Las Vegas Raiders head coach Jon Gruden has apologized for a decade-old email in which he invoked a racist trope about NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Both Smith and the NFL have condemned the statement.
The email was reportedly sent in July 2011, when the NFL and its union were locked in a labor dispute. After the league's players voted against ratifying a new collective bargaining agreement, Gruden — then working as an analyst for ESPN's "Monday Night Football" reportedly sent the following email:
“Dumboriss Smith has lips the size of michellin [sic] tires.”
Large lips are often used as a trope in anti-Black cartoons and other imagery.
The email was reportedly sent to Bruce Allen, then the president of the team now known as the Washington Football Team, and came to light during the NFL's investigation into claims of workplace misconduct in the organization.
Jon Gruden apologizes for DeMaurice Smith email
In an interview with the Journal, Gruden reportedly said he doesn't recall writing the email, but apologized for what he said:
“I’m really sorry,” he said.
Gruden said he had been angry at the time because of the lockout and didn’t trust the direction the players, led by Smith, were going in the negotiations. He said he has in the past referred to people he believes to be lying as “rubber lips” and that he took it “too far.”
“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.”
In subsequent comments to The Athletic's Vic Tafur, Gruden said he will take accountability for the email (while reiterating he does not remember writing it) and said he discussed the report with his players in the morning.
Gruden has been the head coach of the Raiders since 2018, when he signed a record 10-year, $100 million contract to return to coaching after nine years with ESPN.
NFL reviewing email, while DeMaurice Smith calls it 'racist'
Per the Journal, the NFL is reviewing Gruden's status with the Raiders for potential discipline. It also released a statement condemning the email:
“The email from Jon Gruden denigrating DeMaurice Smith is appalling, abhorrent and wholly contrary to the NFL’s values,” the NFL said. “We condemn the statement and regret any harm that its publication may inflict on Mr. Smith or anyone else.”
Meanwhile, Smith laid into Gruden's language, calling it emblematic of the racism men like him can face in the league:
“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.”
“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. “I’m sorry my family has to see something like this, but I would rather they know. I will not let it define me.
"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,’ DeMaurice Smith said.
Hours after Gruden's email was reported, the Raiders released a statement saying they are reviewing the email and will address the matter with Gruden:
Allen reportedly did not respond to a request for comment from the Journal.