Las Vegas Raiders coach Jon Gruden took the field to coach his team against the Chicago Bears on Sunday, as the National Football League continued to deliberate whether he will be punished after the revelation that he made a racially disparaging comment about the players’ union chief in an email 10 years ago.
In the email, Gruden described NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith with a racial trope.
“Dumboriss Smith has lips the size of michellin tires,” Gruden wrote in the email, which was reviewed by the Journal.
The NFL, since Friday, has discussed Gruden’s status with the club to determine whether there should be any discipline, the person said. Gruden, in an interview with The Wall Street Journal Friday, apologized for the remark.
Gruden, speaking after his team’s 20-9 loss to the Bears, that he has not yet been contacted by the NFL but added “we’ll see what happens here in the next few days.”
There are a number of factors that the Raiders and NFL may weigh as they consider possible discipline. His email sparked sharp rebukes in numerous corners of a sport where more than half of the players are Black.
The league has also tried to reposition itself as a leader on social and racial issues in recent years after being criticized for its handling of the Colin Kaepernick-led protests of racial injustices during the national anthem.
Raiders quarterback Derek Carr, speaking after the game, said Gruden briefed the team on the article the morning before it was published and was honest with them. “We’ve got your back,” Carr said of the team’s reaction to him. “We’re just trying to be there to support coach.”
Defensive end Yannick Ngakoue, when asked how the Black players reacted, said the team was focused on the game and he had “no comment on that.” Running back Josh Jacobs added that Gruden has never rubbed him that type of way, adding that “what he said is what he said” and “people grow.”
Rod Graves, executive director of the Fritz Pollard Alliance, which advocates for diversity in the NFL, said in a statement Sunday that “insensitive remarks made by Jon Gruden about DeMaurice Smith are indicative of the racism that exist on many levels of professional sports.”
“It is our hope that the League and team ownership will address this matter with a remedy commensurate with these painful words,” Graves said in the statement.
Gruden’s email dominated typically football-focused pregame programming on Sunday. In a critical monologue on ESPN, former star wide receiver Randy Moss said he was “hurt” by the remark and noted that it reflected the league moving backwards.
“The clock is ticking,” Moss said. “We are watching to see what the National Football League is going to do.”
One element that may come into play is not only when the email was sent—10 years ago—but also the fact that Gruden at the time was working for that same network, ESPN, not a team. Another critical element will be what is contained in other emails the NFL and the Raiders are reviewing.
Gruden’s email is part of an investigation by the NFL into a tranche of more than 650,000 emails the league said it became aware of during the course of the investigation into workplace misconduct inside the Washington Football Team, the league said Friday. The league said it was “informed of the existence of emails that raised issues beyond the scope of that investigation.”
The NFL said a review of the email was presented to commissioner
last week, and added that it would share emails pertaining to Gruden with the Raiders.
Gruden was a broadcaster for ESPN, where he called Monday Night Football games, at the time he sent the email to Bruce Allen, who was then the president of the franchise now called the Washington Football Team. Gruden was previously the coach of both the then-Oakland Raiders and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the franchise he led to a Super Bowl win after the 2002 season. He returned to the Raiders in 2018.
Gruden, in an interview Friday, apologized for the remarks. He said, at the time, he was angry over Smith’s handling of labor negotiations and that he believed Smith was lying. The email was sent on July 21, 2011, when the NFL and NFLPA were at the crescendo of a monthslong lockout. That day, the NFL owners approved a new collective bargaining agreement, yet the players opted not to vote on it immediately, citing outstanding issues that the union was fighting to resolve. Gruden said he has in the past referred to people he believes to be lying as “rubber lips” and that he took it “too far.”
“I’m really sorry,” Gruden said.
“I don’t think he’s dumb. I don’t think he’s a liar,” Gruden said. “I don’t have a racial bone in my body, and I’ve proven that for 58 years.”
In a statement to the Journal, Smith said Gruden’s comments demonstrate the difficulty Black people face in their careers.
“This is not the first racist comment that I’ve heard and it probably will not be the last. This is a thick skin job for someone with dark skin, just like it always has been for many people who look like me and work in corporate America,” Smith said. “You know people are sometimes saying things behind your back that are racist just like you see people talk and write about you using thinly coded and racist language.”
The league also denounced Gruden in a statement.
“The email from Jon Gruden denigrating DeMaurice Smith is appalling, abhorrent and wholly contrary to the NFL’s values,” the NFL said Friday. “We condemn the statement and regret any harm that its publication may inflict on Mr. Smith or anyone else.”
Raiders owner Mark Davis, in a statement Friday, called the email “disturbing and not what the Raiders stand for.”
“We were first made aware of the email late yesterday by a reporter and are reviewing it along with other materials provided to us today by the NFL,” Davis’s statement said. “We are addressing the matter with Coach Gruden and will have no further comment at this time.”
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