Updated October 8, 2021 - 7:09 pm
Raiders coach Jon Gruden is under review by the NFL for his use of a racial slur to describe the players union chief in a 2011 email, it was reported Friday.
Gruden apologized for his use of words 10 years ago to describe DeMaurice Smith, the Black head of the NFL Players Association, but insisted what he said was not racially motivated.
“I don’t have a racist bone in my body,” Gruden said in a phone interview with the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “I have proven that my entire life.”
Gruden sent the email in question to Bruce Allen, then the head of the Washington Football Team. As first reported by The Wall Street Journal, Gruden wrote, “Dumboriss Smith has lips the size of michellin tires.”
The imagery of large lips historically has been used to promote anti-Black and racist ideas.
The email was uncovered as part of the NFL’s investigation of workplace misconduct at the Washington Football Team. The league said there may be sanctions against Gruden in tandem with the Raiders, who play host to the Chicago Bears on Sunday at Allegiant Stadium.
“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.”
In a statement released Friday afternoon, Raiders owner Mark Davis said: “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. 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.”
In a statement to The Wall Street Journal, Smith said he was upset by the remark but that it wasn’t the first racist comment he had heard.
“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. “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.
“Racism like this comes from the fact that I’m at the same table as they are and they don’t think someone who looks like me belongs. I’m sorry my family has to see something like this, but I would rather they know. I will not let it define me.”
Gruden, who was an analyst on “Monday Night Football” in 2011, said Friday he was made aware of the email on Thursday, and while he doesn’t specifically recall sending it, he is holding himself accountable.
“I always stress being accountable, and I will take accountability for it if it was in my email,” he said.
Gruden said he uses the term “rubber lipped” to describe people he thinks are lying, and when Smith became the head of the NFLPA in 2009, Gruden said he didn’t trust anything the new union leader said.
“Rubber lipped grew into Michelin Man,” Gruden said, referring to the famous Michelin tire company mascot. “I went too far with that, and I apologize.”
The Raiders have long stood for racial equality and the advancement of minorities. The hirings of Tom Flores and Art Shell were groundbreaking at the time, with Flores becoming the first Hispanic head coach in NFL history in 1979 and Shell becoming the first African American head coach in 1989. They also hired Amy Trask as the league’s first female CEO.
Gruden said he was upset at the time because the NFL and the players union appeared headed toward a lockout and that he was angry at Smith, who had recently taken over for the late Gene Upshaw. Gruden felt Smith was not providing the necessary guidance to avoid a work stoppage.
“At the time, I looked at Smith as the villain,” Gruden said. “I was angry. I was on a crusade to save football. And I didn’t believe we were getting the truth from him. The situation was headed down the wrong path, and I felt Gene never would have let that happen. But if I offended anyone, I am sorry. That was not my intention. I was upset and angry.”