My name is Mitch Vingle. I work in Wheeling, W.Va., for Wheelhouse Creative marketing and advertising. I used to cover sports for a living via newspapers. So, I’ve followed your career closely.
I’m not writing this letter to you, however, because of where I’ve worked. It’s because of where I’ve been.
I’m moved to write because I’ve read the reports. “Jon Gruden stepped down Monday as the coach of the Las Vegas Raider football team after The New York Times detailed emails in which he made homophobic and misogynistic remarks, following an earlier report of racist statements about a union leader.”
I’ve read how you denounced the emergence of women as referees, the drafting of a gay player and more. I read your remarks about black NFLPA director DeMaurice Smith.
And although it angers me, it more saddens me, Jon.
Because of the height of your platform. Because of our country’s struggles. Because, again, where I’ve been.
See, I’m only three years older than you, Jon. But growing up in my small town of Fairmont, I was among the first class to be integrated. Some might be surprised, but, indeed, I was in the sixth grade. We are not so far removed from segregation.
Honestly, it was no big deal to me at the time. I didn’t even question why I was being bussed into a section primarily of color. We were kids.
But everything changed when I advanced to junior high. I started to see conflict between black and white kids. And it really changed when I went to high school.
At my school there was a “back drive” where many gathered and/or smoked. And I’ll never forget the black kids lining up on one side of the street with the white kids on the other. A fight ensued. Police were called. When I walked out to see what was going out, I was instructed by my white classmates to jump in. I did not because, well, why would I fight my friends?
The racial divide, though, was real. It was all around me. We all – black and white – felt it.
Perhaps the most stark example was after our high school football team played in the state championship. Our quarterback – and class president, I might add – was/is black, which was rare back in 1977.
It was a frigid day when the teams played for the title. Trumpets stuck to the lips of band members. Players could barely run because their joints were frozen.
The opposing team scored a touchdown, but managing the extra point was too difficult. Finally, losing 6-0, our team struck. Down the right side of the field went our 6-foot-4 wideout. There was only one kid in the state who could catch him – the other team’s defensive back, who had just won the state cross country title.
Down to the 5-yard line. Down to the 1. Our field goal kicker had not missed an extra point. Ever.
When Stevie, under center, pulled away too early. The ball hit the ground. The other team recovered the fumble. We lost.
The next school day, I walked into journalism class with Stevie. There – in capital letters – was the N-word, paired with QUARTERBACK.
I can still feel the sting. I can still see Stevie’s reaction.
To this day, though, I felt like I was supposed to be there. Words just came to me that seemed to help.
“Stevie, you know who did that, right?” I said, because we all knew the culprit.
“Yeah,” he said.
“Do you respect him at all?” I asked.
“No,” he said.
“Well, then forget it. Eff him,” I said, but in a little stronger language.
It seemed to help Stevie. He considered the source, which we should all do when encountering hate.
I bring this up, Jon, because I thought, until the last five years, we were making progress. I still think, big-picture, we’ve made some progress.
But you’ve shown we still have a long way to go.
Which saddens me.
It’s time, Jon.
It’s time we leave those days, those feelings, those conflicts, those hurtful words, in the past.
Our country’s past.
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Mitch Vingle covered sports in West Virginia for 38 years. Follow Mitch on Twitter at @MitchVingle and be sure to check out the rest of Wheelhouse Creative’s website for your marketing and advertising needs. If interested, call us at 304-905-6005.