In a region of football-mad fans, I have a confession to make. I pay little attention to the Buccaneers, Tom Brady, or whether the team wins or loses.
That’s sacrilegious, I know, but my apathy carries over to baseball, soccer, hockey and, well, just about any sport.
My complete indifference – some may call it willful ignorance – was on full display years ago, when I was invited to watch a game from a box at Tropicana Field. I whined about having to go.
“I’ll just leave at halftime,” I announced.
Silence. My husband was grinning. You can guess exactly what he said: “There’s no halftime in baseball. There’s the seventh inning stretch, though.”
Stay until then? What if it goes into overtime? Okay, I know, it’s extra innings.
Why this preamble? Even if you’re like me and don’t care that a revered quarterback carelessly tossed the Vince Lombardi Trophy of Super Bowl fame from his boat to a teammate on another boat while celebrating on the Hillsborough River, you’ve surely heard of the scandal that has brought down famous coach Jon Gruden.
Gruden, I learned, led the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to their first Super Bowl victory in 2003. He followed the highly respected Tony Dungy and most recently was head coach of the Las Vegas Raiders. But his sterling reputation has been marred by a string of emails reported by the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times as racist, homophobic and misogynistic.
Most people have already heard the details, but I’ll offer a quick summary. Gruden expressed contempt for the intellect of DeMaurice Smith, the Black executive director of the National Football League Players Association. Gruden also spoke of Smith’s lips in terms associated with cruel caricatures of Black people.
His emails not only denigrated Black people, they conveyed that he believed women have no place in football as referees, but as sex objects. They revealed him as virulently homophobic. In downplaying concerns about concussions among players, I was reminded of those who make light of the coronavirus, the vaccine to prevent it and the need to wear a mask.
Some Gruden fans have expressed disappointment and shock about his vitriolic emails. Some minorities certainly feel betrayed and must wonder whether white colleagues say one thing to their faces and another when speaking freely in like-minded circles.
But there really should be no surprise. Disappointingly, the post-racial society jubilantly proclaimed after the 2008 election of President Obama proved to be fiction. The nation’s next leader was hailed for saying exactly what was on his mind, racist or not. His supporters glibly parroted him.
I spoke with the Rev. Louis Murphy about Gruden. The pastor’s son, Louis Murphy Jr., played for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, among other NFL teams, and now coaches the football team at Gibbs High School.
“Since it is the 21st century, I would hope that more people would become educated about the positive aspects of diversity,” he said.
“However, the comments written in the emails by Gruden about women, the LGBTQ+ community, people of color, and more, are simply insidious comments. As I remember, Maya Angelou stated that, ‘When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.’ Also, I am reminded of Luke 8:17 (that) ‘Whatever is hidden away will be found and brought to light.’ Well, certainly Gruden’s true character eventually surfaced for all to see.”
The pastor of Mount Zion Progressive Missionary Baptist Church in St. Petersburg went on to say that as he recalls, former wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson, who played for the Bucs under Gruden, spoke out about Gruden’s true character. That’s why it’s important, he added, that people “not change the narrative of what Colin Kaepernick was trying to communicate” when he knelt during the playing of the National Anthem to call attention to police brutality and racial injustice.
“Can you see through all this the significance of why we should not dismiss the Critical Race Theory? This theory illustrates the systemic patterns of racism and inequalities embedded in the American fabric,” Murphy said.
“It is so ironic that this sport, football, an American sport which is loved by so many – no matter what race, gender or ethnicity – is being played by over 70 percent of African Americans, and yet, in America, even though we have come a long way, we still have a long way to go to embrace equality for all.”
I agree. Even I know that the NFL is not awash with Black coaches and quarterbacks. Interestingly, a quarterback is the team’s brains, I’ve been told.
I know I seem to be picking on sports, but the attention heaped on Gruden and celebrity athletes makes me think about whom we lionize and value. It’s not the women and men who teach America’s children, some spending their own money to ready their classrooms and writing lesson plans and reviewing homework on their own time. They don’t make millions and they certainly aren’t idolized.
I could go on about others who should be highly valued, such as the aides hired to take care of aging parents, daycare and social workers, those who prepare and serve our food in restaurants, and the long-suffering people who clean airport bathrooms as we rush in and out.
Those “Heroes work here” signs at medical facilities are quickly fading, along with a measure of goodwill for the sacrifices and dedication that have sustained the country during the pandemic.
Gruden’s emails secretly disparaged people he considered lesser mortals. Perhaps it’s better to be clear-eyed about what’s on a person’s mind than to be blinded by naivety. It seems like a good reason to moderate expectations about the frenzied overtures being played out on behalf of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) issues and the seeming awakening by corporations, religious organizations and even individuals to issues of diversity and equity. No one knows how long it will last.
There’s talk of a coming backlash. Some believe it has already begun.