There are several different things going on around the story of Jon Gruden’s resignation from the Las Vegas Raiders Monday, which came shortly after the New York Times published a summary of further homophobic and misogynistic email comments from him (following the Wall Street Journal’s reporting Friday of his 2011 racist comments on NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith). A few of the many angles there include Gruden resigning a NFL job over comments he made while at ESPN (rather than with the Raiders or another NFL team), discussion of the inappropriateness of then-Washington GM Bruce Allen using his team email account to share topless photos of Washington cheerleaders (part of a previously-reported scandal) with Gruden and others, and discussion of what else might be in those emails. And it’s the last one that’s perhaps worth further examination at this point; while the revelations here have led to Gruden’s exit, there are many more people potentially impacted by these emails, and the extremely selective revelations of them to different media outlets raise questions about what’s still unrevealed (as the NFLPA has shown, with its calls to release the whole file).
To be clear, this is not a criticism of Andrew Beaton of The Wall Street Journal (who reported the initial racist email on DeMaurice Smith) or Ken Belson and Katherine Rosman of The New York Times (who reported the further homophobic and misogynistic comments from Gruden). The information they each received was newsworthy, and they had strong evidence that these were accurate representations of those past emails, and they brought that information to the public.
But what this is a criticism of is of the NFL deciding that these particular emails were the only ones from this massive Washington investigation (which reportedly included more than 650,000 documents) to put out to the media. And while the NFL didn’t officially “release” this information, and while we don’t know the exact sourcing of any of these reports, it sure seems like all of these reporters had to have obtained this either from NFL sources, from Raiders’ sources, or from sources with the law firm that conducted this investigation. And the NFL sources seem the most likely there.
And that’s what really leads to further discussion around the NFL’s role in getting out this information on Gruden, but nothing more than that. Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk has had several thoughtful pieces on this front, from “What else is in the Jon Gruden ‘materials’ sent by the NFL to the Raiders?” Friday through “League likely would have kept leaking emails, until Jon Gruden was out” Monday through “Plenty of people are nervous about the Bruce Allen emails” Tuesday. That last piece is particularly worth quoting from:
The right and fair outcome continues to be simple — release all of the Allen emails. Hell, release all 650,000 emails for full scrutiny. Selectively leaking (and the NFL definitely leaked selectively) the Gruden emails and then treating the rest of the emails like radioactive waste isn’t nearly good enough. Especially since, without current transparency, the NFL can simply dip into the cache of documents whenever it may choose in order to take action against someone who, for whatever reason, has landed on the NFL’s list of enemies or targets.
Look at what they did to Gruden. Leak one document, send “other materials” to the Raiders, and wait. Knowing what else was out there, Gruden foolishly (or stubbornly) didn’t quit. Knowing what else was out there, owner Mark Davis foolishly (or stubbornly) didn’t fire Gruden. So then the league leaked other documents, with the clear impression being that, if Gruden isn’t gone, still others will be leaked.
Others can find themselves in a similar predicament. Others may be approached about emails that haven’t yet been leaked, but with a request/suggestion that they quietly resign or retire or whatever now, or the emails will surface.
These emails become a powerful weapon, made even more powerful if they land in the wrong hands. The selective leaking of the emails proves that they’re already in the wrong hands. The only right thing to do, then, is to shine the light now. That brings out the truth, and it prevents the league from using the threat of disclosing the truth to manipulate others into doing whatever the league may want.
And honestly, there’s a lot to recommend that approach of getting it all out there. Yes, if the Gruden emails are any indication, that’s going to make other people in the league look bad. But so what? It’s notable that the principal figure here, Allen, is long gone from the league. And if emails to and from him lead to others being pushed out, fine. But there will be much better decisions made on that front from the league, its teams, and the public in general if the entire archive of these emails is made public, versus if decisions only come months or years later from selective leaking to media.
If this all becomes public, it’s one reckoning for the league, and it’s one where they’re not being accused of manipulating it for their own purposes. If we continue to get this information in league-released dribs and drabs filtered through particular media members and outlets, that’s a lot worse. And that approach raises a lot of questions about any particular consequences; how can we fairly judge those consequences when we only have some of the information on how common these comments were? If the proceedings here continue the way they did with Gruden, there will be a lot of skepticism and backlash towards any punishments, no matter how deserved; there will forever be the argument of “But everyone was saying that then!” An actual public report here would go a long way to alleviating that, and would show actual effort from the NFL in moving towards a better future.
It’s understandable why the NFL doesn’t want to publish the whole Washington investigation. That investigation most likely has a lot to say about that team’s ownership, and while Daniel Snyder is no longer running the team day-to-day, his continued status as the listed owner means the league still doesn’t necessarily want to release all his emails. Beyond that, there are plenty of potential consequences for all manner of current NFL figures. But the league needs to keep in mind that its motives with any sort of limited release will be under strict scrutiny.
There’s some logic to Gruden moving on from the Raiders following those particular releases. But with only those particular emails released, there will long be questions about everyone else who interacted with Allen, and there will long be questions on if Gruden was unfairly punished relative to other NFL figures. And while the NFL can certainly choose to keep the rest of that investigation under tight wraps if they want to, that’s not going to help the trust in their league. And it’s going to add to the claims of those suggesting that Gruden was singled out.