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His name has been wiped clean, but Jon Gruden’s story needs to be told

John Romano | Jon Gruden will be removed from the Bucs Ring of Honor, but there is a cautionary tale that could be invaluable for us all.
Former Bucs coach Jon Gruden looks on during his induction into the Ring of Honor on Dec. 18, 2017. The team removed him from the Ring after emails surfaced in which he used racist, sexist and homophobic language.
Former Bucs coach Jon Gruden looks on during his induction into the Ring of Honor on Dec. 18, 2017. The team removed him from the Ring after emails surfaced in which he used racist, sexist and homophobic language. [ Archive ]
Published Oct. 16
Updated Oct. 16

TAMPA — I may have been wrong. I just haven’t figured out whether that was yesterday, or today.

You see, I’ve been thinking about the Jon Gruden email situation and what it meant for Tampa Bay. Specifically, whether his name should be removed from the team’s Ring of Honor.

My first reaction was no. And I felt that way for a variety of reasons.

Mostly, it was because the Ring of Honor is as much about Bucs fans as it is the person being feted. The names emblazoned on the façade of the Raymond James Stadium upper deck signify moments and memories that are dear to folks who live and die with the accomplishments of a franchise.

So why should their recollections of Tampa Bay’s first Super Bowl title be besmirched by revelations of Gruden’s crass emails that were written after he was no longer on the Bucs sideline?

Just about the time I came to that conclusion, the Glazer family announced that Gruden’s name would be removed from the Ring of Honor. Their decision was so swift and emphatic, I was completely caught by surprise.

So were the Glazers wrong?

Jon Gruden's name has already been removed from Raymond James Stadium.
Jon Gruden's name has already been removed from Raymond James Stadium. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]

In retrospect, I don’t think they were. They have been pioneers for inclusivity going back to the 1990s when they hired Tony Dungy as head coach, and if they decide they want to disassociate themselves from someone who was using racist, sexist and homophobic language, they have every right. In fact, they should be applauded for taking a stand.

So does that mean my initial impulse was wrong?

Yes? No? Possibly?

The idea of wiping the slate clean of Gruden’s presence might feel like justice for a lot of people — particularly people who have been forever marginalized by just the kind of rhetoric found in Gruden’s emails — but I think it’s a cursory solution to a centuries-old problem.

I fear we have taken a story of monumental significance and turned it into WWE-style entertainment on social media. Too many people, it seems, want to posture or gawk.

The moral may seem to be about one man’s downfall, but it really isn’t. The backlash may seem aimed at mob justice, but that’s just an opportunistic talking point.

The real issue is us. You, me, everyone.

What the Gruden saga has done is provided an opportunity to consider the words we use, the biases we hide, the misperceptions we cling to. Instead, we’re just getting multiple choruses of condemnation.

There are those who slam Gruden, then those who slam the so-called woke culture, then those who slam everyone who doesn’t see the situation exactly as they do.

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Former Bucs coach Jon Gruden points to the sky while speaking during his induction into the Ring of Honor on Dec. 18, 2017, at Tropicana Field.
Former Bucs coach Jon Gruden points to the sky while speaking during his induction into the Ring of Honor on Dec. 18, 2017, at Tropicana Field. [ Times (2017) ]

Dungy, who is among the most honorable and kindhearted men I know, was blasted on Twitter for his response to the Gruden news. Did he defend what Gruden said? No, he said it was indefensible. Did he say Gruden was unfairly treated by the Raiders? No, he said Las Vegas should have dismissed him.

So what did Dungy say that was so objectionable to so many people? Because of his Christian values, Dungy said if Gruden showed true remorse and changed his mindset and actions, he should be forgiven.

And Dungy was taken to task for that.

Think of the irony. We should loudly condemn someone like Gruden, who mocked people who were different from him, but it’s okay to mock Dungy for adopting a Christ-like approach to the issue?

Look, I’m not trying to turn this into an us-versus-them debate. I’m not even sure who “us” and “them” are anymore. When I said this was a story of monumental significance, I meant that it was a real opportunity for change.

Gruden was once celebrated in this community and across the NFL. He was funny, headstrong, macho and charismatic. Now it turns out, behind closed doors, he was also crude, intolerant and lacked empathy. The point is, he was one of us until he wasn’t.

So how many more people are like that around the NFL? How about in our neighborhoods? Our schools? Our police departments and government buildings? How about in our own families?

That’s the significance of the Gruden saga. It shouldn’t be that Gruden lost his job and his reputation. It should be that we can all afford to have a little more grace in our souls.

Some, admittedly, more than others.

John Romano can be reached at jromano@tampabay.com. Follow @romano_tbtimes.

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