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Former Raiders great admits comment could cost Gruden his job

Updated October 9, 2021 - 3:14 pm

Hall of Fame wide receiver Tim Brown offered a strong defense of longtime friend Jon Gruden in a radio interview Saturday, but conceded the leaked email scandal could prompt Raiders’ owner Mark Davis to take strong action.

“There’s a possibility that (Gruden) could possibly lose his job over this if Mark Davis feels as if this is something that’s a problem,” Brown said in a radio interview on SiriusXM NFL Radio.

“He loves Gruden, but he loves things being right more than he loves Gruden.”

A Wall Street Journal report on Friday revealed an email Gruden sent to then-Washington Football Team president Bruce Allen in 2011 was discovered during an investigation into the workplace culture of the organization.

In the email, Gruden used a racial trope to describe NFLPA chief DeMaurice Smith.

“Dumboriss Smith has lips the size of michellin tires,” Gruden wrote, misspelling the name of the brand.

The imagery of large lips historically has been used to promote anti-Black and racist ideas. Gruden said Friday he often uses the phrase “rubber lips” to describe people who he believes are often untruthful and that the phrasing in the email was an evolution of that term.

Brown, who played for Gruden from 1998 to 2001 and remains close friends with the coach, supported Gruden’s claim.

“I’ve heard Jon use the term rubber lips before, meaning that this guy’s double-talking, or he’s doing whatever,” said Brown. “That’s just a term that he uses.”

Urban dictionary, an online trove of slang expressions, cites the phrase as meaning someone who “accidentally mangles the pronunciation of a word due to lingual clumsiness.”

Gruden was working for ESPN at the time of the email and said he was frustrated with Smith’s leadership of the union.

“Rubber-lipped grew into Michelin Man,” Gruden said Friday, referring to the famous tire company mascot. “I went too far with that, and I apologize.”

Brown said in the interview he has never had any experience with Gruden where his friend came off as racist.

“Never, ever, have I gotten anything from him that made me even pause, to think about, ‘Hmm, that didn’t come off right,’” Brown said.

“I think if you know Gruden, if you know anything about him, or if you’ve been around him, especially for the length of time that I’ve been knowing him, then you would have gotten a hint that this guy is not right. There’s something that’s not right about him. There’s no way I would have ever. The way I talk about Gruden, people think he’s my dad or something because I have that kind of admiration for him.”

But Brown also knows Davis and believes his strong stances against intolerance could lead to him coming down hard on the coach in this case.

“If Mark thinks that there’s a problem here, Mark will make a move,” Brown said. “That’s how serious Mark is about this kind of stuff. Mark is not going to play this racist stuff. He’s not going to allow this stuff to happen.

“If he feels as if this is wrong, and I’m sure there’s going to be some discipline … if there’s anything to this, and Mark believes, I believe Mark will go deeper than just fining Gruden. There’s a possibility that he could possibly lose his job over this if Mark Davis feels as if this is something that’s a problem.”

Davis put out a statement through the team on Friday and said he would have no further comment pending a review of information received from the league, which is conducting an investigation on the matter.

“The content of an email regarding DeMaurice Smith from Jon Gruden when he worked for ESPN 10 years ago is disturbing and not what the Raiders stand for,” Davis wrote. “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.”

Contact Adam Hill at ahill@reviewjournal.com. Follow @AdamHillLVRJ on Twitter. Contact Vincent Bonsignore at vbonsignore@reviewjournal.com. Follow @VinnyBonsignore on Twitter.

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