Race-baiters, ruthless activists and cancel culture bullies are lurking and waiting to pounce on any public figure whose public statements (or revealed private ones) can sustain accusations of racism. Two recent examples from the world of sports help define when such comments are signature significance for an individual who is racially biased, and when they should be excused with little more than a raised eyebrow.
Over the Line: The NFL’s Las Vegas Raiders head coach Jon Gruden sent an email in 2011 came that attacked NFL Player’s Association head DeMaurice Smith, an African-American, by writing to Bruce Allen, who was the GM of the Washington Football Club, then called “The Redskins,” “Dumboriss Smith has lips the size of michellin tires.”
Nice. At least Gruden recognized what he would be facing once the Wall Street Journal reported on his leaked email, and shot out an apology, though not a credible one. He said he was “really sorry” and suggested that it was all a big misunderstanding. You see, Gruden refers to liars as “rubber lips.” Sure he does. You hear that phrase all the time in reference to Donald Trump, Joe Biden, Andrew Cuomo, and James Comey. Rubber lips! Makes perfect sense. “I don’t think he’s dumb,” Gruden protested to the Journal. “I don’t think he’s a liar. I don’t have a racial bone in my body, and I’ve proven that for 58 years.”
I’m not sure what a “racial bone” is, but I assume he means that he isn’t racially biased and has proved it by his conduct. As we have discussed on Ethics Alarms often, racist beliefs and racially biased conduct are distinct in many ways, and one doesn’t necessarily lead to the other. One distinction is that racist beliefs are legal, and if an individual is adept at recognizing that bias for what it is and not letting it govern his or her conduct, it isn’t unethical. Maybe Gruden hasn’t engaged in obviously racist or bigoted conduct in his life, but color me skeptical. A man claiming that that he isn’t racially biased who uses an ad hominem insult referring to a black man’s lips has as much credibility as that same man saying that he referred to someone as “Dumboriss” but doesn’t think he’s dumb. Ironically, Gruden’s excuse marks him as dumb and a liar who can’t keep his dishonest excuses straight. “I wasn’t making a racist comment when I said his lips looked like black inflated tires, I just use ‘rubber lips’ to mean liar, but…but.. I don’t believe he’s a liar either!” is the epitome of trying to dig one’s way out of a hole.