Jon Gruden isn’t sorry — he’s just sorry he got caught. He’ll get publicly chastised and he’ll privately hide for a few months and then he’ll slowly start to resurface, here and there. And round and round we go in sports — a few months go by and then a new jerk is exposed for saying something terrible, publicly chastised, the whole bit, and round and round we go yet again ... but nothing changes at the core.
The core of the matter is that sports has 1,000 Jon Grudens. Athletes, coaches, owners, there are Grudens everywhere — people who are homophobic or racist or misogynistic or a disgusting combination of the three.
There is a range of jerks, from the worst of the worst to even some good-intentioned people who just aren’t educated properly about compassion or sensitivity or race relations (and they slip up and say something offensive without truly understanding the weight of it). In the NFL, you can be everything from an All-Pro level jerk to a taxi squad jerk (and taxi squad jerks can be actual All-Pro players, and vice versa). As a reporter, I've spent many years around the NFL, first in New Orleans, then Denver and, finally, St. Louis.
The way things are currently going, nothing much is going to change. Gruden lost his job, but that’s not going to actually affect much around the NFL, or any sports league. How about this. Roger Goodell. DeMaurice Smith. Plan a proactive day in which the entire league takes the day off from football and, instead, goes through a day of education. It’ll be mandatory. Every employee of the team, from the owner to the kicker to the owner’s intern, meets in the same place (for social-distances purposes, why not use the actual stands at the stadium?). And for, say, 2-3 hours, they watch a series of freshly prepared speeches and videos.
These will be thoughtful and thought-provoking, raw and real. Speakers would include Colin Kaepernick, Michael Sam, Tony Dungy, Peyton Manning, Amanda Gorman, Michael Jordan, Garth Brooks, Beyonce — smart, progressive and influential people, sharing knowledge. You could have segments with a sensitivity trainer or an activist or a professor. Every NFL person would have to watch this. And everyone in the league would watch it at the very same time. Everyone experiences the exact same experience.
Clearly, many NFL people would scoff at this. I can already hear dozens of excuses and complaints from dozens of Jon Grudens. But nothing is going to change if nothing changes — you must do something grand and great to try to educate and influence. The whole goal is trying to lessen the jerk-ness. Will three hours of videos cure, say, NFL homophobia? Of course not. But it’s something. Something with substance.
I experienced a microcosm of this. In 2015, as a columnist for The Denver Post, I was invited to a seminar at Rangeview High School. It was called “Man Up.” It was just the male students at the school, some teachers and people from the community. The idea was to alter the way people in that school look at masculinity.
First, we all watched a documentary called “The Mask We Live In.” It was fascinating. It featured former NFL Pro Bowler Joe Ehrmann, who said the phrase “be a man” is actually “one of the most destructive phrases in this culture. …
“My earliest memory was my father bringing me down to my mother’s basement, putting up his hands, teaching me how to throw jabs and punches. He gave me those three words: ‘Be a man. Stop with the tears, stop with the emotions. If you’re going to be a man in this world, you need to know how to dominate and control people and circumstances.’ That was a source of tremendous shame. I left that room with tears, feeling I just wasn’t quite man enough.
“Football became a tremendous place to hide. You can hide inside that helmet, hide behind the roar of the crowd. You get to project this facade, this persona, the epitome of what it means to be a man in this culture. I thought if I could manifest hyper-masculinity, somehow that would validate who and what I was. And certainly my father would respect that, to see how powerful, strong and tough I was — and give me the love and attention I desperately wanted.”
As you can imagine, the film went on to dissect these issues. It was revealing. Riveting. We broke into groups and had open and free discussions. You could tell the kids were influenced by the documentary. Later in the month, a teacher from the school told me: “We’ve had kids calling each other out when they are being disrespectful.”
It made a little difference. It was something. It was valuable.
Imagine if the NFL did this in regard to topics such as race and sexual identity? Bullying and demeaning? Again, it would, if anything, be a start. The NFL should be proactive in regards to reducing jerk-ness.
One day. Why not?