A report that Jon Gruden used a racist comment about NFL Players Association leader DeMaurice Smith in an email 10 years ago drew a strong and quick rebuke Friday from the NFL.
A Wall Street Journal story noted that Gruden, then working for ESPN and now coach of the Las Vegas Raiders, referred in a racist way to Smith’s facial features.
“The email from Jon Gruden denigrating DeMaurice Smith is appalling, abhorrent and wholly contrary to the NFL’s values,” NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said. “We condemn the statement and regret any harm that its publication may inflict on Mr. Smith or anyone else.”
The league is looking into the matter and a person familiar with that probe told the Associated Press that disciplinary action is possible for Gruden. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because details of any league probe are not made public.
Gruden’s comment in an email to then-Washington Football Team president Bruce Allen came during the 2011 lockout of the players by the NFL. Gruden told the newspaper he was angry about the lockout during labor negotiations and he didn’t trust the direction the union was taking. He also apologized for the remark, the Journal reported.
“Dumboriss Smith has lips the size of michellin tires,” Gruden wrote in the email reviewed by the newspaper.
Raiders owner Mark Davis said in a statement Gruden’s email does not reflect the team’s standards.
“The content of an email regarding DeMaurice Smith from Jon Gruden when he worked for ESPN 10 years ago is disturbing and not what the Raiders stand for,” Davis said. “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. We are addressing the matter with Coach Gruden and will have no further comment at this time.”
During a review of emails regarding workplace misconduct at the Washington Football Team that was completed during the summer, “the league was informed of the existence of emails that raised issues beyond the scope of that investigation,” McCarthy added.
“Over the past few months, at the commissioner’s direction,” he added of Roger Goodell, “senior NFL executives reviewed the content of more than 650,000 emails, including this email which was sent to a club employee. Earlier this week, the executives presented a summary of that review to the commissioner and are sharing with Raiders executives emails pertaining to coach Gruden.”
Smith told the newspaper: “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.”
Gruden defended his resume on racial equality and inclusion while admitting his email went “too far”.
Gruden led the Raiders from 1998 until he was traded to Tampa Bay after the 2001 season. He immediately led the Buccaneers to a Super Bowl title – against the Raiders.
He lasted through the 2008 season in Tampa before being fired, then headed to the Monday Night Football booth.
The Raiders, then in Oakland, rehired Gruden in 2018 with a 10-year, $100m contract. The team moved to Las Vegas last year and has not made the playoffs since his return. But the Raiders are 3-1 in 2021.