Las Vegas Raiders head coach Jon Gruden has come under criticism for an email he sent in 2011 in which he reportedly used a racial trope to describe NFLPA President DeMaurice Smith.
According to the Wall Street Journal, Gruden, who was then working for ESPN, sent an email to then-Washington Football Team President and General Manager Bruce Allen, in which he says Smith has lips as big as “Michelin tires.”
“Dumboriss Smith has lips the size of michellin tires,” Gruden reportedly wrote.
LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – SEPTEMBER 26: Head coach Jon Gruden of the Las Vegas Raiders argues a call during the second half of a game against the Miami Dolphins at Allegiant Stadium on September 26, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The Raiders defeated the Dolphins 31-28 in overtime. (Photo by Chris Unger/Getty Images)
The email was sent amid tense negotiations between the players and the league as the two sides haggled over a collective bargaining agreement that would allow play to continue.
Gruden told the Journal that he does remember being upset about how the players’ side handled negotiations but does not remember making a comment about Smith’s lips.
Nonetheless, Gruden apologized for the remark.
“I’m really sorry,” he told the Journal. Gruden hastened to add that he frequently uses the term “rubber lips” when describing or referring to someone he believes to be a liar. The Raiders coach added that he does not “have a racial bone” in his body and that he doesn’t believe Smith to be “dumb” or a “liar.”
The Journal’s report sparked a flurry of statements from DeMaurice Smith, the NFL, and the Raiders organization.
“This is not the first racist comment that I’ve heard and it probably will not be the last,” Smith said. “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.
“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.”
NEW ORLEANS, LA – JANUARY 31: DeMaurice Smith, Executive Director of the National Football League Players Association, addresses the media at the NFL Players Association annual state of the union press conference in the media center on January 31, 2013 in New Orleans, Louisiana. The Ravens will take on the San Francisco 49ers on February 3, 2013 at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
The NFL referred to Gruden’s remark as “abhorrent” and “appalling.”
“The email from Jon Gruden denigrating DeMaurice Smith is appalling, abhorrent and wholly contrary to the NFL’s values” the league said in a statement. “We condemn the statement and regret any harm that its publication may inflict on Mr. Smith or anyone else.”
The Raiders were equally stern in their condemnation of the remark. However, perhaps sensing that they may soon be pressured to discipline or even fire Gruden, the team stressed that their coach was an employee of ESPN when the remark was made.
“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,” Raiders Owner Mark Davis said in a statement. “We are addressing the matter with Coach Gruden and will have no further comment at this time.”
— Las Vegas Raiders (@Raiders) October 8, 2021
The Raiders, and for now, Gruden, are scheduled to take on the Bears on Sunday.