Did now-former NFL coach Jon Gruden deserve to be fired over a few risque emails he sent to his peers? I don’t care. But what should be concerning to everyone is the way The New York Times described those emails and the inherent threat its reporting contained.
“Taken together,” the Times said Monday, “the emails provide an unvarnished look into the clubby culture of one N.F.L. circle of peers, where white male decision makers felt comfortable sharing pornographic images, deriding the league policies, and jocularly sharing homophobic language.”
By “taken together,” the paper actually means “some harmless jokes combined with a few questionable remarks for the sake of making this look a lot more egregious than it is.” But note two things: the explicit reference to the parties included in the emails as “white” and that they “felt comfortable” speaking a certain way in private.
It’s apparently supposed to be of utmost urgency that groups of men — white ones! — make off-color jokes and perhaps even speak sexually of women when they expect that such conversations will remain discreet. Aren’t you upset about that?!
Not really, because the Times was noticeably vague in characterizing what exactly Gruden said and sent in the emails. The paper referred to “homophobic and misogynistic remarks.” As to whether that’s true, you mostly have to take the Times’ word for it because the report had very little context or specifics.
Gruden, who until this week was coach of the Las Vegas Raiders, called the league’s commissioner, Roger Goodell, a “faggot” and a “clueless anti football pussy,” apparently over game safety concerns that Gruden didn’t like.
Gruden also “exchanged emails with … other men that included photos of women wearing only bikini bottoms, including one photo of two Washington team cheerleaders,” though the report gave no other information about those photos or who possessed them and why or how.
He supposedly expressed opposition to pressure for coaches to draft “queers,” which the Times said was a reference to Michael Sam, a gay former football player, though, again, that’s something readers are just expected to trust the Times on.
Gruden allegedly called Joe Biden a “nervous clueless pussy,” which is undoubtedly crass, but who precisely does it offend?
Here’s another detail from the report, as phrased by the Times: “In one email from 2015 that includes Droste, McVay and others, Gruden crudely asked Allen to tell Bryan Glazer, whose family owns the Tampa Bay Buccaneers where Gruden coached until 2008, to perform oral sex on him. Allen said Glazer would ‘take you up on that offer.’” Again, a dirty joke, but is this what the Times meant when it said “homophobic and misogynistic”?
“Gruden also mocked Caitlyn Jenner,” the report said, without providing any information as to how.
Question: If the subject of any one of these comments had no idea Gruden was talking about them, in what way were they or anyone else harmed?
The details aren’t supposed to matter, though. Gruden is white! And comfortable! We can’t have that, even when it’s in private, something the Times made clear back in February when it attacked the social media hub Clubhouse for hosting what the paper called “unfettered conversations.”
The NFL has every right to force the departure of a coach who is found to hold views or express opinions that aren’t compatible with the organization. But the targeting of Gruden by drumming up things he said in private is intended to have wider implications, namely that men — white ones! — should always be viewed with suspicion and worthy of contempt for being too “comfortable.”
The Times’ reporting on Gruden isn’t just about the NFL and a coach. It’s a threat.