The NFL took steps to raise awareness about social injustice in the U.S. ever since coming under pressure after the 2020 death of George Floyd.
Since last season, the league allowed players to stick decals of social justice phrases on the back of their helmets and painted the words “End Racism” and “Inspire Change” in the back of stadium end zones.
New Orleans Saints strong safety Malcolm Jenkins (27) celebrates after his touchdown against the New England Patriots during the second half of a game, Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)
It’s those steps, coupled with the reports of Jon Gruden’s emails, that make players like Malcolm Jenkins wonder what it would really take to change the culture in the league.
The New Orleans Saints defensive back has been among the NFL players who have been out front as advocates for raising awareness about social injustice. Jenkins helped launch the league’s “Let’s Listen Together” initiative to focus on “racial bias and social and emotional intelligence training for police officers.” He told the “AP Pro Football Podcast” Thursday he wasn’t really surprised about the emails.
“End Racism” is painted in the end zone on one side of the stadium prior to a game between the Houston Texans and the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium Sept. 10, 2020 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
“I can’t say that I was surprised at all that kind of dialogue is happening behind the scenes,” Jenkins said. “I think that we understand the culture of the NFL, and we can put ‘Inspire Change’ logos all over the field and create logos all we want, but until you actually change what leadership looks like, you can’t expect to change the culture.”
Multiple reports showed Gruden made disparaging remarks about a litany of topics in messages with former Washington Football Team president Bruce Allen while Gruden was an ESPN employee. The emails between the two and other high-profile executives between 2010 and 2018 were just the tip of the iceberg for Jenkins.
“In the case of Jon Gruden, obviously it’s very disappointing to the people who respected him, look up to him and the man he was to our league. But I think if we focus only on Jon Gruden, then we miss the bigger picture, which is that he was able to exist like that because the culture around him accepted it. When he sent those emails, nobody raised a red flag, nobody brought it to anybody’s attention. It was a normal thing,” Jenkins said.
FILE – In this Nov. 18, 2018 photo, then-Philadelphia Eagles strong safety Malcolm Jenkins warms up before a game against the New Orleans Saints in New Orleans. (AP Photo/Butch Dill, File)
“And I think that’s the culture behind the scenes that we need to change. And so again, we can clap our hands at all of the pageantry that we’ve done now as everybody’s kind of come to this social justice narrative, but until you start to see a change in leadership, whether it be more Black coaches, more Black GMs, a diversity in ownership, then I don’t know how we expect the culture of the NFL to change.”
The NFL has been under scrutiny for not being transparent enough when it revealed the details of the workplace misconduct investigation into Washington over the summer.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.