Allow me to begin by saying that I have never been a fan of Jon Gruden. I have found him a bombastic ego maniac with the equivalent of a comb over who speaks like a huckster used car salesman. What anyone sees in him is beyond me. Even his coaching successes have largely come on the back of his predecessors. However, there is a case to be made that he is partially a victim of culture in his downfall. He wasn’t born saying the things he said in his emails. He was taught to think that way. Still, he is responsible for his actions and deserved to be replaced as coach of the Raiders.
Gruden and I are of the same generation. By today’s standards, our experience growing up represents the dark ages. The Civil Rights movement was going on, but our white parents and grandparents were opposed, afraid, or both. The “N” word was common parlance. On the playground, we played a lovely game once called King of the Hill but then called Smear the Queer. Nobody told us it was wrong because nobody thought it was wrong. When we said “eenie, meenie, miney, mo,” we weren’t trying to catch a tiger by the toe. When we males wanted to disparage another male, we called them week, afraid, a sissy, or a fag. No authority figure told us it was wrong. By the time we were told it was wrong, we had years of ingrained behavior to overcome.
And so, my generation learned to behave differently. We learned to catch a tiger by the toe. We learned that we shouldn’t “smear” anyone, that there was nothing wrong with being Queer, that calling someone a sissy was bullying and not desirable. We learned that we were wrong, but we also had a lot to unlearn in response. For the most part, we gradually did better. We weren’t perfect, far from it, but most of us tried our best. When we slipped up, we apologized. Generally speaking, we didn’t try to correct our friends who weren’t making the effort. Like so many deeply engrained behaviors and concepts, when we became angry we tended to revert to unacceptable behaviors from our past. If we were angry around friends who regressed, we did as well. Some of that is psychological, but more of it is not having the courage to go against the grain.
In my opinion, Jon Gruden’s emails come out of the “I am mad and so I am regressing” motif with a fair amount of “I am conforming to my friend’s expectations” thrown in for good measure. That’s not an excuse, what he did was wrong, but I believe it’s important to understand that there is a whole generation of us out here doing our best to overcome our programming and we will on occasion fail. Just as my generation had to learn not to call Japanese people Japs and German people Krauts, our children will have to unlearn our unfortunate behaviors. That means there is hope. It also means that many of my generation have taught our own children well. Maybe that’s the best we can hope for, that everyone will do their best. If that’s not good enough, I don’t know what to tell you.