On Monday, Las Vegas Raiders Head Coach Jon Gruden resigned/was fired from the team as a result of derogatory emails he sent dating back 10-15 years surfacing from an internal investigation of the Washington Football Team, and leaks to the New York Times. Yesterday, in response to these emails, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the team he led to a Super Bowl victory in 2002, have removed him from their Ring of Honor. The moment the first email hit the media this past weekend, I knew Jon Gruden would not survive this, and he probably should not. The emails in question are indefensible, and I would hope everyone who has read them would agree. But why were we allowed to read them?
Doesn’t the legal scope of an investigation pertain strictly to evidence gathered on the people being investigated? The investigators were given access to these private emails as part of an investigation into the Washington Football Team’s potential illegal behavior, not Jon Gruden’s. So, releasing the emails of Jon Gruden who was not an employee of the WFT is beyond the scope of the investigation, and should not have been permitted. Regardless of how inflammatory his emails were, releasing them to the public is a violation of privacy, and sets a precedent that threatens everyone’s right to privacy, which leads us down a road that will damage this country much more severely than anything Gruden could have written in his emails.
The NFLPA is now petitioning to have every email from the Washington Football Team released. If they are going to do that, why stop at the WFT? They should release the private emails of every person who holds a position in the NFL, coaches, players, owners, trainers, support staff, people in the league office, and even everyone at the NFLPA. This is the way we judged Jon Gruden to run him out of the league, shouldn’t everyone in the NFL be held to the same level of scrutiny, judgement, and account? If that was done, there would be a purge of many of the powerful people in the NFL, and those who took their places would not fare much better once their private emails were likewise put on display. Jon Gruden is not a perfect human being, no NFL head coach is, no NFL player is, no NFL reporter is, and no NFL fan is. So very few people could hold up to that level of scrutiny.
But why focus solely on the NFL? If people who are not being investigated for wrongdoing can have their private emails released to the public, then shouldn’t we release every email that anyone has ever sent? How about release all the phone calls of every American citizen that the NSA has captured and retained over the last two decades? If we no longer have privacy, then make everything public. At least the playing field will be level. We would find out a whole lot about a whole lot of people that we could use to judge them by, and maybe our judgement of others would not be as harsh when we are forced to account for every word we have ever said. There is a reason why we have the right to privacy in our country. People should have the right to decide which parts of themselves they present to the public which parts they don’t. Peeking behind the curtain on certain people, but not others, creates a multi-tiered system of judgement.
There is an old saying, “never compare your insides to other people’s outsides.” But, in this day and age, that is all we do. That is why social media has been such a destructive force in our society because it provides the platform to constantly compare our insides -- with all of its doubt, insecurities, frailties, flaws, and sins that only we know about, to the well-crafted perfect personas that are proffered on social media daily, hourly, minutely, secondly. We are inundated by these pictures of perfection which are unrecognizable to the actual people they are supposed to represent, and when we compare ourselves to that level of perfection, we always fall short causing irreparable psychological damage to many.
So, releasing his emails allows us to compare Jon Gruden’s insides against everyone’s perfect outsides, and we are outraged that we discovered that Jon Gruden’s insides do not stand up very well. This is not a defense of Jon Gruden, this is not to excuse his emails, this to expose the myriad of hypocrites in our midst – all those people who are ravenously tearing at the flesh of Jon Gruden’s still warm carcass until they licked his bones clean.
How about compare Jon Gruden’s insides to our own insides. Before you condemn Jon Gruden for his emails, go back through your own email history, and start counting how many you would not want to be displayed to the world, how many would cause you to lose your job, or your friends, or your reputation? What about your text messages, and internet search history? Would they stand up to the light of day?
And maybe that is why we are so quick to judge others so harshly in incidents like this because we know our own insides, and we have finally stumbled across a point of comparison to make us feel better about that flawed self we know, and keep hidden from the rest of the world.
So, before we judge someone, which has become so very easy in this day and age, take a good hard look at ourselves, and not just the self that we keep hidden from society, but also at the one we show the public from time to time, the judgmental, self-righteous, hypocritical face that condemns others while ignoring and justifying our own sins. Take a good look at that person staring back at us in the mirror each morning, and decide if he is really any better than the Jon Gruden we are condemning right now.
Because Jesus put it this way, “he, who is without sin, may cast the first stone.” I have never met a sinless person in my life, no one has. But I have met scores of people with sacks of stones on their backs, and itchy fingers believing that throwing enough stones will eventually absolve them for their own sins. But it never does because you don’t get to heaven off the sins of others, and you don’t get there off of your own righteousness either. You get there by loving others as God has loved you, and the cornerstones of God’s love are compassion and forgiveness, especially for the very people we believe do not deserve compassion and forgiveness, people a lot like Jon Gruden, people a lot like each one of us.
Judd Garrett is a graduate from Princeton University, and a former NFL player, coach, and executive. He has been a contributor to the website Real Clear Politics. He has recently published his first novel, No Wind.