After Gruden resigns, NFL probes how it can improve its culture

When Shad Khan, a Pakistani-American, set out over ten years ago to be the first ethnic minority to buy an NFL team in the league’s history.

” The conjecture was that you would never be approved because of your race. This is what Mr. Khan told The Associated Press this week in a phone interview.

His attempts to buy a 60% share in one club failed, and so Mr. Khan stated that “the narrative people had been telling me kind of got reinforced.”

Undaunted – and, he says, encouraged by Commissioner Roger Goodell – Mr. Khan moved on and soon reached an agreement to buy the Jaguars. He noted that the agreement was approved unanimously. “The conjecture and what was going on – and the reality – turned out to be different.”

Current and former players and others around the league have varying opinions about a key question that arose in light of the racist, homophobic, and misogynistic thoughts expressed by Jon Gruden in emails he wrote from 2011-18, when he was an ESPN analyst between coaching jobs, to then-Washington club executive Bruce Allen: Just how pervasive are those sorts of attitudes around the sport these days? It’s been an ongoing topic in locker room conversations.

” I’m not surprised that these ideas exist. I’m not surprised that these ideas exist. It was surprising to me that I felt so comfortable sending such an email. I would assume you’re pretty assured that they’re not going to be offended by it or surprised by it or have them say anything to you about the nature of those emails,” said Corey Peters, an Arizona Cardinals defensive lineman in his 11th year in the NFL. “But I think it’s good for the league to have that come out, and guys be held accountable for the things that they say, even in private.”

Mr. Gruden resigned as coach of the Las Vegas Raiders on Monday night following reports in The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times about messages he wrote demeaning Mr. Goodell, union chief DeMaurice Smith, and others, using offensive terms to refer to Black people, gay people, and women.

Some saw Mr. Gruden’s words as indicative of a behind-the-scenes culture that could persist in an industry where about 70% of the players are Black while more than 80% of head coaches (27 of 32) and general managers (also 27 of 32) are white – and all are men.

Only Mr. Khan, Buffalo’s Kim Pegula and Buffalo’s Mark Steward are minorities.

” The bigger problems aren’t specific to the NFL. But I believe they are stark: Who’s in power in the NFL? Who is making the decisions? “When there is one group of people, especially those who are privileged and who come from the dominant group then that will likely lead to skewed decisions.” Diane Goodman, an equity consultant, said.

“It is easy to look at Mr. Gruden, and say, “Oh, isn’t he horrible?” and then go on to list the other terrible things that he did. But, that does not take into account that bigger culture where people participated with him. These emails were allowed to exist because people had accepted them. This is really about culture. People were allowing these emails to exist. “There is the assumption that ‘I can say these things to another white man who is going to think they’re OK.'”

Some, such as Seahawks six-time All-Pro linebacker Bobby Wagner or Hall of Fame safety Brian Dawkins, found the whole episode more reflective of the country than the NFL.

” I hate to put it this way, but that is the world we live. “That’s America,” stated Mr. Dawkins, who’s first and second seasons in Philadelphia were the same as Mr. Gruden’s final two years as Eagles’ offensive coordinator. I believe that if (*] in 2011, there is less backlash than it is right now. I think where we are in the climate that we’re in, the things that we’ve gone through in the last, maybe, three years with social injustice and all those things, a lot of people are waking up to some of the things that have been normal for too long.”

Said Mr. Wagner: “There are people out there like that, that speak that way, that have that mindset, that have not grown. It’s not just football, it’s not just NFL ownership or coaches or anything like that.”

Denver Broncos safety Justin Simmons raised the point that representation matters: “You get different backgrounds, you get different opinions.”

He also thinks his job’s workplace culture is improving.

“Progress has been made. “Progress has been made, regardless of whether it’s good or not, but I won’t get into detail about that,” stated Mr. Simmons who joined the NFL in 2016.. “I’m a firm believer that as long as we’re taking steps in the right direction, that has to be positive, right?”

Former defensive end Mike Flores figures the sentiments found in the emails, which were gathered during an investigation into sexual harassment and other workplace misconduct at the Washington Football Team, do not represent merely one man’s mindset.

” I know what people do in locker rooms. Most people in the NFL would be highly scrutinized if the ‘politically correct police’ examined everyone’s emails,” Mr. Flores – who played college football at Louisville with Mr. Gruden’s brother, Jay, before spending five seasons with the Eagles, 49ers, and Washington – said in a phone interview.

Hugh Douglas, a defensive end with the Jets, Eagles, and Jaguars from 1995-2004, told the AP that Black athletes are “conditioned” to hearing “the racial stuff” and hypothesized that owners wouldn’t want their emails made public.

But Pat Hanlon (senior VP of communications, New York Giants) tweeted: “Been in league 35 years. I have never seen that language written or spoken. It’s not something I believe in. It has certainly been there.” In a second tweet, he wrote that “it’s not commonplace”.

Reigning NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers sees a generational gap between the folks in charge and those taking the field.

” I can tell you with honesty and pride that those opinions are not mine. It’s like a tight-knit team of men in the locker room. We don’t judge people based on their appearance, how they speak, or where they come from,” said the Packers’ quarterback on Pat McAfee’s Show.

” I know there are opinions that may be similar to [Mr. Gruden’s],, but they seem far and few between. “I do,” Rodgers stated. I feel that the player of today and his coach are more compassionate, advanced, progressive, loving, connected types of people. … Hopefully we can all, as a league, learn and grow from this and hopefully it puts people on notice who have some of those same opinions, like, ‘Hey, man, it’s time to grow and evolve and change and connect.'”

Miami Dolphins coach Brian Flores, who is Black, was among those echoing that sentiment.

” What I like about this game is the way it unites people. “It really brings people together from all walks,” said Mr. Flores. “So you hate to see anything that brings any type of division.”

Speaking about what happened with Mr. Gruden, in particular, Jacksonville’s Mr. Khan said, “Obviously, these emails are disturbing,” and quickly added: “My personal experience has not been that way.”

In the time since Mr. Khan agreed to purchase the Jaguars in 2011, he’s seen a change in the league’s culture, particularly with regard to social justice causes.

“One hundred percent, I think the league is at the forefront,” he said, “and they’re going to be doing more.”

This story was reported by The Associated Press. AP Pro Football Writers Dave Campbell and Schuyler Dixon; Mark Long, Rob Maaddi and Arnie Sttapleton; and Barry Wilner and AP Sports Writers Greg Beacham and Tim Booth.