As recent rumors claim Jon Gruden nixed the Las Vegas Raiders acquisition of Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski, sports fans have used it as another opportunity to pile on the disgraced former head coach. Stephen A. Smith and Molly Qerim, however, refuse to do that, instead choosing to defend their former ESPN colleague and the character they knew him to have.
“People will look at the Jon Gruden thing and say, ‘hey, that’s another bad decision by a bad person.’ I’m not calling him that,” Irvin admitted. “I’m just saying what people are going to say.”
Gruden and the Raiders parted ways during the NFL season last year after leaked emails showed the head coach using racist, sexist and homophobic language between 2011 and 2018. During that time, Gruden was an ESPN employee, where he made enough of a positive impact to maintain some semblance of respect from Smith and Qerim.
“First things first, like you said, people are gonna be saying ‘bad decision by a bad person.’ Just as a caveat, we work in an industry, we work in a business where obviously we talk about the importance of second chances,” Smith said. “You’ll never hear me say that Jon Gruden is a bad person. I don’t know that.
“I know that the emails we discovered were reprehensible, but the man worked here at ESPN for years and all of a sudden you’re gonna have people sit up there and say ‘he was a terrible, terrible person.’ No, that’s not what we got when we were working with Jon Gruden. I’m not gonna do that to him.”
“We’re not a part of cancel culture,” Qerim added as she agreed with Smith’s sentiment.
It’s fair of Smith and Qerim to cite their past working experiences with Gruden, which may have differed from the character he’s currently perceived as having, but it’s also fair to note that the disgraced head coach was not a victim of cancel culture. “Cancel culture” has morphed into a broad crutch that gets leaned on whenever a notable person faces consequences for self-inflicted wounds and chooses self-defense over actually addressing the issue.
Gruden, however, ruined his own career by using reprehensible language, costing himself prominent coaching and broadcasting opportunities both now and in the future. That’s not to say Gruden can’t be deserving of a second chance. It’s certainly possible for the former head coach to rehab his image enough to become a sports analyst again. But when Gruden finally begins to attempt a comeback, hopefully, the former head coach will avoid blaming “cancel culture” for his actions.