Jon Gruden undercuts his apology with tired “racist bone” expression

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Do you know where the “racist bone” in one’s body is supposed to be located?

It seems like every time a public figure gets caught having made a racist comment, he or she says some version of, “I don’t have a racist bone in my body” while making an apology.

That’s what Raiders head coach Jon Gruden did on Friday after it came out that he used racist language in a July 2011 email to describe NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith.

“Dumboriss [sic] Smith has lips the size of michellin [sic] tires,” Gruden wrote, according to a report from the Wall Street Journal’s Andrew Beaton.

Gruden has spoken to multiple media outlets, claiming he was trying to call Smith a liar. But in every apology, he’s said something about how he isn’t racist.

“I don’t have a racial bone in my body, and I’ve proven that for 58 years,” Gruden told Beaton.

“I don’t have a racist bone in my body,” Gruden told Vinny Bonsignore of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “I have proven that my entire life.”

I never had a racial thought when I used it,” Gruden told Paul Gutierrez of ESPN. “I’m embarrassed by what’s out there. I certainly never meant for it to sound that bad.”

“I have never had a blade of racism in me,” Gruden told Vic Tafur of “I was just pissed and used a terrible way to insult a guy.”

Make no mistake, what Gruden said in that email was racist. Whether or not Gruden was attempting to call Smith a liar, describing a Black man as having big lips is using a racist stereotype. That has been a societal convention for decades, let alone in 2011.

But at least for this piece, the issue is Gruden’s multiple apologies. Why is it that every time someone says something racist, that person has to note how not-racist they are? “I don’t have a racist bone in my body” is a is tired, trite excuse that’s akin to saying, “I can’t be racist — look how many black friends I have.”

We’ve all made mistakes and I can appreciate that Gruden is trying to make up for this one. But taking accountability for your words means owning what they are without excuses.

If you make a mistake, you say that you were wrong. You vow to learn from it. You promise not to make that same mistake in the future.

That sense of growing and doing better gets completely undercut when someone uses the “racist bone” trope because what they’re trying to tell us is, “I could never say something racist because only racist people say racist things.”

And that’s just not true.

So many people think the worst thing you can do is call someone a racist — and to be clear, that’s not what I’m doing here. I covered Gruden for the Las Vegas Review-Journal on a daily basis for the 2019 season and I never had a negative interaction with him. But in many instances, calling out racism seems worse than the racist act itself.

Yes, the “racist bone” is an expression, but it’s time for it to leave our discourse.

Apologies should never contain excuses. And every time that “racist bone” garbage gets thrown out there, we’re all worse off.

23 responses to “Jon Gruden undercuts his apology with tired “racist bone” expression

  1. In the 15 or so years I’ve visited this site, I have never agreed more with a piece you’ve written. This! This is why we must call it what it is when we see it. Every. Time.

  2. Totally agree that was probably the worst part of his apology and I took exception to it was well. But Gruden isn’t exactly a sociology professor. We’ll have a better picture of his true character in this regard in the next week. This could be the tip of the iceberg, or even ice block, and he’d have a major problem on his hands. But if this is the worst thing anybody can say about the guy, how hard can you really kill him for it? Let’s not forget that it was just months ago that everybody was lining up to bury Mark Davis along perceived similar lines, and he was completely vindicated in 24 hours…

  3. This is the same Jon Gruden that gave Darren Waller and me lease on life. Put the pitchforks away. Stop this nonsense.

  4. commentsareforclosers says:
    October 8, 2021 at 8:58 pm
    In the 15 or so years I’ve visited this site, I have never agreed more with a piece you’ve written. This! This is why we must call it what it is when we see it. Every. Time.
    Absolutely 100% correct. Call it out. Every. Time. Before you (a) thumbs down; (b) complain about how sensitive everyone else is; or (c) cower behind the “stick to sports” curtain, ask yourself if you know more about this topic than the post’s author, Myles Simmons. Chances are you don’t. If a, b, or c was your first instinct, spend some time asking yourself why.

  5. Why would he not be fired? It’s pretty bad. His doubling down trying to explain what he was trying to say is terrible.

  6. gruden seems to have the kind of personality that accepts everyone unconditionally. i honestly believe that.

  7. Those in glass houses. I bet if we were really honest with ourselves we’ve all made a comment or had a thought that is not acceptable.

  8. I’m a Black man

    I don’t like what Gruden wrote.

    I’m glad Gruden took ownership of the issue.

    But I believe Gruden’s apology is sincere, that he’s overcompensating.

    I’m curious as why this is surfacing now.

    And even though I know the answer I can’t help but to wonder why no one AND I mean NO ONE is holding Jabril Peppers accountable for the word he used to address the ref at the beginning of that coin toss last week. Not even the ref after the fact.

  9. Jon Gruden has been in the spotlight for 20-30 years. Coaching, analyzing games on TV and appearing on ESPN’s draft coverage. He’s said more positive things about black players than anyone I can remember. His accolades and opinions of these players have no doubt led to many of them getting drafted and earning millions of dollars. He’s probably done more for black people than many of us would ever dream about. Our country has its share of racial problems, but we could use more people like Jon Gruden. I’d like to see what anyone who criticizes Gruden has done for the betterment of black people. I have a lot of black friends, and I hear some of the things they say behind closed doors. It’s just talk. Actions speak louder than words. Gruden didn’t do anything wrong. Whoever leaked this story was wrong.

  10. Washington had to go so far as to change the name of an 80+ year old franchise for something less personal and direct than this.

  11. I didn’t like what I heard but I wouldn’t call it racism. That term has been overused the past few years. Gruden made a statement about an observation that we can all see. It wasn’t polite and not how we should treat each other but let’s stop the division and desire to crucify a guy whenever he says something slightly rude. Cmon guys, be better.

  12. What does Jabrill Peppers saying, “We want the ball. F— ’em.” have anything to do with this topic?

  13. Smith is not good at his job, there was no reason to add the description of his mouth to the email.

  14. Gruden is a joke and salesman masquerading as a Head Coach.I’ve reasons to dislike him,as he won Super Bowl XXXIV with my cousin Tony Dungy’s players (Happy belated 66th birthday,Cousin Tony !!!!) and he cut punter Marquette King,one of the few black punters in NFL history,because he hated King’s swag,which took some attention from conquering hero Chucky. Most of Gruden’s 206 bones are likely racist,and don’t forget crappy sib “Jay-Bro’s” ruining of Robbie Griffin by playing RGIII when he was obviously injured.Bye,Bye,Chucky !!!!!!

  15. He used the words “racist” and “racial,” interchangeably, which suggests he has given almost zero thought given to the whole issue.

  16. If you start digging back ten years or more you can find a lot of thongs on a lot of different people from every race, this is a witch hunt on Gruden…

  17. I want to know how everyone knows Gruden’s intentions here. It is pure speculation, that’s what it is. I’ve been told I have big lips and I’m white, was that racially charged? Everyone taking everything personally, what a luxury for us all to have. 1st work problems hard at work.

  18. Come on, people. “They just words”, “who knows what his intentions were”…? Really? There is no denying that racism is alive and well in the US and our world in general.

    People making excuses and saying it’s no big deal are part of the problem.

    It wasn’t one email, it wasn’t one comment. Gruden dug this hole for himself.

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