Last weekend, the NFL (the the most profitable sports league in the world) found itself in an all-too-familiar controversy after a former head coach’s decision derogatory emails containing racist, misogynistic, homophobic and transphobic content were brought to light by a third-party investigation.
Following the publication of the first emails last week, former head coach in question, Jon Gruden of the Las Vegas Raiders, stood in front of reporters and said: “I don’t have an ounce of racism in me. I’m a guy who takes pride in leading people together. And I will continue to do this for the rest of my life.
The kind of leadership Gruden referred to in his mad rush for damage control is everywhere from league ownership groups to his front offices and coaching staff. It demands the protection of men like Gruden while ostracizing anyone who dares to challenge the dominant power system (like Colin Kaepernick). Its existence gave rise to what some have described as a rot culture throughout the league.
What’s fascinating and perhaps unique about the coverage, response and fallout from the league’s most recent controversy is how clear it is that whiteness is at the epicenter of this rot.
Protection of white men in power
The systemic and systematic protection of white men in power has engendered hypocrisy, racial normalization (the practice of assuming a lower baseline of cognitive ability in black gamers), gender exclusion and violence and preformative acts of solidarity with the pool of majority racialized players in the league.
Hateful language linked to racism, sexism and homophobia is inextricably linked to behaviors and value systems aligned with white supremacy.
When news first broke, it looked like Gruden might actually keep his $ 100 million contract position, as several players and associated staff appeared neutral. In cases like these, why aren’t more people speaking out?
In a vivid demonstration of the systemic power operating within the league, Mike Tirico and Tony Dungy defended the character of Gruden and pleaded for his defense Sunday night football. Dungy, former player and coach himself, declared during the show: “I’m not going to blame it all on racism. I think we accept his apology, move on and move on.
After posting more emails and announcing Gruden’s resignation, Dungy kind of retracted his on-air comments.
What the segment revealed, however, was the depth of the dominant white patriarchal ideologies supported by the people and impenetrable systemic practices within the NFL. Taking on white guilt by not disowning racism obscures any required accountability of the NFL.
A certain leadership
In a league race, owned and driven by a handful of executives – the “Jon Grudens” of the world – the resulting possibility of systemic and oppressive white supremacy makes the push for meaningful change seemingly impossible.
Countless examples illustrate the pervasiveness of this question of “leadership” as complaints of widespread sexual harassment and failure Rooney Rule Politics – an NFL policy that requires teams to interview ethnic minority candidates for head coach positions. Only three out of 32 coaches are black, in a league where more than 57.5% of its players are black.
The way in which these controversies are covered also limits the opportunities for organized resistance. For several decades, the media have recognized that racial slurs and misogynistic remarks from high-level leaders are the main sources of income. The concern of dragging people through public (virtual) platforms occurs within minutes.
The label of “racist” is portrayed as a death sentence, immediately denied using various tactics such as “i don’t see the color” Where “i have black friends. “As readers, we need to take a critical look at the deeper issues related to the systems of racism that are at the root of these behaviors.
While the broadcast of such despicable acts provides necessary opportunities to engage in meaningful conversations, shame and humiliation can be cathartic for people who too often see their experiences questioned or silenced. A persistent consequence of witnesses calling individuals racist to reject too often delineates and exempts institutions from addressing broader systemic issues.
When similar events occur (think about dismissal of Don Cherry or the The Rachel Nichols debacle), and some members of the racialized community are surfacing to defend ‘the system’ or so-called ‘forgivable acts’, the lateral violence inflicted on each other reinforces anti-black racism, as well as existing white supremacist institutions, policies and practices.
The familiar excuses
Gruden’s resignation message included the seemingly ubiquitous “I didn’t mean to hurt anyone” trope. This, of course, is not an apology, but rather a failed acknowledgment implying a false narrative that his words were not meant to hurt.
While we can debate intention versus impact, what cannot be underestimated is the power that words hold; they carry the weight, the evil and the oppression of the systems in which they are spoken.
As we continue to uncover the behaviors and actions of coaches and others in positions of power within institutions, we must question the systemic structures of oppression that too often validate the transgressor and justify such practices.
While Gruden’s resignation signals a much-needed change that will hopefully require franchises to be introspective when shaping their team’s social climate, we mustn’t forget who the system was designed for. protect.