Jon Gruden used a racist trope to describe executive director of the NFL Players Association DeMaurice Smith in a 2011 email, the Wall Street Journal reports.
“Dumboriss Smith has lips the size of Michelin tires,” Gruden wrote in a July 2, 2011, email to then Washington general manager Bruce Allen, according to the report. Gruden then was a commentator for ESPN.
At the time, the NFL was in negotiations with Smith's NFLPA to try and end a lockout.
Gruden, now the coach of the Raiders, told the Wall Street Journal that he didn't recall writing the email but that he's "really sorry," saying he was frustrated with Smith and the NFLPA at the time. He added that he used the term "rubber lips" to describe anyone he thought was lying.
“I was upset,” Gruden told the WSJ. “I used a horrible way of explaining it. I don’t think he’s dumb. I don’t think he’s a liar. I don’t have a racial bone in my body, and I’ve proven that for 58 years.”
Smith said in a statement to the Wall Street Journal that he wouldn't let racism define him.
“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 told 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.
“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. 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 is investigating the situation, and Gruden could face disciplinary action.
"The email from Jon Gruden denigrating DeMaurice Smith is appalling, abhorrent and wholly contrary to the NFL's values," the NFL said in a statement. "We condemn the statement and regret any harm that its publication may inflict on Mr. Smith or anyone else."
Gruden reportedly discussed the report with his players, according to The Athletic's Vic Tafur and said he had reached out to Smith to try and apologize but has not heard back.
Raiders owner Mark Davis said in a statement that Gruden's comments did not represent what the Raiders stand for as a franchise.
"The content of an email regarding DeMaurice Smith from Jon Gruden when he worked for ESPN for 10 years 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."
At the time of the email, Gruden was a commentator for ESPN for its Monday Night Football broadcasts. He joined the Raiders as head coach on a long-term contract in 2018.
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