By Terrance Turner
Oct. 11, 2021 (updated Aug. 30, 2022)
Jon Gruden has resigned from his post as head coach of the Las Vegas Raiders.
“I love the Raiders and do not want to be a distraction,” Gruden said in a statement tonight announcing his resignation. “Thank you to all the players, coachers, staff and fans of Raider Nation. I’m sorry, I never meant to hurt anyone.”
The move came after a whirlwind of bad press over Gruden’s emails. The storm began on Friday, when word spread that Gruden had mocked NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith in an email. Gruden was an ESPN analyst at the time; he was writing to former Washington Football Team president Bruce Allen. Angered by a lockout that had resulted from stalled talks between the league and NFLPA, Gruden wrote to Allen: “Dumboriss Smith has lips the size of michellin tires [sic].”
The offending email was written in 2011. It was discovered during a review of workplace misconduct in Washington, according to the New York Times. (Some 650,000 emails were reviewed during the investigation, at the behest of the NFL Commissioner.) Many viewed the email as a racist swipe at Smith, who is Black. But Gruden denied any racist intent.
“I didn’t feel like we were getting the truth. I refer to guys when they’re lying — and I can tell they’re lying — [as having] ‘rubber lips’. I went too far calling him the Michelin lips,” Gruden admitted, but insisted: “I never had a blade of racism in me. I was just pissed and used a terrible way to insult a guy,” he told the The Athletic on Oct. 8.
More terrible stuff followed today. In additional emails to Allen, Gruden called NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell a “faggot” and “a clueless anti-football pussy”. He also said Goodell should not have pressured then-Rams owner Jeff Fisher to draft “queers” — a reference to former Rams player Michael Sam. (Ironically, Gruden was coaching the Raiders, who employ defensive end Carl Nassib — the NFL’s first openly gay active player. Nassib came out in June; today happens to be National Coming Out Day.)
“I was in a bad frame of mind at the time,” Gruden told ESPN in reference to his insult of Goodell. “They were keeping players and coaches form doing what they love with a lockout.” (In 2011, after players represented by the NFLPA and the NFL failed to reach an agreement, the NFL locked out players from team facilities and stopped work. The lockout lasted from March to July 2011.) Smith responded to the furor in a statement:
“The email from Jon Gruden — and some of the reaction to it — confirms that the fight against racism, racist tropes and intolerance is not over. This is not about an email as much as it is about a pervasive belief by some that people who look like me can be treated as less,” Smith’s statement read. “The email has also revealed why the comments by some with powerful platforms to explain this away are insidious and hypocritical. It is as if there is a need to protect football above the values of equality, inclusion and respect.”
Gruden blamed his comments on the lockout. But it’s unclear if that same feeble excuse applies to his other actions. Gruden also exchanged pics with Allen (and other men) that included photos of women wearing only bikini bottoms — including a photo of two topless Washington Football Team cheerleaders. He also complained about the NFL hiring female referees.
According to Mic, “In one email exchange, Hooters co-founder Ed Droste shared a sexist meme of female referees, and Gruden criticized Goodell for allowing women on the sidelines. In another, Gruden jokingly tells Allen to ask Bryan Glazer, a member of the Glazer family which owns the Buccaneers, to perform oral sex on him, to which Allen jokes he may do.”
UPDATE (Aug. 30, 2022): The Las Vegas Raiders have officially traded 2019 second-round pick Trayvon Mullen to the Arizona Cardinals. Universal Sports Management confirmed the trade. And the Raiders have also waived offensive lineman Alex Leatherwood. (He was the 17th overall pick in the 2021 draft, according to NBC Sports.) With Leatherwood gone, all six of the Raiders players that Gruden helped draft between 2019-2021 have now hit the skids. As NBC Sports writer Myles Simmons pointed out:
“Leatherwood is the latest in a string of failed first-round picks by the previous regime of head coach Jon Gruden and General Manager Mike Mayock. Receiver Henry Ruggs and cornerback Damon Arnette were both waived last season after serious off-the-field incidents. The trio of 2019 first-round picks — defensive end Clelin Ferrell, safety Johnathan Abram, and running back Josh Jacobs — all remain with the team. But all three had their fifth-year options declined in the spring. Ferrell, the No. 4 overall pick that year, has not been a starter since 2020.”
Sportswriter Field Yates (an NFL Insider for ESPN) took note of the pattern: