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

Mike Florio and Myles Simmons discuss how the NFL should handle Jon Gruden's racist email from 2011 regarding NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith.

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.