During the NFL’s investigation into workplace misconduct within the Washington Football Team, the league reviewed over 650,000 emails. One glaring message, which did not have to do with the franchise directly, was from then-ESPN broadcaster Jon Gruden to Washington general manager Bruce Allen, and featured a pretty despicable description of NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith.
The message was sent in July 2011, as the NFL and players were negotiating to move past a lockout. After owners voted to ratify an updated collective bargaining agreement, the league’s players did not immediately agree to it.
Gruden, who was then with ESPN calling Monday Night Football and serving as an analyst for other broadcasts, responded to an email chain with Allen and others after the news broke. “Dumboriss Smith has lips the size of michellin tires,” he wrote, per The Wall Street Journal.
There is a long, sordid history of racist depictions of Black people having giant lips. It’s pretty much impossible to separate this statement from that history, though Gruden has apologized and denied that there was any racist intent.
Jon Gruden, head coach of the Las Vegas Raiders, used a racist trope when describing the top NFL players’ executive in a 2011 email https://t.co/FYHLHqrOsY
— The Wall Street Journal (@WSJ) October 8, 2021
“I’m really sorry,” the Las Vegas Raiders head coach said in response to the story. “I was upset. I used a horrible way of explaining it.
“I don’t think he’s dumb. I don’t think he’s a liar. I don’t have a racial bone in my body, and I’ve proven that for 58 years.”
Jon Gruden says the reference to Smith’s lips was not intended to be racial, but a play on the term “rubber lips,” which he used to use to refer to people as liars. Smith has also responded to the situation:
“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. “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,” Smith said. “I’m sorry my family has to see something like this but I would rather they know. I will not let it define me.”
The NFL called Gruden’s email “appalling, abhorrent, and wholly contrary to the NFL’s values.” The Raiders have not yet commented on the matter.
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