Posted on October 9, 2021

Jon Gruden Used Racial Trope to Describe NFLPA Chief DeMaurice Smith in 2011 Email

Andrew Beaton, Wall Street Journal, October 8, 2021

On July 21, 2011, the National Football League and its players were working to resolve a lockout that threatened the upcoming season. That day, the league’s owners voted to ratify a new collective bargaining agreement—but the players opted not to vote on it immediately, citing outstanding issues that the union was fighting to resolve.

That same day, Jon Gruden—the current Las Vegas Raiders coach who has been one of the most prominent figures in the NFL over the past two decades—sent an email about DeMaurice Smith, the executive director of the NFL Players Association, to a team executive. Gruden’s email described Smith with a racist trope common in anti-Black imagery.

“Dumboriss Smith has lips the size of michellin tires,” he wrote in the email reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.

Gruden is currently the head coach of the Las Vegas Raiders, having previously coached both the Raiders and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the franchise he led to its first Super Bowl win after the 2002 season. He was a broadcaster for ESPN at the time he sent the email to Bruce Allen, who was then the president of the franchise now called the Washington Football Team.

In an interview, Gruden said he can’t specifically recall writing the email but apologized for using that language.


The NFL is reviewing Gruden’s status with the Raiders for potential discipline, a person familiar with the matter 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 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 a statement to The Wall Street Journal, Smith said Gruden’s comments reflect the difficult reality Black people continue to face as they advance their careers.

“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. {snip}


The NFL said, during the course of the investigation into workplace misconduct at the Washington Football Team that finished this summer, it was “informed of the existence of emails that raised issues beyond the scope of that investigation.”

Over the past few months, the NFL said, senior NFL executives have reviewed more than 650,000 emails, including this one, at commissioner Roger Goodell’s direction. Earlier this week, the executives presented a summary of that review to Goodell. The league added that it is sharing emails pertaining to Gruden with the Raiders.

“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.”