Jon Gruden’s quick forced resignation as coach of the Las Vegas Raiders on Monday is a new level of cancel culture mission creep, and you should care about it, because it’s probably going to happen to you.
Now, as I’ve said before and truly believe, cancel culture is an overused term that is often too vague in its deployment. Properly defined, cancel culture requires someone to be truly “canceled” — meaning that they lose their livelihood and their ability to work in their sphere. That’s probably not true of Gruden, because I believe he’ll eventually be a coach or an NFL commentator again. And that’s one reason why I personally think we should just use cancel culture to talk about situations where normal, non-famous people are targeted and taken down.
When Josh Hawley’s book contract is canceled, he can go to another publisher. When a celebrity loses out on an endorsement or a job, they can go make a different movie. It’s not fair, but it’s not as destructive as say destroying the livelihood and reputation of a small business owner over some Facebook posts, or making a college student lose her scholarship over some Tik Toks. There’s a difference in scale.
What happened to Jon Gruden, though, is more concerning because it involved private communications and emails with friends — something that was never supposed to be public or be seen by anyone else. In that private context, he said a bunch of things that were offensive — from The New York Times:
Gruden’s messages were sent to Bruce Allen, the former president of the Washington Football Team, and others, while he was working for ESPN as a color analyst during “Monday Night Football,” the sports network’s weekly prime-time telecast of N.F.L. games. In the emails, Gruden called the league’s commissioner, Roger Goodell, a “faggot” and a “clueless anti football pussy” and said that Goodell should not have pressured Jeff Fisher, then the coach of the Rams, to draft “queers,” a reference to Michael Sam, a gay player chosen by the team in 2014…
In numerous emails during a seven-year period ending in early 2018, Gruden criticized Goodell and the league for trying to reduce concussions and said that Eric Reid, a player who had demonstrated during the playing of the national anthem, should be fired. In several instances, Gruden used a homophobic slur to refer to Goodell and offensive language to describe some N.F.L. owners, coaches and journalists who cover the league.
To me, this is the kind of thing you could hear at any sports bar in America on an average NFL Sunday in public. Gruden didn’t say these things publicly, though — he made insensitive racial comments, called Roger Goodell a fag, he made anti-woke comments about Michael Sam and others, sure, not good… but who hasn’t sent an email or a text that could be considered offensive if shared to the whole wide world? Who hasn’t sent dozens of them over the years? If private conversation — truly private, not even taking place during a period where Gruden was an NFL employee, can be used to take you out, it means we’re truly in a new arena of judgment.
To be honest, the most troublesome things to come out of this email dump — which happened thanks to the investigation of the Washington Redskins for the treatment of employees — is that ESPN’s Adam Schefter apparently shares his stories with team officials for approval sometimes, and that after being fired, former Washington Head Coach Jay Gruden hasn’t even been interviewed for the investigation. Which certainly suggests that this whole internal investigation thing – backed heavily by the Washington Post – was less about changing the culture in the organization, and more about pressuring owner Dan Snyder to sell the team to Jeff Bezos (that’s the local conspiracy theory to which I subscribe).
But back to Gruden: the point is that these are not old Tweet or Facebook posts or TikToks or you name it, nor are they internal work conversations among co-workers. If the standard for anti-woke demands now creeps into your emails and text messages to your friends, it’s an entirely new standard to justify your cancellation.
It works backwards, too. Jon Gruden is getting removed from the Ring of Honor in Tampa Bay, where he won them their first Super Bowl, because of these email comments. Warren Sapp, who pled to literal domestic assault, is still right there for all to see. Dave Chappelle’s comments about DaBaby apply here.