Raiders coach resigns after homophobic and misogynistic emails

  • Jon Gruden has stepped down as head coach of the Las Vegas Raiders. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

Jon Gruden stepped down Monday as the coach of the Las Vegas Raiders football team hours after The New York Times detailed emails in which he had made homophobic and misogynistic remarks, following an earlier report of racist statements about a union leader.

His resignation was a striking departure from the football league for a coach who had won a Super Bowl, been a marquee analyst on ESPN and returned to the NFL in 2018 to lead the resurgent Raiders, which he had coached years before.

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“I have resigned as Head Coach of the Las Vegas Raiders,” he said on Twitter in a statement issued by the team. “I love the Raiders and do not want to be a distraction. Thank you to all the players, coaches, staff, and fans of Raider Nation. I’m sorry, I never meant to hurt anyone.”

Mark Davis, the owner of the Raiders, said in a statement that he had accepted the resignation. Rich Bisaccia, the Raiders’ special teams coordinator, was elevated to interim head coach, the team said.

Gruden’s departure came after a New York Times report that NFL officials, as part of a separate workplace misconduct investigation that did not directly involve him, found that Gruden had casually and frequently unleashed misogynistic and homophobic language over several years to denigrate people around the game and to mock some of the league’s momentous changes.

He denounced the emergence of women as referees, the drafting of a gay player and the tolerance of players protesting during the playing of the national anthem, according to emails reviewed by The Times.

Gruden’s messages were sent to Bruce Allen, the former president of the Washington Football Team, and others, while he was working for ESPN as a color analyst during “Monday Night Football.” In the emails, Gruden called the league’s commissioner, Roger Goodell, a “faggot” and a “clueless anti football pussy” and said that Goodell should not have pressured Jeff Fisher, then the coach of the Rams, to draft “queers,” a reference to Michael Sam, a gay player chosen by the team in 2014.

In numerous emails during a seven-year period ending in early 2018, Gruden criticized Goodell and the league for trying to reduce concussions and said that Eric Reid, a player who had demonstrated during the playing of the national anthem, should be fired. In several instances, Gruden used a homophobic slur to refer to Goodell and offensive language to describe some NFL owners, coaches and journalists who cover the league.

Gruden, Allen, the NFL and the Raiders did not respond to requests for comment from The Times.

Although not with a team at the time, Gruden was still influential in the league and highly coveted as a coach. He had won a Super Bowl with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the 2002-03 season. And in 2018, he was hired for his second stint as the head coach of the Raiders franchise, which includes defensive lineman Carl Nassib, the first active NFL player to publicly declare that he is gay.

The league said last week that it shared emails with the Raiders in which Gruden made derogatory comments.

Gruden told ESPN on Sunday that the league was reviewing emails in which he criticized Goodell and explained that he had been upset about team owners’ lockout of the players in 2011, when some of the emails were written. Gruden said in that interview that had used an expletive to refer to Goodell and that he did so because he disapproved of Goodell’s emphasis on safety, which he believed was scaring parents into steering their sons away from football.

The league was already investigating Gruden as a result of another email he wrote to Allen in 2011 in which he used racist terms to describe Smith, who is Black.

In that email, Gruden, who is white and was working for ESPN at the time, criticized Smith’s intelligence and used a racist trope to describe his face. The correspondence was first reported by The Wall Street Journal and confirmed by The New York Times.

Taken together, the emails provide an unvarnished look into the clubby culture of one NFL circle of peers, where white male decision-makers felt comfortable sharing pornographic images, deriding the league policies and jocularly sharing homophobic language.

Their banter flies in the face of the league’s public denouncements of racism and sexism and its promises to be more inclusive amid criticism for not listening to the concerns of Black players, who make up about 70% of rosters. The NFL has in the past struggled to discipline personnel who have committed acts of domestic violence and been condemned for failing to adequately address harassment of women, including NFL cheerleaders.

The league, Smith and Davis all denounced Gruden’s comments about Smith when they surfaced, but the coach still led his team in its game Sunday against the Chicago Bears. Gruden said Friday that he did not remember sending the email and that his language “went too far,” adding, “I never had a blade of racism in me.”

Gruden’s emails to Allen, who was fired by the Washington Football Team at the end of 2019, were reviewed as part of an NFL investigation of workplace misconduct within the franchise that ended this summer. Goodell instructed league executives to look at more than 650,000 emails during the past few months, including those in which Gruden made offensive remarks. Last week, Goodell received a summary of their findings, and the league sent the Raiders some of the emails written by Gruden.

In the exchanges, Gruden used his personal email account, while Allen wrote from his team account. In some cases, Allen initiated the conversations, and Gruden chimed in, while in other cases, they traded vulgar comments several times.

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Some of the emails between Gruden and Allen also included businessmen friends: Ed Droste, the co-founder of Hooters; Jim McVay, an executive who has run the Outback Bowl, annually held in Tampa, Florida; and Nick Reader, founder of PDQ Restaurants, a Tampa-based fried chicken franchise. The exchanges begin as early as 2010 while Gruden was an analyst for “Monday Night Football.” In 2018, he signed a 10-year, $100 million contract to coach the Raiders.

Droste, McVay and Reader did not respond to requests for comment.