The NFL is playing a new game.
With 650,000 emails to mine for extortion, the league has a treasure trove of potential blackmail to remove people whenever desired. Thanks to an investigation into the Washington Football Team's misdoings, someone can leak damaging emails at will. When Las Vegas coach Jon Gruden wouldn't go quietly after the first email was somehow released, a second more damaging one followed and Gruden exited the game.
This is Squid Game 101 – eliminate your rivals.
Of course, don't do anything wrong and you're safe. But, the NFL is the ultimate old boys club in America. Owners are rich beyond financial leverage so public shaming will now be used on top executives. Who knew public shaming was even a thing anymore, but Gruden's racist and homophobic slurs proved enough for his exit. Don't be fooled – this was a targeted hit on Gruden, who mouths off too much and angered the wrong people.
The real question, though, is how did Washington owner Dan Snyder get a mere slap on the wrist with all this mayhem running through Ashburn? Gruden's emails were exchanged with Washington president Bruce Allen, who was fired in 2019 for simple incompetence. Allen is out of the game and can't be punished by the NFL, but his legacy lives on. And, maybe more than we yet know.
Meanwhile, the NFL simply removed Snyder from any direct sanctions by simply fining the team $10 million and softly asking he work on his new stadium project for a while. It was a gift. Snyder is now out of public fire and still the owner. Snyder may be perfectly content to remain in back rooms rather than continually judged for ruining a once proud franchise.
Why did the NFL cut Snyder such a deal when its year-long investigation will remove others at will? Because Snyder surrendered the embarrassing team name? Maybe, but there's probably more to the story. And, it will come out eventually.
Gruden's departure proves what a joke the NFL's investigation into alleged sexual harassment of Washington female staffers really was. There was no written report so attorneys for the victims couldn't use it against the league. And, there were no public findings so a team owner couldn't be removed. After all, how many other owners and executives are guilty of misdoings? They didn't want to create a precedent that might one day sanction them.
Gruden's removal must have sent a cold chill through the NFL. How many other executives have emailed something stupid that could cost their careers? Certainly, we've all said something stupid in our lives that we now regret, but writing it creates evidence versus hearsay and that's an unforgiveable sin.
This is just the start of a purge. It might come slowly via strategic moves, but the NFL has created a civil war among its executives that will create alliances hoping to survive sanctions. Yet, the enemy within may destroy the sport.
How many scandals can the NFL endure? At least one more it seems.
Rick Snider has covered Washington sports since 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @Snide_Remarks.