The resignation of Gruden, one of the league’s most prominent coaches over the past two decades, is the fallout from a long-running league investigation surrounding the workplace culture at the Washington Football Team. That probe surfaced emails that captured Gruden—in emails with former Washington team president Bruce Allen—making offensive comments about Black and gay people.
“I have resigned as Head Coach of the Las Vegas Raiders. I love the Raiders and do not want to be a distraction,” Gruden said in a statement. “Thank you to all the players, coaches, staff, and fans of Raider Nation. I’m sorry, I never meant to hurt anyone.”
The Wall Street Journal reported Friday that Gruden had used a racial trope to describe NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith in a 2011 email that said: “Dumboriss Smith has lips the size of michellin tires.” The league said it had been “informed of the existence of emails that raised issues beyond the scope of that investigation.”
Gruden’s problems worsened on Monday night, when the New York Times reported that Gruden also used offensive language in numerous other instances. He referred to NFL commissioner
as a “faggot” and wrote that Goodell should not have pressured then-St. Louis Rams coach Jeff Fisher to draft “queers,” alluding to the team’s draft pick of Michael Sam in 2014. The emails’ contents were confirmed by The Journal.
Gruden’s email correspondence was with Bruce Allen, who was president of the franchise now called the Washington Football Team. In some cases, other individuals were on the email chains.
The emails also included transphobic conversations that mocked Caitlyn Jenner and another that made a homophobic joke about Tampa Bay Buccaneers co-owner Bryan Glazer. Allen and Gruden worked together in Tampa Bay.
Among the other troubling details: Gruden and some of the participants shared photos of topless women, including at least one Washington Football Team cheerleader. Other emails included more homophobic language. Gruden also wrote that Eric Reid, a player who kneeled during the national anthem to protest racial injustices, should be fired.
The emails were presented to Goodell last week as part of the NFL’s investigation and were shared with the Raiders.
Gruden could not immediately be reached for comment. The NFL referred to its initial statement from Friday which strongly condemned the language.
News of Gruden’s tenure coming to an end emerged during Monday Night Football, the program for which he was a broadcaster when some of the emails were sent in 2011.
Gruden apologized for the email about Smith, saying that he was upset over Smith’s handling of labor negotiations at the time, when the NFL and union were near the end of a monthslong lockout. In an interview with the Journal, Gruden said he believed Smith was lying at the time and that he often referred to liars as “rubber lips.”
“I was upset,” Gruden said. “I used a horrible way of explaining it.”
“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.”
But the additional emails paint a more vivid picture of a coach who appeared to cavalierly engage in email banter that would widely be considered to be hurtful to women and the gay community. The first email, concerning Smith, had already drawn numerous calls for action and these revelations amped up the pressure for action.
The emails were particularly troubling for a league that has tried to position itself behind social justice causes in recent years after criticism for how it handled the Colin Kaepernick-led protests during the anthem. Gruden’s team, the Raiders, includes Carl Nassib, the first active NFL player to come out as gay.
Smith, in a statement Friday, said the comment about him demonstrated the difficulties Black people still 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 email drew swift condemnation from both the Raiders and the NFL, which said Goodell had been briefed on the league’s investigation into the emails last week. The league added that it had shared the email, and others pertaining to Gruden, with the Raiders.
“The email from Jon Gruden denigrating DeMaurice Smith is appalling, abhorrent and wholly contrary to the NFL’s values,” the NFL said Friday.
Raiders owner Mark Davis also rebuked Gruden’s email, calling it “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 said in a statement Friday. “We are addressing the matter with Coach Gruden and will have no further comment at this time.”
While Gruden coached his team in a loss to the Chicago Bears on Sunday, just two days after the first email became public, the NFL and team were discussing what should be done. It was particularly thorny not only because of what Gruden said, and to whom the comment was directed, but also because of other factors such as when the emails were sent—when Gruden was not employed by the NFL or a team.
Gruden, 58 years old, first coached the then-Oakland Raiders in 1998 before getting traded in a blockbuster deal to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and leading them to a Super Bowl victory over his former team. He was fired after the 2008 season, after which he became a high-profile broadcaster on ESPN, where he called Monday Night Football games.
Pressure for the NFL or Raiders to act mounted on Sunday as conversations about his remark dominated airwaves on typically football-oriented pregame shows while various high-profile figures called for discipline.
“The clock is ticking,” Hall of Fame wide receiver Randy Moss said Sunday on ESPN, Gruden’s former network. “We are watching to see what the National Football League is going to do.”
Fritz Pollard Alliance executive director Rod Graves, whose organization advocates for diversity in the NFL, also called for action Sunday saying that the “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 a statement.
Write to Andrew Beaton at email@example.com
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