Las Vegas Raiders Head Coach Resigns after Offensive Emails from His Past are Revealed
10/12/21 – – Pulitzer Prize-winning syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer described tweets and emails as, “A direct conduit from the unfiltered id. They erase whatever membrane normally exists between one’s internal disturbances and their external manifestations.” Krauthammer, who was also a psychiatrist, could have been diagnosing the causes of the reputational storm buffeting Jon Gruden, who resigned Monday as head coach of the Las Vegas Raiders football team.
Gruden stepped down after The Wall Street Journal last week and The New York Times over the weekend revealed damning emails he sent from 2011-2018 while working as an on-air analyst at ESPN. The ugly, insensitive emails contained racist, homophobic, misogynistic and otherwise denigrating messages. In a statement released by the Raiders, Gruden apologized, saying he did not want to be a “distraction” to the team. “I’m sorry, I never meant to hurt anyone.”
Looking forward, what can we learn from Gruden’s sudden fall? Here are five harsh, but practical lessons:
Be pure of thought. I don’t want to turn this blog post into a homily, but the best way to avoid sending offensive emails and tweets that may come back to haunt you is to not have hateful, intolerant thoughts in the first place. Communicate online with the same level of respect you would display if you were talking face-to-face with the subject of your commentary. You may not agree with the hyper-sensitive, humorless, judgmental nature of today’s cancel culture, but be willing to embrace a kinder approach to social interaction. Your relationships and your job may depend on it.
Whatever happens online, stays online. It’s hard to believe – but true – that even smart, successful people seem to lose their “editing chip” when communicating online. The desire to be liked or to be considered clever is not a suitable reason to be flip online, where everything lasts and is discoverable forever. Before you hit “send,” ask yourself if you would be okay with your message being printed on the front page of The New York Times.
There is no statute of limitations when it comes to indiscretions online. The Gruden email causing the greatest outrage was sent in 2011. A decade later, he doesn’t even remember sending it. In defense of Coach Gruden, Raider running back Josh Jacobs said, “I definitely trust him. I mean, it was 10 years ago. People grow.” Unfortunately, unforgiving reporters, anxious to add another notch on their belt, do not consider time or age as factors in determining your guilt or innocence.
Your status or place of employment at the time you sent the offending email doesn’t get you off the hook. Gruden was employed by the cable sports network ESPN, not the Las Vegas Raiders, when he sent an email containing a racist description of NFL Players Association Director DeMaurice Smith. But over the last several days, the Raiders faced the same pressures to fire Gruden that would have come their way if he’d been in their employ at the time of his indiscretion. “Look, I wasn’t even working for you then,” is not an effective defense when you get called into HR about the things you said online so many years ago.
An investigation into someone else’s troubles may turn up your emails. Gruden made the offensive reference to DeMaurice Smith’s lips in an email to Bruce Allen, who at the time was president of the Washington Football Team, formerly known as the Redskins. It was during an investigation into the workplace environment in Washington that Gruden’s email was discovered and then shared with the media. So, it’s good to remember that legal and/or media interest in the person you are emailing or tweeting may ultimately expose your thoughts to public scrutiny.
Gruden and the Raiders made the right decision to end this tempest quickly, taking the pressure off the NFL to act aggressively in defense of its aspirational campaign to make the league more open to different people and points of view. But what should Gruden do now? I think Charles Krauthammer would agree with Washington Post sports columnist Jerry Brewer, who offered this advice:
“Go somewhere so far away there’s not even a signal to send an email. As a matter of fact, he should retire from typing because apparently he can’t control his bias when his fingers start moving.”