Jon Gruden's racist email about DeMaurice Smith was bad enough. Then Friday, he made it worse

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·Yahoo Sports Columnist
·4-min read
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When you apologize, when you truly feel remorseful for what you've done, you don't equivocate. 

You don't spin.

You don't gaslight.

You own it, ask for forgiveness, and if necessary, work to mend fences with those you've hurt.

It's not easy; we're not saying it is. But it's what must be done.

And yet on Friday, Las Vegas Raiders head coach Jon Gruden went with spin and gaslighting as a means of trying to explain the email he sent in 2011 that used tired, racist language to describe NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith. Gruden was working with ESPN at the time.

Part of a trove of over 650,000 emails the NFL began reviewing as part of its investigation into the misogynist culture that permeated the Washington Football Team offices for years, the Wall Street Journal reported that Gruden wrote of Smith

"Dumboriss Smith has lips the size of michellin [sic] tires.”

Insulting the intelligence of Black people is as old as slavery. When you repeat over and over that Black people just aren't smart, it makes it easier to justify owning them and making them do your work for you under penalty of brutal punishment or death. Once you can no longer own them, you keep using that lie to justify the myriad, systemic laws in place meant to keep them as second-class citizens.

During the height of the 20th century Jim Crow era, anti-Black imagery that exaggerated the size of Black people's lips was prevalent in everything from ads for pancake mixes to ashtrays, the caricature often highlighted by painting the lips bright red. 

When he was first contacted by the Wall Street Journal about the email, Gruden said he didn't recall writing it but said, "I'm really sorry." 

If he'd stopped there, he would have done what needed to be done: owned his mistake. Then he could have turned his attention to the Black players in the Raiders locker room and Black assistant coaches and front-office execs in the franchise.

But he didn't stop.

He spun. He equivocated. And worst of all, he tried to gaslight, believing the rest of us to be Boo Boo the Fools who will just take his lie as truth.

Jon Gruden used a racist trope to describe NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith, then spent Friday digging himself a deeper hole. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
Jon Gruden used a racist trope to describe NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith, then spent Friday digging himself a deeper hole. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

Gruden told the WSJ that he was angry at the time he wrote the email because of the NFL lockout, and because of the direction players were taking under Smith's guidance in negotiations with league owners.

(Perhaps Gruden is unclear on what a lockout actually is, so let's help: The owners locked the players out, Jon. The players didn't strike, they were locked out. Team owners kept them away.) 

Gruden told the WSJ and The Athletic that he was upset because of the labor unrest, but why? He wasn't a coach at the time, hadn't coached in three years. And even if he were coaching then, the players have a union. While we can quibble about how effective the NFLPA is, the union is there to protect their interests and negotiate on their behalf when it's time for a CBA to be worked out. 

It's giving off strong "shut up and play to entertain me" vibes, but maybe that's just us.

Gruden also pulled out the ol' "I don't have a racist bone in my body," line, which, ugh. As far as we know, scientists have yet to find racist bones in the body of any human, so can we please retire that one?

The worst, though, is the gaslighting around his lips comment. Gruden is going with the story that he says people have "rubber lips" when he suspects they're lying, which is a new term to these eyes, but let's believe that part is true.

"Rubber lips" and "his lips are as big as michellin tires" are distinctly different things. Trying to convince us they aren't is gaslighting. Gruden took direct aim at Smith's appearance as a means of insult and derogation using an anti-Black trope. 

If he thought Smith a liar or someone he didn't trust, he could have said so. Instead, he used a sophomoric mangling of Smith's first name to paint him as a dullard and tacked on a second bigoted insult for good measure.

Had he just apologized, this could have been moved on from quicker. But like Urban Meyer earlier this week arbitrarily dragging his No. 1 pick rookie quarterback into his own mess, Gruden is likely facing a lot more repair work in the locker room because he couldn't just do the right thing and own his mistake.

No amount of gaslighting or equivocating can save him from that.

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