Las Vegas Raiders head coach Jon Gruden resigned Monday evening in the wake of stories by The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times that revealed derogatory emails Gruden, 58, sent while an employee of ESPN. The emails—which contained racist, homophobic and misogynistic remarks—were leaked to the two publications and were sent between 2011 and 2018.
“I have resigned as Head Coach of the Las Vegas Raiders,” Gruden wrote in a statement published by the Raiders’ social media accounts. “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.”
The team announced Rich Bisaccia will serve as interim head coach.
The saga began last Friday when the Journal divulged a leaked 2011 email obtained in the NFL’s workplace investigation into the Washington Football Team. Gruden sent the email to then-team president Bruce Allen and used racist language in referring to NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith. Gruden apologized for what he termed “insensitive remarks.” Hours after the WSJ story was published, NFLPA team player representatives voted to approve a contract extension for Smith. In a statement last Friday, the league blasted the email as “appalling, abhorrent and wholly contrary to the NFL’s values.”
On Monday night, many more bigoted emails from Gruden’s employment with ESPN surfaced. The Times reported that in other messages to Allen, Gruden described NFL commissioner Roger Goodell as a “faggot” and “clueless anti football pussy.” Goodell, according to the Times, also opined that Goodell erred when encouraging the Rams to draft “queers,” a reference to 2014 seventh-round pick Michael Sam. Gruden reportedly also panned the hiring of women as referees, lambasted players who kneeled for the national anthem, mocked efforts to reduce the incidence of concussions, ridiculed Caitlyn Jenner and trans people, and relied on insensitive wording to describe owners and journalists.
Although neither the NFL nor any of its teams employed Gruden when he sent the emails, and although the remarks arose in private messages, the NFL could conclude that Gruden has severely damaged the league’s relationship with the players’ union—a crucial party given the importance of collective bargaining—as well as with relationship with fans, media partners and key constituencies. Goodell could reason that Gruden’s emails warrant a punishment, such as a lengthy suspension from any employment with an NFL team.
Likewise, the Raiders could have concluded that Gruden should be fired. Gruden, however, averted a firing by quitting. It is unclear whether, and to what extent, Gruden will be compensated by the Raiders going forward. In 2018, Gruden signed a 10-year, $100 million contract with the team. A source familiar with Gruden’s contract said he is owed about $60 million left over the next six years. Normally when a coach quits, the team’s contractual obligation to the coach ends. However, buyout agreements are sometimes negotiated wherein the coach is paid a portion of the remaining money.
Had Gruden not quit and instead been fired “for cause”, a contractual quarrel might have arisen in an arbitration or court proceeding. A key fact: Gruden’s misconduct occurred before his employment with the Raiders began, but its impact occurred while he was employed. It is also possible Gruden had a contractual or workplace obligation to inform the Raiders of the emails prior to his hiring. If so, his omission of required disclosures would help to justify a for cause firing.
There are unanswered questions that will likely draw attention in the days and weeks ahead. Among them:
* Why was Gruden’s email about Smith from years ago revealed last Friday and why were more emails revealed on Monday night? Was the NFLPA vote on Smith, who earlier in the week had failed to gain NFLPA approval for a new contract, relevant to the timing?
* The league’s investigation into the Washington Football Team occurred months ago and led to a $10 million fine in July. If the NFL or its investigators had the emails months ago, or perhaps longer, it took no apparent action. How come?
* Since the Washington Football Team investigation—a matter unrelated to Gruden—led to the discovery of Gruden’s emails, would the emails have been discovered if the investigation had not occurred?
* Were Gruden’s emails uniquely bigoted, or should the league more regularly monitor email exchanges between media members and team officials?
* Did the Raiders and ESPN know about the emails before last Friday and if so, were any actions taken? Is there any connection between Gruden’s issues and the recent “exodus” of Raiders executives, including former team president Marc Badain, who resigned on July 19? Gruden is just the latest Raiders executive to quit unexpectedly. VP of strategy and business development Brandon Doll also stepped down in July. In June, CFO Ed Villanueva and controller Araxie Grant both left the team.
* The front-office departures have also set off media speculation about the team’s finances. Meanwhile, Nevada’s Clark County has spent millions of dollars of reserve funds to meet bond payments that helped finance Allegiant Stadium, the team’s new home, because of revenue shortfalls due to the pandemic. How does Gruden’s resignation impact these other issues?
One point is clear: The Gruden situation will spark serious questions about bigotry in the NFL and how it should be addressed.