Spare a thought for the victims of bigotry in the NFL — both the ones we know, and the ones we never will

·Yahoo Sports Columnist
·5-min read

As we woke on the East Coast on Wednesday morning, we learned that the investigation into Dan Snyder's Washington Workplace of Horrors had ensnared another well-known person.

And once again it wasn't Dan Snyder.

But as I went through my weekday routine, that insider was the last person on my mind. 

No, as I enjoyed a walk on a sunny October day in Boston with my dog Coco, I thought of all of the people who are collateral damage in all of this, the people we know of and possibly hundreds more that we don't, who were and are victims. 

Men and women who had no idea what was being said about them, how they were being exploited, and how the kind of racist, sexist, anti-gay attitudes so casually displayed and condoned by Jon Gruden and Bruce Allen and who knows who else — because the cowardly NFL won't tell us — affected them. 

When you see the email exchanges between Gruden and Allen, when you see the misogyny and racism and anti-gay sentiment, maybe you're one of the people who get to see them as nebulous ideas and not attacks on your very person. 

To so many people, they're personal.

I keep thinking of women like Melanie Coburn, a former Washington cheerleader who has been fearless in speaking up about how she was treated while she worked for the franchise and demanding better than the empty, protect-the-billionaire-man-at-all-costs response the NFL has offered.

Of the cheerleaders taking part in beachside photo shoots who should have had an expectation of privacy and confidentiality during moments they may have been exposed, and instead found out illicit pictures of them spliced into "the good bits" allegedly sent to Snyder for his carnal consumption ⁠— and now, we find out, passed around by Allen and Gruden to others for their own lascivious intentions.

Of women like Megan Imbert, who was an Emmy-winning producer for the team's in-house broadcast department, who left the job and career she loved because the environment of fear, denigration and harassment in Washington team offices, where Allen was Snyder's right-hand man, was unbearable.

And of other women who we may never know, who never pursued careers with NFL teams or as an NFL official because of men like Gruden and their narrow-minded, antiquated notion of what football is and should be.

How many women, Black people and members of the LGBTQ community have been marginalized by the antiquated beliefs of Jon Gruden and other NFL power brokers? We'll never know. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
How many women, Black people and members of the LGBTQ community have been marginalized by the antiquated beliefs of Jon Gruden and other NFL power brokers? We'll never know. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

I thought of Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid, men of principle, whose simple request that agents of the state stop getting paid vacation for the extrajudicial killing of Black citizens, was met with furor by the likes of Gruden, Allen and others. 

Kaepernick's silent protest, which Reid joined, led to him being excommunicated from a league that just a year earlier had welcomed back Greg Hardy, a man found guilty by a North Carolina judge of strangling and threatening to kill his ex-girlfriend. Gruden wrote in one of his now-infamous emails that Reid should be fired as well.

I thought of Marquette King, the punter whom Gruden cut just weeks after he was hired by the Raiders in 2018. King, one of only a handful of Black punters in league history, was statistically one of the best in the NFL during his time with the team, and was second-team All-Pro in 2016. He had a big, fun personality to match, dancing on the field to celebrate big kicks.

According to King, he was cut by Gruden without ever having spoken to the team's new head coach and without another punter on the roster. It has been reported it wasn't performance that led to King's release. With Gruden's racist emails now exposed, it's not hard to presume there was more in play than being unsure if King would be the team's best option at punter in 2018.

I thought of Wade Davis and others who had to play their entire NFL careers hiding their full selves as gay men, because of homophobes like Gruden who uphold the idea that football is hyper-masculine and therefore not for LGBTQ men, and Ryan O'Callaghan, who was so afraid of how a gay offensive lineman would be received by bigoted dinosaurs within the game that for years his plan was to play as long as he could and then kill himself instead of tell his truth. 

I thought of Eric Bieniemy and Pep Hamilton, Black coaches who, in a quarterback's league, have been integral in developing some of the best young players at the position — Bieniemy with Patrick Mahomes, and Hamilton with Andrew Luck and Justin Herbert. Yet they can't seem to get a head coaching job, perhaps in part because decision-makers like Gruden and Allen don't see Black people as equals or consider them capable of being the face of a franchise.

And of Larry Lee and countless others like him, Black men who have toiled in team front offices, known as good scouts, talent evaluators and managers, but who never got the chance to be a general manager. And even Jerry Reese, who constructed the Giants' two most recent Super Bowl-winning teams but hasn't gotten a second chance to attempt to do the same elsewhere.

Or maybe you believe it's purely a coincidence that there are only three Black head coaches and five Black general managers in a 32-team league where over two-thirds of the talent is Black, one that loves to pound its chest as being about merit above all. 

Gruden and Allen aren't alone in their biases and bigotry. Certainly not in this country, and not in the NFL. But more often than not, people like Gruden and Allen are the ones who decide who gets jobs, who gets promotions, who gets mortgages ... the list goes on.

How many others in the NFL share the same ideas as Gruden and Allen? 

How many people, beyond those listed here, have been intentionally or unintentionally affected by these kinds of ideas, or sexually harassed, or forced to stay in the closet, or intentionally kept from advancing? 

We'll never know.

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