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NFL condemns racist language used by Jon Gruden in 2011 email

The NFL condemned the email sent by Jon Gruden, now the coach of the Raiders. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
3 min

The NFL condemned racist language used by Las Vegas Raiders Coach Jon Gruden in an email that the league found to have been sent 10 years ago.

The email was sent by Gruden, then a broadcaster for ESPN, in July 2011 to Bruce Allen, then the president of the franchise now known as the Washington Football Team. It concerned DeMaurice Smith, the executive director of the NFL Players Association.

“The email from Jon Gruden denigrating DeMaurice Smith is appalling, abhorrent and wholly contrary to the NFL’s values,” league spokesman Brian McCarthy said Friday in a written statement. “We condemn the statement and regret any harm that its publication may inflict on Mr. Smith or anyone else.”

The NFL declined to comment on the possibility of Gruden being disciplined under the league’s personal conduct policy.

According to the Wall Street Journal, which first reported the email, Gruden wrote to Allen, “Dumboriss Smith has lips the size of michellin tires.”

Smith, who is Black, has been the NFLPA’s executive director since 2009.

“This is not the first racist comment that I’ve heard and it probably will not be the last,” Smith said Friday in a written statement issued through an NFLPA spokesman. “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. 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.”

Gruden told the Journal that he didn’t recall writing the email but was “really sorry” for the language used in it.

At the time of Gruden’s email, the NFL and the Smith-led union were working to complete and ratify their 2011 labor agreement after a 4½-month lockout of the players by team owners.

“Racism like this comes from the fact that I’m at the same table as they are and they don’t think someone who looks like me belongs,” Smith said Friday. “I’m sorry my family has to see something like this but I would rather they know. I will not let it define me.”

Raiders owner Mark Davis said in a statement released by the team that the content of Gruden’s email "is disturbing and not what the Raiders stand for.” Davis said the Raiders were first made aware of the email late Thursday by a reporter and were reviewing it and other materials provided to the team Friday by the NFL. Davis said the Raiders “are addressing the matter with Coach Gruden” and had no further comment.

“I really don’t remember exactly this email — it was a long time ago,” Gruden told the Athletic on Friday. “I certainly will take accountability for it if it’s on my email.”

Gruden said that he “probably looked at [Smith] as the villain” and was “really upset” about the lockout.

“I didn’t feel like we were getting the truth,” Gruden said. “I refer to guys when I see them lying — and I can tell they’re lying — I refer to them as ‘rubber lips.’ I went too far calling him the Michelin lips. I never had a blade of racism in me. I was just pissed and used a terrible way to insult a guy.”

Gruden told the Athletic that he had “reached out” to Smith but had not received a reply.

According to McCarthy, the NFL came across Gruden’s email to Allen as a result of the investigation into workplace misconduct involving the Washington Football Team. The league “was informed of the existence of emails that raised issues beyond the scope of that investigation,” McCarthy said.

Senior NFL executives reviewed the content of more than 650,000 emails, including Gruden’s to Allen, over the past few months, according to McCarthy. Those league executives presented a summary of that review earlier this week to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and “are sharing with Raiders executives emails pertaining to Coach Gruden,” McCarthy said.

The investigation into the Washington Football Team was overseen by prominent D.C. attorney Beth Wilkinson.

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