now here’s more exciting news. Kara Swisher, host of The New York Times’ “Sway” podcast, will host a “Succession” companion podcast. The first episode will drop after Sunday night’s season three debut. Subsequent episodes will be available after each “Succession” episode.

In a trailer for the podcast, Swisher said, “Each week, I’ll look at who’s up, who’s down and who made the episode’s biggest power play. … It’s deliciously toxic.”

She added, “It’s the ultimate drama about family and the ultimate commentary on wealth, the media and the 1 percent of the 1 percent. … What does ‘Succession’ say about family dynamics, capitalism run amok and the systems that truly rule our world?”

“Succession” and Swisher? Does it get any better than that?

Taking Fox News to task

Washington Post columnist Max Boot, uh, took the boot to Fox News. Check out the opening paragraph from his latest column:

“Last week, Fox ‘News’ Channel celebrated 25 years since its launch. More than 700,000 victims of COVID-19 were not available for comment.”

Boot continued, “Oh, I’m not suggesting that Fox is responsible for all, or even most, of the COVID deaths. That would be the kind of cheap shot you would expect to be aimed at the ‘libs’ by the ‘fair and balanced’ network. What I am suggesting, however, is that the COVID death toll is higher than it would have been if Fox did not exist.”

It’s a no-holds-barred column that looks at Fox News and the pandemic.

Meanwhile, Post media critic Erik Wemple had a column earlier this week: “Happy 25th anniversary, Fox News. Look at what you’ve become.”

Wemple wrote about Donald Trump’s baseless claim of the 2020 election being rigged, and some of the things Fox News has said about it. Wemple wrote, “It’s a machine, in other words — promoting lies, and then reporting their traction as national news. That’s what Fox News has done with the vocal plurality of Americans in its corner, 25 years running.”

Conde speaks

Cesar Conde, Chairman of the NBCUniversal News Group, in 2018. (Jesus Aranguren/Telemundo via AP Images)

Cesar Conde, chairman of the NBCUniversal News Group, held a fireside chat Tuesday at AdWeek’s Convergent TV Summit. He talked about issues such as NBC News’ streaming efforts, the collaboration between the news divisions and, of particular interest, the news division’s diversity initiatives.

Conde said, “We’re big believers in data, and when we look at data, one of the big fundamental changes that are driving evolution in our country is demographic change, and specifically the change that we’re seeing in some communities of color … by 2040, in 20 years, there will become a majority of people of color. We’re believers in the News Group that we shouldn’t wait for change to happen to us. We’ve got to proactively go out and attack it.”

Conde mentioned the 2020 launch of the 50% challenge — the goal for the newsgroup employees to be 50% women and 50% people of color.

Conde said, “This is something that we believe is not just the right thing to do, but equally as important, it’s the right thing for business. It’s going to give us a competitive advantage. As a news organization, we are believers that the property serves all of the communities that we’re trying to speak to — not only here in the United States, but around the world. We need to look like them in front and behind the camera. It’s just not about ethnic and race background, it’s also about diversity of geography, its diversity of perspective, diversity of socio-economic backgrounds. If we can have our teams represent what the country looks like and what the country represents, we’re going to be more competitive and more effective in speaking to these communities and so that’s been at the core of our strategic priorities.”

Malika Andrews’ strong take

ESPN’s Malika Andrews, covering the NBA in the “bubble” near Orlando, in August 2020. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis, Pool)

Malika Andrews, host of ESPN’s new NBA show “NBA Today,” is wasting little time exerting her voice to weigh on controversial basketball topics. Hosting the “NBA Countdown” pregame show before a preseason game this week, Andrews had a strong take about Brooklyn Nets star Kyrie Irving, who has not gotten the COVID-19 vaccine.

Andrews said some players are saying it’s an “individual choice,” but Andrews continued by saying, “I understand in some ways taking that approach or maybe that’s just what you say facing forward, but that is the antithesis of what a pandemic is. You do not have the privilege of just looking at yourself. You have to look at the people next to you because that’s how we got to this being the most deadly pandemic that has killed over 700,000 people in the United States. That’s not all on Kyrie, but it’s on all of us to do our small part and his small part is in that locker room.”

That’s good stuff from Andrews: smart, to the point and passionate. ESPN is going to be happy with its decision to give Andrews an increased role in its NBA coverage. (Hat tip to The Big Lead’s Stephen Douglas on this story.)

Meanwhile, Irving is being kept away by the Nets as long as he is unvaccinated. New York City has a vaccine mandate. No one can enter an indoor gym, including Brooklyn’s Barclays Center where the Nets play their home games, unless they’ve had at least one COVID-19 shot. Nets general manager Sean Marks said, “He has a choice to make, and he made his choice. Again, my job here is to make what we deem as the best decision and best choices for the organization moving ahead as a whole. They’re not always ones that are going to be met with open arms and a thumbs-up. These are hard decisions. Just like I’m sure it wasn’t easy for Kyrie either to have to make that (decision) to not be around his teammates.”

ESPN’s Tim Bontemps has more.

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Tom Jones is Poynter’s senior media writer for Poynter.org. He was previously part of the Tampa Bay Times family during three stints over some 30…
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