Cancel culture… in football?

As society evolves, so do its expectations of those in it.


(U.S. Air Force photo by Louis B

Jon Gruden, at the time of being Raider’s head- coach, observing practice at training facility in 2018.

Technology has changed the way we communicate and gossip. It has also made it possible to go back and find information about someone from decades ago. 

This ability caught Jon Gruden sending racist, misogynistic and homophobic comments in emails, leading him to resign from his position as head coach of the Las Vegas Raiders at the beginning of October. These emails dated back to 2010, with others as recent as 2018. Remarks in these emails attacked many influential people, including former NFL quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, and NFL Players Association executive director, DeMaurice Smith. 

When the emails were made public, Gruden put out multiple explanations for his offensive language before apologizing. Later, he claimed that he was just upset and that he, “doesn’t have a racist bone in [his] body.”  

Should we believe him? After all, the oldest email was written three years ago. Should we believe that the man who wrote those emails from 2010-2018 has changed? 

Smith released a statement about Gruden’s comments, and about America as a whole to The Wall Street Journal. “This is not the first racist comment that I’ve heard and it probably will not be the last. This is a thick skin job for someone with dark skin, just like it always has been for many people who look like me and work in corporate America. You know people are sometimes saying things behind your back that are racist just like you see people talk and write about you using thinly coded and racist language.” 

Unfortunately, this behavior is seen every day and it is nothing new or surprising to the communities affected by racism. Is it fair that some individuals need to develop a “thick skin” in order to work in corporate America?

Gruden was not held liable for his comments for nearly a decade and certainly not by those whom he emailed these comments to. 

Regarding this, Smith shared, “I appreciate that he reached out to me [and] I told him that we will connect soon, but make no mistake, the news is not about what is said in our private conversation, but what else is said by people who never thought they would be exposed and how they are going to be held to account.”

Accountability. How do we hold people accountable?

The situation with Jon Gruden has caused people to question the culture and integrity of sports associations. Should we be spending money towards associations where money goes to people whose morals we are unaware of? How many other sports executives shared the same racist views as Jon Gruden? Certainly the recipients of his emails did not find it necessary to report him for his comments. 

As a whole, sports associations do not align with the beliefs of racism, sexism or misogyny, yet people in positions of power within those organizations might. 

Is it time to clean house and rid sports organizations of those who do not believe that all are created equal? 

In today’s society, we have finally reached a point where beliefs such as those voiced by Jon Gruden are unacceptable, especially if those beliefs are spoken to others “in confidence.”

Another question that could be posed is, is there a culture in athletics that is inherently racist? Speaking more specifically in terms of the NFL, it is not difficult to recognize that there are few people of color in high ranking positions. For example, out of 32 head coaches, only three are non-white. Out of 32 owners, only two are non-white. According to Forbes magazine, “People of color represent 69% of NFL players and 35% of assistant coaches. But yet, only two head coaches are Black men.” Why is it that there is such a lack of diversity in the management of this extremely large association, especially considering the vast majority of its players are people of color? It is a result of “deep-seated prejudice” within the organization, as said by The Atlantic. This article also shares that even with the Rooney Rule, a rule that mandates teams to have at least one minority candidate for both head-coach and executive positions, this prejudice still remains and takes precedence over the rule. 

Many people will make comments that are offensive because they think that it will never get out. Yet, these are the beliefs they hold. Gruden’s comments were not made up, he meant what he said, he just thought that it would remain private. 

There can be many controversies that come along with this topic. Can you be held accountable for things you said 10 years ago? Does it matter how young you were? Does it matter what was ‘acceptable’ at the time? There is a lot of gray area in these questions and the answers depend on the person. 

Colin McSherry ‘22 shares, “We can be accountable for something we said ten years ago, if we said it, we would believe it.” 

Allie Turner, Sophomore English teacher at Notre Dame, says in regards to cancel culture, “We are not getting to the root of the problem if we just keep deleting people from our world. We need to ask the questions like ‘Why does this person think that?’ and ‘Why are they doing this?’” We can hold people accountable and say that what they did was wrong, but this is only ‘ending the conversation’ and not truly solving the problem. 

The Internet is forever. Anything that has to do with technology is stored somewhere, and may come back to haunt you. This goes hand in hand with cancel culture because it is easy to uncover information about people’s pasts with the use of technology. 

It is important that we are conscious about what we write about or send out on the internet.