What happened to accountability? What the Jon Gruden fallout can teach us


The NFL has always been a changing league. Over the course of its 102-year history, teams have come and gone or have moved from one location to another. Coaches get fired, hired, promoted. General managers yearly change their teams’ roster, hopefully in a way that benefits the team. The commissioner changes the outlook on the league in whatever way, big or small, he does it. 

Change is a way of life. Without change, people wouldn’t be able to live in the best way possible, in the most modern, positive way they can. 

That is something that needs to transfer to the way we live now. “Why?” you may be asking. The answer: Where equality is at is troubling. 

Reports leaked out a week or so ago that former Las Vegas Raiders head coach Jon Gruden used offensive language to describe NFL Players Association Executive Director DeMaurice Smith back in 2011. 

As time went on, we learned that Gruden used more and more offensive language, in many more emails, that spanned 7 years. Gruden sent emails that were derogatory toward NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, other NFL personnel, women, gays, and minorities. 

Overall, Gruden sent emails that contained vulgar, offensive, overall really bad forms of language. That aspect of the story was made public by the New York Times newspaper later in the week, before the Raiders were set to face off against the Chicago Bears. Gruden ended up coaching the game Sunday, a 20-9 loss. 

Then came Monday night. News on the Jon Gruden front was relatively quiet throughout the day until NFL Senior Insider Adam Schefter came onto Monday Night Football and reported that Jon Gruden was no longer the head coach of the Las Vegas Raiders. 

Right after the news broke, the NFL world and the country started stirring. 

Keyshawn Johnson, who hosts the “Keyshawn, JWIll and Max” show, stated that “He (Jon Gruden) has always been a fraud to me. From day one, he’s been a used car salesman.” 

NFL Hall of Famer Shannon Sharpe tweeted that “Coach Gruden didn’t have a bad moment, but a 7 yr [year] history of bad moments.” 

NFL backup quarterback Robert Griffin III said that “You can’t be racist, homophobic and misogynistic. You shouldn’t be any of them.” 

Those are only examples from the NFL realm, but there are many more tweets, conversations, etc., that have been shared by people throughout the country. Jon Gruden released his own statement that night.

“I have resigned as head coach of the Las Vegas Raiders,” he said. “I love the Raiders and do not want to be a distraction. Thank you to all the players, coaches, staff, and fans of Raider Nation. I’m sorry, I never meant to hurt anyone.” 

Where this drama heads next is unknown, but it is nothing new to the NFL. 

The Washington Football Team was accused for their “rampant culture” of sexual harassment. It was a year-long investigation, ending with the team paying a $10 million fine. 

Before that, Antonio Brown, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver, caused a stir back in 2019. Brown caused this stir because he wanted out of the Pittsburgh Steelers. He started doing some pretty stupid stuff, starting with recording his head coach Mike Tomlin talking about the New England Patriots in a “colorful” way on Facebook Live. Yeah, in real time. 


After that, more actions added to the laundry of bad decisions, including sexual assault, throwing a rock at a car, and, during the week 17 game that season, throwing a football at future Hall of Fame quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. More news came out, and Brown committed more negative actions. He was even arrested at one point.

Although these are each individual situations, this period of time raised the question: 

Where is the integrity in the NFL, and in the country? 

Integrity. What a word. When news about Larry Nassar, former Michigan State University team doctor, sexually harassing more than 100 gymnasts came out, the lack of integrity was exposed. 

When Deshaun Watson, Houston Texans quarterback, did basically the same thing to 22 women at massage therapy sessions, the lack of integrity was exposed. 

When news that the Houston Astros stole signs electronically and banged trash cans for pitch indication during their 2017 World Series title run came out, the lack of integrity was exposed. 

When it was revealed that Michael Vick, superstar quarterback back in the 2000’s, ran a dogfighting ring, the lack of integrity was exposed. 

Integrity. Oh, what a word. 

America has always had this problem with achieving equality and overall well being. Jon Gruden’s offensive emails only intensify this, to a boiling point. Gruden verbally shamed people. He told them things that weren’t, and still aren’t, right. 

He sent emails in bundles and bundles, 650,000 total, the one before no less hateful then the next. Gruden emailed that Demaurice Smith “has lips the size of Michelin tires.” 

After the St. Louis Rams drafted the first openly gay NFL player, Michael Sam, Gruden emailed that the NFL commissioner pressured the Rams to draft “queers.”

The NFL needs to change for the better. Scratch that. The NFL, AND America, need to change for the better. 

It’s not just in the case of these emails. You could say that all the people in the NFL that have done the same thing or worse have not been held accountable enough. 

Michael Vick was sent to prison for a short time, and when he was through with his sentence, he came back into the NFL as a quarterback. 

The Washington Football Team, as I said before, paid a measly $10 million fine, a small amount of money for a $4.2 billion franchise. That shouldn’t have been the end of it. 

The executives involved with this drama should’ve been fired, as well as everyone that kept this quiet for years. Just like the Larry Nassar problem. 

The US Gymnastics leaders, among others, should’ve been held accountable for keeping this awful crap away from the public for as long as they did. Instead, they were allowed to resign and none has been convicted for their role in the coverup. Even when there is fallout in sports, it isn’t the right fallout. 

When it was found out that the Houston Astros cheated their way to a World Series title, their “title” should’ve been stripped from them and given to the Los Angeles Dodgers. 

Oh yeah, I forgot to mention the Boston Red Sox did almost the same thing the Astros did a SEASON later. Won a World Series and all. 

Sensing a theme here?

No accountability, no discipline, no change for the better. No one besides the Astros knew they cheated, and the Red Sox thought they could implement something similar when Astros bench coach Alex Cora became their manager. 

The Red Sox obviously made the wrong decision to cheat to a title, but is it really their wrong decision? 

Accountability was a ghost to the MLB those two seasons. That’s the problem. It really isn’t that the Red Sox cheated. It’s the WHY. Why did the Red Sox cheat? 

The reason is that accountability was gone from MLB. MLB was pretty dang lazy not doing anything about these two “fake” titles until 2020, almost three years after the Astros and two after the Red Sox. 

Not ok, MLB. This string of cheating could have been avoided if accountability was present. 

Hold on a moment, though. 

How many years did Jon Gruden send the awful emails he did without a response? 

Oh yeah, seven years. Seven years of homophobic, racist, sexist emails. No response. 

There should be a person whose job is to listen to complaints from staff about anything with the NFL and other leagues. It could be anything, including individual, group, or whole team problems. After the person listens to the problem, they can report it to the sports league involved, and if serious enough, the FBI or other authorities. 

The current system has had no impact on any of the emails, problems, or situations in the NFL. That is why some could say Jon Gruden didn’t deserve to be fired. Gruden emailed many people about awful stuff, and no one responded until a DECADE after the first email was sent. Gruden basically got signaled out for something everyone else was doing at that time.

Another reason Gruden didn’t deserve to be fired? He loses his $10 million salary, which is the same penalty the entire Washington Football Team organization was forced to pay for a systemic culture of sexual harassment. Are these cultures of sexual harassment and physical abuse (in the case of USGA) not worse than nasty emails? 

That is basically the question we need to answer before we do anything else. 

It sucks that Michael Vick abused dogs, went to prison, and came back into the NFL, whereas Jon Gruden sent emails and resigned with little chance of coming back into the NFL.

Why does it have to be like that? Can’t people who do worse things be held accountable more than people who scratch the surface of bad things? 

Yes, Gruden shouldn’t have sent those emails, but the thing is, people in the NFL have said what he said out loud, to one another, but not in emails. No one responded until 10 years after the first time Gruden hit “send” on the emails, so they couldn’t have stood out that much. Why was Gruden singled out? 

On the other hand, Deshaun Watson allegedly sexually harassed 22 women a year ago, and where is he now? Definitely not in jail, or even on the NFL’s exempt list. He is still an active player, and teams are actively trying to trade for him to bring them on their rosters. The investigation isn’t even done yet! 

Imagine you are going to apply for a job. What would you say to the people hiring if they told you that you won’t be hired based on something you said in the past, further than five or 10 years in the past? That’s basically the situation with Gruden. 

“Oh yeah, we are going to fire you if you don’t resign over these emails you sent starting 10 years ago.” 

Jon Gruden was signaled out. That’s the flat out truth. I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t like to be fired or not even hired based on a mistake I made years and years ago. 

That’s the wrong kind of accountability. The accountability we need is the accountability that holds everyone to equal standards, and emphasizes consequences for actions that are actually criminal.

What are we waiting for? 

If we want change, let’s create it. If we want fairness, let’s emphasize why we want it. 

Actions speak louder than words. We can start with small actions to get the ball rolling a little bit. 

Sports, for example, are a great place to start addressing the problem with accountability. Sports bring us together, but they can also separate us (MLB, don’t deny it. You have three major cities in your league with two separate teams each). 

Anyway, you can start small. You can start by not watching the teams you feel are not in your value bucket, in your life bucket full of your large and small values, and every value in between. 

For me, the Patriots are a biggie. Additionally, knowing the Houston Astros won a “rigged” World Series tugs at my values a bit when I watch them. 

That rises to a boiling point when I remember reliever Ryan Tepera said this after his team, the Chicago White Sox, WON a game (so no big impact on speculation of cheating) against the Astros in the playoffs this month. 

“They’ve obviously had a reputation of doing some sketchy stuff over there,” he said after the White Sox beat Houston 12-6 on October 10th. 

Not watching teams with wrong values is a good start. We can implement this to other things, however. It’s up to us to decide what these other “things” will be. 

America is starting to lose its stride. Let’s fix the direction this country is going before it’s too late.

Any ideas?