Unethical Quote Of The Month: Jon Gruden


“There are a lot of geniuses that are trying to damage the game, and ruin the game. Do you feel it? There are a lot of geniuses that want to eliminate all sports, including recess. Not on my watch, and clap your hands if you’re with me on that!”

   —-Jon Gruden, ESPN analyst and former NFL coach, speaking at last week’s annual U.S.A. Football convention, the three-day  meeting of  the national governing body for amateur football.

This will be my annual Super Bowl week post,  one of the “watch the game if you have to and enjoy your nachos, just understand that by doing so you are supporting a billion-dollar industry that pays young men to cripple themselves and that is covering up the real risks of brain damage as long as it can” essay that I have written here the last few years.

The New York Times reports that U.S.A. Football is experimenting with a radically altered  version of the game for kids that is designed to reduce head trauma:

Each team will have six to nine players on the field, instead of 11; the field will be far smaller; kickoffs and punts will be eliminated; and players will start each play in a crouching position instead of in a three-point stance…

“The issue is participation has dropped, and there’s concern among parents about when is the right age to start playing tackle, if at all…There are, legitimately, concerns among parents about allowing their kids to play tackle football at a young age,” [Mark Murphy, the president of the Green Bay Packers and a board member at U.S.A.] continued, “so they can look at this and say they’ll be more comfortable that it is a safer alternative.”

Later we are told that the new, supposedly safer version will only be tested in a few locales, and that it may be years before the new rules are widely instituted. And how many kids will sustain brain damage in the meantime, I wonder? From the Times piece…

Medical experts and safe sports advocates were more skeptical [about the value of the proposed changes]. The brains of children grow at incredible rates, and repeated jarring blows to the head can stunt that growth, doctors say. While concussions are a concern, the larger danger to an athlete’s long-term cognitive health is the repeated sub-concussive blows like the ones that linemen absorb on nearly every play from scrimmage.

Several studies have shown that college and professional players who began playing tackle football as young boys have a greater risk of developing memory and thinking problems later in life than athletes who took up the game after they turned 12. Starting to play tackle football as teenagers is more prudent, doctors say.

“The earlier they started playing, the worse their brains fared later on,” said Dr. Robert Stern, the director of clinical research at the Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy Center at the Boston University School of Medicine. “To me, it makes sense we would want to do everything we can to reduce or eliminate purposeful hits to the brain,” Dr. Stern added. “But if the culprit is the repetitive hits to the brain, that’s the starting point for making changes.”

The real impediment to organized football being responsible and accepting reality are Neanderthals like Gruden, who literally care more about “the game” (and the money the game makes) than they do about the human beings who play it. Gruden’s rationalization is one of the most obviously dumb ones on the list, #9. The Reverse Slippery Slope:

Turning the slippery slope argument around, defenders of unethical conduct like to project legitimate criticism of genuinely harmful conduct into apocalyptic over-reach and ridiculously broad application of the principles at issue. “Irresponsible not to put our kids in safe car seats? What’s next, mandating special armor and helmets when they are just walking? Will we be required to have soft foam around their little chairs in the home in case they fall off?” This attempts to make the original, legitimate point seem unreasonable by raising related but absurd variations that are self-evidently unreasonable.

This is also a logical fallacy, opposing a reasonable measure on the grounds that it will lead to an unreasonable one. No, Jon, you fool, stopping a sport that turns men into drooling invalids in their fifties doesn’t endanger recess.

With people like Gruden in leadership positions and the NFL making a policy out of denial, football is on a trajectory that will have future historians shaking their heads and wondering how a civilized nation tolerated such a barbaric sport for so long.

Oh…when Gruden called for it, his audience broke into hearty applause.

21 thoughts on “Unethical Quote Of The Month: Jon Gruden

  1. Then there’s the UFC. How did bare knuckle, no holds barred cock, er, cage fighting by men and women become main stream?

    I still think football is doomed. If I were a banker making a loan to an NFL franchise or a college, I’d make sure the loan fully amortized in no more than ten years.

    I’ve made it through the entire NFL and college season this year without watching a game ItS been delightful. I mostly enjoy not being the the awful world of ex-jocks turned announcers like Jon Gruden. Awful.

      • Do they wear boxing gloves? You know, the gloves that were brought on by boxing to protect boxers? No, they wear what appear to be golf gloves with the fingers cut off. They kick each other in the head. It’s absurdly savage and a huge step back from boxing. You know, the sport where people try to concuss each other. Just a bizarre and unhealthy regression.

        • Let me put it this way – you’ve singled out the UFC when you meant to single out MMA (Mixed Martial Arts). The kicking comes from Kick-Boxing and other forms of martial arts. Throws come from Judo and other disciplines. Why would they wear boxing gloves and cover their fingers when they need those to execute holds, submissions, and throws? Are they the heavier boxing gloves? No. But your assertion was that they were bare knuckle. They wear lighter gloves. Your assertion was that they have no rules, but there are rules, especially about kicking a downed opponent or striking in the nethers.

          • So you can’t kick a guy in the nuts or kick him when he’s down. And they wear light gloves that provide virtually no protection to their opponents’ jaw or skull. Okay. I’m all in.

            • Boxing gloves were introduced in order to protect the boxer’s hands. They did not protect the guy getting hit, just the hands of the guy doing the hitting. Before gloves, lots of guys lost fights because of a broken hand – there are a lot fewer broken hands now than before the advent of gloves.

              You could make the case that taking gloves away is safer for the person being hit because you just can’t hit as hard without gloves.

                • Yep. You can hit much harder with a boxing glove on your hand without causing damage to your hand (if the taping is done properly). There is no real world evidence that this would result in less brain trauma in the guy getting hit.

                  Same with the theory that taking football helmets away would all of a sudden cause guys to stopping leading with their heads when hitting. No evidence that this would somehow lead to less brain trauma.

  2. Jack, I have encountered ‘lying in court’ by a major insurance company. Lying directly counters their own ‘Code of Ethical Conduct’.

    But they won’t enforce the ‘code’ against their lawyers. How would I provide the ‘legal evidence’ to you, if you are interested?

  3. Gad, Gruden isn’t even good at sarcasm.
    I still think he means *real* geniuses – and is just in denial that they are (geniuses, that is – at least, relative to himself).

  4. Just to weigh in on the UFC discussion. The dangers of the sport are well known and no fighter enters the cage with being rigorously checked and monitored for prior issues. Fights have being cancelled less then a week before the date due to fighters not being fighting fit so to speak. The organization does as much as it can to prevent the serious injuries that can occur in cage fighting.

    On the other hand the Athletes that compete in the UFC, genuinely understand and try to avoid damaging behaviors in the ring. None of them want to end up slack jawed and broken by their time in the ring. However we must respect that this is what they want to do with their lives and to censure them for that is I believe is inappropriate and slightly sanctimonious.

    • So, Sam, mutually consensual aggravated battery, as long as it’s subject to rules as with a game or organized sport, is ETHICAL? I’ll stick to being “sanctimonious” on ethics grounds. Those fights aren’t kinky sex-play – at least, I hope not…

      • Well we are animals and violence is a part of that. Fights and battles will always happen. I would just prefer if the fighters have space which they are monitored and compensated for their activities. The alternative is backyard and underground fights where there are no safety nets for those men and women. Its not perfect but its what we have to work with sadly.

  5. Where’s the list — however short — of young players who gave up pro football contracts because — and said so publicly – they worried about the long term effects of serial concussions? There are only a few so far, but they’re out there, and someone other than knee-jerk NFL employees need to get some press on this issue.

    As luck would have it, my son played Little League baseball, and I never had the fight about football. He always thought football was “simple-minded” and that baseball was more fun because there’s “a lot of subtlety in it.” Whew.

    On a tangential subject: a young friend of mine, now in law school, played soccer from middle school through half of college. She had twelve — twelve! — concussions that required medical attention over that time period. Now she worries about the migraines she gets, and about the long term effects of those concussions. And soccer is a “no-contact,” presumably safe game. One would think (wouldn’t one?) that after two or three or five concussions she’d be told not to play the game. But that’s another dialogue.

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