same old

Posted November 8, 2021 by Austin J. Pitts 

"Thus, until the NFL proactively reports and addresses its shortcomings regarding minority groups publicly, they will continue to flounder in the court of public opinion and fail to combat discrimination and harassment in the workplace."

Same Old Song and Dance

By: Austin J. Pitts

Monday, November 8

            On October 8, the New York Times leaked a July 21, 2011 email from former Las Vegas Raiders head coach Jon Gruden to then Washington Football Team President Bruce Allen.[1] That day, the National Football League Owners and Players Union were negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement to avoid a lockout that jeopardized the upcoming season.[2] Compiled as part of the NFL’s investigation of the Washington Football Team’s workplace culture, the email included Gruden referring to the size of executive director of the NFL Players Association DeMaurice Smith’s lips, a common racial trope: “Dumboriss Smith has lips the size of michellin [sic] tires.”[3] 72 hours later, the Times released more of Gruden’s emails ranging from 2010 to 2018. In them, he “used racist, sexist, homophobic and transphobic language.”[4] For example, in response to an email that contained an attachment of “a sexist meme of a woman refereeing in the NFL,” Gruden responded, “Nice job roger [Roger Goodell, commissioner of the NFL].” He also criticized a congressional bill that “attempted to force Washington to change its name from the Redskins” and claimed Eric Reid, the second-most notable player to kneel during the national anthem, should “be fired.” Furthermore, Gruden ridiculed Caitlin Jenner and referred to Michael Sam, the first openly gay player to enter the NFL Draft, by a homophobic slur.[5]

            Later the same week, another round of emails were released, this time between Allen and NFL general counsel Jeff Pash, who mocked the league’s diversity initiatives.[6] In an email to Allen that included “a song meant to appeal to Latino fans,” Pash commented, “I am not sure this song will be as popular after the wall gets built.”[7] When Allen sent Pash an article about how the high school of U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell, who opposed the Washington name, also had a Native American mascot, Pash responded: “No way. Too good to be true.”[8] Additionally, when discussing the NFL’s hiring of Jocelyn Moore as the league’s chief lobbyist on Capitol Hill, Allen asked, “Curious — is there a rule against hiring Libertarians, Independents or even a Republican?”[9] Pash replied, “No, but it can sometimes look that way,” to which Allen stated, “We have the Rooney rule [which requires teams to interview minority candidates for coaching and executive hires] …. So I’m going to propose a Lincoln Rule at the next meeting.”[10] Following the leak of these emails, the NFL backed Pash: “Jeff Pash is a respected and high-character NFL executive. Any effort to portray these emails as inappropriate is either misleading or patently false.”[11]

            In an October 21 letter, House Committee on Oversight and Reform chairwoman U.S. Representative Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) and U.S. Representative Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.) requested files and clarification regarding the NFL’s investigation of the workplace culture of the Washington Football Team.[12] They wrote, “The N.F.L.’s lack of transparency about the problems it recently uncovered raise questions about the seriousness with which it has addressed bigotry, racism, sexism, and homophobia — setting troubling precedent for other workplaces.” Furthermore, “We have serious concerns about what appears to be widespread abusive workplace conduct at the WFT and about the NFL’s handling of this matter.”[13] Krishnamoorthi continued, “If the NFL were not to cooperate after we attempted to work with them to enlist their cooperation, then we do have the tools to compel the production of documents.”[14]

            The NFL continues to state their reluctance to publicize the results of their findings, arguing it compromises the anonymity of the cooperating parties.[15] Goodell stated, “We’re very conscious of making sure we’re protecting those who came forward. That was a very high priority.”[16] By requesting no written report of the investigation and ignoring easily implemented methods to maintain confidentiality (such as referring to participating parties as John Smith #3 or Jane Doe #5), though, the NFL continues to prevent public knowledge of its internal treatment of minority groups by obscuring the facts. Whether it be assuming racial differences when evaluating brain injuries or hiding the Ray Rice domestic violence video, the NFL has an extensive history of taking reactionary, rather than proactive, steps to prevent minority discrimination despite the proliferation of NFL “initiatives” targeting said issue over the last decade. Thus, until the NFL proactively reports and addresses its shortcomings regarding minority groups publicly, they will continue to flounder in the court of public opinion and fail to combat discrimination and harassment in the workplace.

[1] Andrew Beaton, Jon Gruden Used Racial Trope to Describe NFLPA Chief DeMaurice Smith in 2011 Email, The Wall Street Journal (Oct. 8, 2021, 8:09 PM).

[2] Id.

[3] Zac al-Khateeb, Jon Gruden emails, explained: Raiders coach resigns following release of damning message, SportingNews (Oct. 17, 2021).

[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[6] Jason Owens, Report: NFL’s top lawyer Jeff Pash brokered penalty, traded diversity jokes in emails with ex-WFT president Bruce Allen, yahoo!sports (Oct. 14, 2021).

 [7] Id.

[8] Id.

[9] Id.

[10] Id.

[11] Id.

[12] Michael McCann, NFL Email Trove Draws U.S. House Panel’s Calls for Transparency, Sportico (Oct. 26, 2021, 9:00 AM).

[13] The Athletic Staff, House Democrats press NFL for emails, answers about WFT workplace culture probe, The Athletic (Oct. 21, 2021, 7:55 PM).

[14] John Keim, Problematic Jon Gruden emails may be ‘more common’ than thought, congressman says, ESPN (Oct. 22, 2021).

[15] Dan Graziano, NFL’s investigation into Washington Football Team won’t be released, commissioner Roger Goodell says amid pressure, ESPN(Oct. 26, 2021).

[16] Id.

Monday, November 8, 2021