Jon Gruden wants the last word on the NFL and Roger Goodell

Jon Gruden has a point: Why were his emails the only ones released by the NFL?

Jon Gruden has a point: Why were his emails the only ones released by the NFL?
Image: Getty Images

We haven’t heard the last of Jon Gruden yet. The disgraced former Raiders coach is suing Roger Goodell and the NFL, alleging that the league purposely leaked his emails to major news outlets in a “malicious and orchestrated campaign” to “destroy [his] career and reputation.” In a statement released by Gruden’s lawyer, he asks the question that’s been on all of our minds: Why, out of the hundreds of thousands of emails that were collected as part of the NFL’s investigation into workplace misconduct within the Washington Football Team organization, were only Gruden’s emails made public?


Gruden’semails, sent during his time as an employee at ESPN, contained racist, sexist, and homophobic language, but to believe that he was the only perpetrator in the NFL of such a culture would be foolish. In a month that has been packed full of NFL controversies, the question of where the rest of the WFT emails are has been brushed to the side, much to the relief of many high-ranking figures in the league, I’m sure. As the lawsuit points out, the investigation “ended with a vague conclusion by Commissioner Goodell that the team’s workplace was unprofessional, a fine against the team, additional workplace sensitivity training, and a decision to keep all investigation materials confidential….The NFL broke its own precedent by foregoing written reports and rejecting transparency, refusing to release documents even in response to a request from Congress.”

We’re all in agreement that Gruden could not viably continue a career as a head coach of a major sports organization with public awareness of those emails. We’re also all in agreement that there is not a chance in hell that the Gruden emails were the only ones that the NFL found that, if released, would end a career. The NFL’s refusal to release any further emails “outraged” the WFT employees who had come forward with allegations about inappropriate behavior, and the lawsuit claims that the league “calculatingly released only a single email that they knew would harm Gruden and would take the focus off the Washington Football Team investigation” to one of their favorite leak outlets, the Wall Street Journal.

Now, there is no proof that the NFL leaked the emails, and their lawyers are adamantly denying any involvement in the leak. And as Mike Florio pointed out in a PFT article published this morning, the Gruden leak didn’t take heat off of the WFT investigation, which had already been successfully pushed under the rug.

Instead, it reawakened the public to the investigation and the lack of transparency that accompanied it, causing more vitriol to be directed toward the NFL and even causing Congress to get involved. If the NFL did leak the emails, it backfired hard on them. It seems more likely that this was a case of personal revenge for Goodell, who was a subject of several of Gruden’s correspondences and who perhaps hoped to humiliate Gruden after finding those emails during the WFT investigation. The lawsuit refers to the NFL’s handling of the Gruden case as a “Soviet-style character assassination.”

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The NFL has access to such a ridiculous amount of money that they’ll probably just be able to settle this with Gruden for whatever fee he names, because taking this to court would mean risking other emails from high-profile figures being released and the league forced to face a public reckoning. Make no mistake: Gruden destroyed his own reputation and career by using slurs and other offensive language on an easily traced platform. But if he and his lawyer are able to prove that other intraleague communications are relevant, and get past any general liability agreements, this lawsuit is also the best chance we have right now for the rest of the emails to come out, and for at least a few more people — Goodell included — to finally face the music.

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