Las Vegas Raiders head coach Jon Gruden has apologized for using a racist trope in an email about NFL players union chief DeMaurice Smith. The email was sent in 2011, when Gruden was working for ESPN.
As players and owners were jockeying over a collective bargaining agreement, Gruden had an email exchange with Bruce Allen, an executive with the franchise now known as the Washington Football Team. “Dumboriss Smith has lips the size of michellin tires,” he wrote, according to the Wall Street Journal, invoking a staple of anti-Black imagery.
Asked about the email by the Journal, Gruden said it was “a horrible way of explaining” how upset he was about the labor talks, adding that he was “really sorry.” He issued an apology to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, saying, “I don’t have a racist bone in my body.” Amid the tense labor atmosphere of the time, Gruden said he had intended to use an expression he had used in the past, describing people who lie as having “rubber lips,” but instead took it “too far.”
Gruden addressed reporters this afternoon in a customary press briefing, but the Journal story was just landing and did not come up. The Raiders will play the Chicago Bears on Sunday.
According to The Athletic, Gruden addressed the matter with Raiders players earlier today, acknowledging that he recalled “venting” to various people about the looming NFL lockout. He said he had reached out to Smith, but had not heard back.
The NFL is reviewing the matter to determine if it will take disciplinary action against Gruden, who is 58. He has been coach of the Raiders since 2018, his third stint in a top job. Before his nearly decade-long run in the broadcast booth, calling Monday Night Football and appearing in other ESPN programming, Gruden coached the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to their first Super Bowl victory, in 2002, after a prior run as Raiders head coach.
“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 reported by multiple media outlets. “We condemn the statement and regret any harm that its publication may inflict on Mr. Smith or anyone else.”
Smith told the Journal that the email reflected the challenges Blacks face in the professional world. “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,” he said in a statement. “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.”
Subscribe to Deadline Breaking News Alerts and keep your inbox happy.