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NFL condemns 2011 Jon Gruden email attacking NFLPA chief Smith

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Las Vegas Raiders coach Jon Gruden is under fire over a 2011 email in which he used racially charged imagery in describing NFL Players Association chief DeMaurice Smith./AFP
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Oct 11, 2021 - 09:17 AM

LOS ANGELES — The NFL has strongly condemned a decade-old email from current Las Vegas Raiders coach Jon Gruden using racially charged imagery to describe players union chief DeMaurice Smith.

“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 after the email featured in a report in the Wall Street Journal.

“We condemn the statement and regret any harm that its publication may inflict on Mr. Smith or anyone else.”

In the email reportedly sent during the 2011 lockout of players amid contentions contract negotiations, Gruden — then working as an ESPN analyst — told Bruce Allen, then head of the Washington Football Team, that “Dumboriss Smith has lips the size of Michelin tires.”

The language invokes the imagery of large lips long used in anti-Black caricatures.

The email reportedly came to light during the league’s investigation into claims of workplace misconduct in the Washington Football Team.

Gruden told the Wall Street Journal he did not recall sending the email, but apologized for what it said.

“I’m really sorry,” he told the newspaper, adding that in the past he has referred to people he believes to be lying as “rubber lips.”

“I was upset,” Gruden said. “I used a horrible way of explaining it.”

Gruden told ESPN he was “ashamed I insulted D. Smith.

“I never had a racial thought when I used it. … I’m embarrassed by what’s out there. I certainly never meant for it to sound that bad.”

Smith, the NFL Players Association executive director, told the Wall Street Journal he was disappointed to learn of the comments Gruden made behind his back.

“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,” he said.

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