The swarm of emails that surfaced in an NFL investigation included not only the use of a racial trope, but also examples of Gruden using antagonistic language.
“I have resigned as head coach of the Las Vegas Raiders. I love the Raiders and don’t want to be distracted,” Gruden said in a statement. “Thank you to all Raider Nation players, coaches, staff and fans I’m sorry, I never meant to hurt anyone.”
Businesshala reported Friday that Gruden used a racial trope to describe NFLPA executive director Demoris Smith in a 2011 email that said: “Dumboris Smith’s lips are the size of a Michelin tire.” The league said it was “notified of the existence of emails that raised issues beyond the scope of that investigation.”
Gruden’s health deteriorated on Monday night, When the New York Times reported that Gruden used offensive language in several other instances as well. He referred to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell as a “fagot” and wrote that Goodell should not have pressured the then-St. Lewis Rams coach Jeff Fischer drafted the “Queer” in 2014, pointing to Michael Sam’s team’s draft pick. The contents of the email were confirmed by The Journal.
Gruden’s email correspondence was with Bruce Allen, the president of the franchise now called the Washington Football Team. In some cases, other individuals were in email chains.
The email also included an anti-transgender conversation that made fun of Caitlyn Jenner and another that made an anti-joke about Tampa Bay Buccaneers co-owner Brian Glazer. Allen and Gruden worked together in Tampa Bay.
Among other disturbing details: Gruden and some participants shared photos of topless women, including at least one Washington football team cheerleader. Other emails contained more anti-gay language. Gruden also wrote that Eric Reid, the player who took a knee during the national anthem to protest racial injustice, should be fired.
The emails were submitted to Goodell as part of the NFL’s investigation last week and shared with the Raiders. The NFL cited its opening statement from Friday that strongly condemned the language.
News of the end of Gruden’s tenure came to light during Monday Night Football, the program for which he was a broadcaster, when some emails were sent in 2011.
Gruden apologized for the emails about Smith, saying he was upset with Smith’s handling of labor talks at a time when the NFL and union neared the end of a month-long lockdown. In an interview with the Journal, Gruden said that 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 terrible 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 it for 58 years.”
But additional emails paint a more vivid picture of a coach, who appears to be engaging in an e-mail prank that would be widely considered harmful to women and the gay community. The first email relating to Smith had already generated several calls for action, and these disclosures had increased 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 being criticized for its handling of Colin Kaepernick-led protests during the anthem. Gruden’s team, the Raiders, includes Carl Nasib, the first active NFL player to come out as gay.
Smith said in a statement on Friday that the comments made about him showed the difficulties black people still face in their careers.
“This isn’t the first racist comment I’ve heard and it probably won’t be the last. This is a fat skin act for someone with darker skin, just like it does for many people who look like me. And work in corporate America,” Smith said. “You know people sometimes behind your back saying things that are racist like you see people talk about you and thinly coded and use racist language.”
The emails drew sharp condemnation from both the Raiders and the NFL, saying Goodell had been briefed about the league’s investigation in an email last week. The league said it had shared emails and others related to Gruden with the Raiders.
The NFL said Friday, “The email defaming DeMorris Smith by John Gruden is appalling, disgusting and contrary to the values of the NFL.”
Raiders owner Mark Davis also slammed Gruden’s email, calling it “disturbing and not what the Raiders stand for”.
“We were first made aware of the email by a reporter late yesterday and are reviewing it along with other materials provided to us by the NFL today,” Davis said in a statement Friday. “We are addressing the matter with Coach Gruden and will not comment further at this time.”
While Gruden coached his team after losing to the Chicago Bears on Sunday, just two days after the first email went public, the NFL and the team were discussing what needed to be done. This was particularly thorny not only because of what Gruden said, and to whom the comment was directed, but also by other factors such as when the emails were sent—when Gruden was not employed by the NFL or a team.
Gruden, 58, first coached the then Oakland Raiders in 1998 and traded a blockbuster deal with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to lead 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 mounted on the NFL or the Raiders to act on Sunday as conversations about his remarks dominated generally 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 Gruden’s former network ESPN. “We are looking at what the National Football League is going to do.”
Rod Graves, executive director of the Fritz Pollard Alliance, an organization that advocates for diversity in the NFL, also called for action on Sunday, saying “John Gruden’s insensitive remarks about DeMorris Smith are a sign of racism that pervades the professional community.” The game exists at many levels.”
“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 protected]