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Jon Gruden’s Resignation Is Not Accountability

INGLEWOOD, CALIFORNIA - OCTOBER 04: NFL commissioner Roger Goodell looks on before the Las Vegas Raiders play against the Los Angeles Chargers at SoFi Stadium on October 4, 2021 in Inglewood, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

Jon Gruden resigned last night, three days after the Wall Street Journal reported that he sent a racist email about NFL Players Association president DeMaurice Smith, and an hour after the New York Times reported on more racist emails he sent along with ones that were misogynistic, homophobic, and mean to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. As ESPN’s brain genius Adam Schefter said so memorably last night on Monday Night Football, “Jon Gruden had a clean sweep of offending NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, women, gays, minorities, all sorts of people.” (Note the order there.) The emails did indeed hit for the bigotry cycle, but amid the Times‘ lengthy accounting of all the oafishly dehumanizing lines in Gruden’s emails, one part stands out, if just for the ends it leaves dangling:

Gruden exchanged emails with [former Washington Football Team general manager Bruce] Allen and other men that included photos of women wearing only bikini bottoms, including one photo of two Washington team cheerleaders.

New York Times

The quaintly scandalized Timesian phrasing aside—is “topless” banned in the style guide?—these emails relate directly to questions about the exploitative and skeevy nature of the team’s cheerleading program and the team’s treatment of women in general, which are what spurred the investigation into the Washington Football Team in the first place, thereby turning up Gruden’s emails. (After the Washington Post published an extensive report into the team’s culture of sexual harassment last year, the team hired a lawyer to investigate the organization and its policies and to make a report to the NFL. The results of the investigation were damning, though the lawyer in question supposedly took no notes and produced no written report, painting a picture of the Washington Football Team as a bastion of discrimination and sexual harassment. Naturally, team owner Dan Snyder escaped with a slap on the wrist; the NFL is nothing if not committed to protecting team owners at all costs.) But back to a team executive emailing his buddies about photos of his half-naked semi-employees.

In 2018, the Times reported on a 2013 trip the cheerleaders took to Costa Rica:

For the photo shoot, at the adults-only Occidental Grand Papagayo resort on Culebra Bay, some of the cheerleaders said they were required to be topless, though the photographs used for the calendar would not show nudity. Others wore nothing but body paint. Given the resort’s secluded setting, such revealing poses would not have been a concern for the women — except that the Redskins had invited spectators.

A contingent of sponsors and FedExField suite holders — all men — were granted up-close access to the photo shoots.

New York Times

The cheerleaders also said they were “pimped out” to flirt with suite holders. In its big report, the Washington Post reported on similar situations:

In “Beauties on the Beach,” the official video chronicling the making of the Washington NFL team’s 2008 cheerleader swimsuit calendar, the women frolic in the sand, rave about their custom bikinis and praise a photographer for putting them at ease in settings where sometimes only a strategically placed prop or tightly framed shot shielded otherwise bare breasts.

What the cheerleaders didn’t know was that another video, intended strictly for private use, would be produced using footage from that same shoot. Set to classic rock, the 10-minute unofficial video featured moments when nipples were inadvertently exposed as the women shifted positions or adjusted props.

The lewd outtakes were what Larry Michael, then the team’s lead broadcaster and a senior vice president, referred to as “the good bits” or “the good parts,” according to Brad Baker, a former member of Michael’s staff. Baker said in an interview that he was present when Michael told staffers to make the video for team owner Daniel Snyder.

Washington Post

Michael, who abruptly retired in 2020, and Snyder both denied knowing about the secretly recorded videos.

The issue of how cheerleaders are treated in the NFL, and by the WFT specifically, has long been a scandal. Earlier this year, the team reached confidential settlements with a number of cheerleaders who sued the organization. But the question of which individuals are responsible for the conditions that led to Bruce Allen, who was fired in 2019, and Jon Gruden leering at naked women via email remains unanswered.

The one-liner in the Times story raises even more specific questions: When were the emails sent? Who were the “other men” on the chain? Who were the cheerleaders in the photos? Who were the other women? Had they been coerced into posing? Were they even posing or were these creepshots gleaned from the calendar photo shoots? Who had the photos, and where did he get them? These are the questions the NFL would prefer you not worry about.

According to reports, the league is sitting on 650,000 emails collected as part of the investigation. In the past few days, a couple of them have been leaked and Gruden, after offering a pathetic apology, has been forced into a hasty retreat. The league would like you to consider this a job well done, the lone bad actor gone, removed by a righteous system. But this isn’t accountability, and absent any real transparency from the league, there won’t be any.

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