By Antonio R. Harvey | OBSERVER Staff Writer
Jon Gruden has resigned as head coach of the Las Vegas Raiders. The announcement comes a day after Gruden had addressed racially insensitive comments made in an email to the Black executive director of the National Football League Player Association (NFLPA) 10 years ago.
“I have resigned as head coach of the Las Vegas Raiders. I love the Raiders and do not want to be a distraction. Thank you to all the players, coaches, staff, and fans of Raider Nation. I’m sorry, I never meant to hurt anyone,” Gruden said in a written statement released on Oct. 11.
After the Las Vegas Raiders played the Chicago Bears at Allegiant Stadium on Oct. 10, Gruden apologized for his racially insensitive email about DeMaurice Smith, the executive director of the NFLPA.
Apparently, additional emails with racist, anti-gay and misogynistic language by Gruden were revealed.
Gruden was working for ESPN as a broadcaster when the comments about Smith were made during an exchange with the Washington Football Team (then called the Washington Redskins) president Bruce Allen in July 2011.
“I’m not a racist. I can’t tell you how sick I am. I apologize to D. Smith. But I feel good about who I am and what I’ve done my entire life,” Gruden told The OBSERVER following the Bears 20-9 defeat at Allegiant Stadium. “I apologize for the insensitive remarks. I had no racial intent with those remarks at all. I’m not like that at all.”
During that exchange in the Allegiant Stadium press room, The OBSERVER specifically asked Gruden whether the NFL, Raiders organization, and fans could be assured that no other emails of racial nature exist.
As he was sharing his thoughts, Gruden paused and responded, “Yes, they can.” He maintained that no more emails were floating around before adding that he didn’t “have an ounce” of racism in his character.
Raiders quarterback Derek Carr noted that Gruden had a team meeting before the news broke about his comments, and described the coach as “honest and upright” with the issue.
“We know it’s a hard time for him,” Carr said. “When we left that meeting we were like, ‘it sucks man.’ He probably regrets it. But he told us, ‘you might learn from my mistake.’ I was shocked. He’s never shown any characteristics like that at all.”
Raiders running back Josh Jacobs said Gruden’s team meeting “laid everything out (of) how the situation had occurred.” Jacobs also said that he still has faith in his first NFL coach.
“I’ve been around this guy for three years now. I’ve never felt a certain type of way about him,” Jacobs said. “He’s never rubbed me a certain way, like that type of way. What he said was what he said at the end of the day, too. But I definitely trust him. It was 10 years ago – people grow.”
At the time of the emails, Smith was leading intense labor negotiations for the NFLPA with the NFL. The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported that Gruden’s email described Smith’s facial features.
“Dumboriss has lips the size of Michelin tires,” Gruden stated in the email reviewed by WSJ.
The email surfaced when the WSJ was reporting on issues concerning an NFL investigation of the Washington Football Team’s misconduct in the workplace. Gruden returned to the NFL as head coach of the Raiders on Jan. 9, 2018.
CBS Sports reported that the NFL is investigating the matter.
“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 in a statement to the WSJ. “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.”
Smith, the NFLPA executive director since 2009, has notable litigation experience. An attorney based out of Washington, D.C, he is the longest-serving executive director of any professional sports union. He was originally appointed in 2009 and has served four, three-year terms.
Smith led the NFLPA through a lockout by the NFL, which lasted just over four months. The league locked the players out of the locker rooms as leverage to obtain an 18-game schedule and a 20% reduction in salaries, Smith argued. The NFL also wanted to do away with the long-term pension program for retired players.
In March 2020, Smith successfully negotiated his second long-term Collective Bargaining Agreement with the National Football League. The 11-year agreement provides players with their guaranteed highest share of NFL revenue in history.
Prior to working for NFLPA, Smith spent 10 years with the United States Attorney’s office and the Department of Justice, working on issues such as national security and prison construction.
He also represented Fortune 500 companies and argued many cases before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit and the District of Columbia Court of Appeals.
In the statement to WSJ, Smith stated that he would not allow racism to affect him personally or his career as a litigator.
“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 stated. “I’m sorry my family has to see something like this but I would rather they know. I will not let it define me.”
The NFL issued a statement rebuking Gruden’s comment.
“The email from Jon Gruden denigrating DeMaurice Smith is appalling, abhorrent and wholly contrary to the NFL’s values. We condemn the statement and regret any harm that its publication may inflict on Mr. Smith or anyone else,” the statement read.
Gruden said the league has not approached him about the issue but expects that NFL officials will have that conversation in the immediate future.
Rich Bisaccia, the Raiders’ special teams and assistant head coach, will serve as head coach on an interim basis.