On Friday, league spokesman Brian McCarthy said: “The email from Jon Gruden denigrating DeMaurice Smith is appalling, abhorrent and wholly contrary to the NFL’s values. We condemn the statement and regret any harm that its publication may inflict on Mr. Smith or anyone else.”
Despite Black athletic genius producing billions of dollars in revenue for owners, advertisers, television and cable companies, and assorted supply chains, the NFL has been largely, to say the least, retrograde on matters of racial justice. Colin Kaepernick’s banishment from the sport for taking a knee in respectful protest against police brutality against African Americans exemplified the unequal power relations between the league’s overwhelmingly White owners and the Black players who fill up the box office.
All of which is to say that Gruden’s words and fate place the NFL at a familiar crossroads.
This is not a call to “cancel” Gruden. But a deeper level, it is past time for the NFL to take bolder steps, commensurate with the systemic problem of racism that continues to affect the league. This warrants major overhaul of the league’s front office hiring practices, along with greater public transparency and accountability measures regarding inclusivity efforts for the vendors, affiliates and supply chains that form part of the massive financial ecosystem of this billion-dollar enterprise (which, by the way, enjoys a federal antitrust exemption).
Gruden’s words are more than just offensive, and their broader importance doesn’t recede with his resignation. Despite it, they represent a reminder of how little progress has been made since they were written in 2011 regarding the “place” of Black bodies in an environment ruled by powerful White interests. Without institutionalizing a framework to ensure a pathway for potential Black talent into the league’s institutions of power, this unequal racial status quo will continue.