LAS VEGAS — The leader of the Fritz Pollard Alliance, a watchdog group that champions diversity in the NFL, says Jon Gruden's 2011 remark about players' union leader DeMaurice Smith is indicative of the racism at many levels of professional sports.
Rod Graves, the Alliance’s executive director, also hinted at seeking discipline for Gruden.
A Wall Street Journal story noted that Gruden, then working for ESPN and now coach of the Las Vegas Raiders, referred in a racist way to Smith’s facial features in an email.
“The insensitive remarks made by Jon Gruden about DeMaurice Smith are indicative of the racism that exist on many levels of professional sports,” Graves, the Alliance's executive director, said in a statement. "Furthermore, it reveals that the journey for African Americans and other minorities in sports, is riddled with irrepressible mindsets at the highest level.
“It is our hope that the league and team ownership will address this matter with a remedy commensurate with these painful words. This is yet another inflection point in a society fraught with cynical social blinders, absent of respect for the intellectual capacity and leadership of minorities. When will it end?”
The league is looking into the matter and a person familiar with that probe told The Associated Press that disciplinary action is possible for Gruden. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because details of any league probe are not made public.
Las Vegas hosts Chicago on Sunday.
The Alliance promotes inclusion and advancement for minorities in pro football, from coaches to front office and league executive positions.
Gruden’s comment in an email to then-Washington Football Team President Bruce Allen came during the 2011 lockout of the players by the NFL. Gruden told the newspaper he was angry about the lockout during labor negotiations and he didn’t trust the direction the union was taking. He also apologized for the remark, the Journal reported.
“Dumboriss Smith has lips the size of michellin tires,” Gruden wrote in the email reviewed by the newspaper.
Raiders owner Mark Davis said Friday in a statement that Gruden’s email does not reflect the team’s standards.
“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 said. “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.”
During a review of emails regarding workplace misconduct at the Washington Football Team that was completed during the summer, “the league was informed of the existence of emails that raised issues beyond the scope of that investigation,” NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said Friday. He added that "the email from Jon Gruden denigrating DeMaurice Smith is appalling, abhorrent and wholly contrary to the NFL’s values. We condemn the statement and regret any harm that its publication may inflict on Mr. Smith or anyone else.”
Pro Football Writer Barry Wilner contributed to this report.