Jon Gruden Lawsuit Could Force NFL to Release 650,000 Emails from Washington Football Team Investigation

Former Raiders Coach Jon Gruden, who resigned in disgraced fashion after the release of emails containing homophobic, racist and misogynistic remarks, is not going down without a fight. Gruden filed a lawsuit in Nevada against the NFL & Commissioner Roger Goodell Thursday claiming the league and Goodell tried to publicly sabotage his career to “create a distraction from the controversy over their handling of the Washington Football Team investigation.”

Gruden claims that Goodell, acted to harm Gruden as revenge for insulting Goodell in private emails with former Washington Football Team President Bruce Allen.

“Commissioner Goodell was a frequent target in the leaked emails and he retaliated by harming Gruden’s reputation and ending his career with the Raiders.”

Per The New York Times, Gruden often called NFL commissioner Roger Goodell a “f—t” and a “clueless anti football p—y,” in the emails, which were sent when he worked for ESPN as a color commentator.

The suit accuses Goodell of acting in his individual capacity, outside of his authority as Commissioner, to destroy Gruden, saying he and the league “calculatingly released only a single email” at a time and pressured the team to fire Gruden.

Gruden is seeking damages to compensate him for “massive financial damage,” including the loss of the remainder of the money owed to him under his 10-year, $100 million dollar contract set to run through 2027, a lost endorsement contract with Skechers, removal from Madden NFL 2022, and injuries to his reputation including being removed from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Ring of Honor.

The bulk of the lawsuit involves allegations that the NFL & Goodell “intentionally interfered” with his Raiders contract, interfered with his potential for future economic earnings and endorsements, and various claims of negligence for failing to safeguard the Gruden emails and for allegedly leaking them, including negligent hiring and supervision.

However, the suit also goes a step further and accuses the league and Goodell, individually, of conspiring together and aiding and abetting one another to make Gruden the fall guy, in the face of the Washington Football Investigation.

The complaint says the league and Goodell, “purposefully and maliciously acted in concert with each other, and with others, to release only those emails that portrayed Gruden negatively. In doing so, they intentionally singled out Gruden to make him appear as the solitary bad actor at a time when Defendants were facing intense public scrutiny over the mismanagement of the Washington Football Team investigation.”

The fact that the suit alleges that the motive for allegedly leaking Gruden’s emails was to distract from the top secret Washington Football investigation findings indicates Gruden’s team will almost certainly demand the release of the 650,000 emails as part of discovery in the case.

The goal will be to uncover other damaging emails within the 650,000 to show that Gruden was targeted as the alleged fall guy.

Gruden will also demand Goodell’s emails from after the investigation, to show the inner workings of what was going on at the NFL around the time the Gruden emails were leaked and try to find a smoking gun showing Goodell played a role in the leaks. The release of these emails could also shine a light on what factored into the league’s decision to not share the emails or findings and whether pressure from Snyder or other owners played a role in the league departing from its normal investigation protocols and procedures.

If the case survives a motion to dismiss, there’s a strong possibility the court would compel the release of the emails. Furthermore, given the amount of public pressure and interest in the emails from multiple third parties, including from Congress, a governmental body, the court may be more likely to refuse to seal those documents or agree only to redact sensitive or personal information.

Furthermore, allegations that the league & Goodell pressured the team to fire Gruden could result in league and Raiders brass, including team owner Mark Davis being subpoenaed to testify. According to CBS Sports, Davis reportedly said he felt the Gruden email leaks were a “hit job” and that “influential figures within the league office were intent on forcing Gruden out through calculated media leaks of the emails.” This means Davis could become an important witness for Gruden, should this make it to trial or even oral depositions.

Gruden reached a settlement with the Raiders related to his contract, which could be used by the NFL as a weapon in court to fight his claims of massive financial losses.

The complaint, which alleges the civil conspiracy between the league and Commissioner, opens with the lines, “through a malicious and orchestrated campaign, the NFL and Commissioner Roger Goodell sought to destroy the career and reputation of Jon Gruden, the former head coach of the Las Vegas Raiders.”

It continues, “In contrast to the formalities of the Washington Football Team investigation, Defendants’ treatment of Gruden was a Soviet-style character assassination. There was no warning and no process. Defendants held the emails for months until they were leaked to the national media in the middle of the Raiders’ season in order to cause maximum damage to Gruden.”

Gruden alleges that the NFL & Goodell leaked a 2011 email written by Gruden to the Wall Street Journal. That email offensively referenced NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith’s lips and was sent by Gruden to Washington Football Team former President Bruce Allen when Gruden worked for ESPN, prior to becoming the Raiders coach.

“Dumboriss Smith has lips the size of michellin (sic) tires,” Gruden stated in the email regarding Smith. 

At the time, the NFL released a statement saying, “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.” 

The suit defends Gruden against allegations that he is a racist, citing a former team chaplain for the Raiders and former player Tim Brown.

Brown is quoted as saying, “Never, ever, have I gotten anything from him that made me even pause, to think about, ‘Hmm, that didn’t come off right.’”

Gruden says, the league was behind the leak and then pressured the Raiders to fire him. Gruden says when the Raiders wouldn’t immediately fire him, the NFL & Goodell, “ratcheted up the pressure” by leaking more emails to the New York Times.

The former coach decided to resign the day the New York Times article came out on October 11th, 2021.

The complaint reads, “After a year-long investigation into the hostile-work-environment and sexual-harassment allegations leveled against the Washington Football Team, the only information disclosed to the public was a selection of Gruden’s private and personal correspondence.”

The NFL & Goodell intended to hurt Gruden “with unchecked hypocrisy and arrogance,” according to the filing.

The lawsuit zeroes in on Roger Goodell, quoting the Washington Post allegedly likening Goodell to a “dictator” and alleging that Goodell, as “judge, jury and executioner,” oversteps his powers frequently.

The emails between Gruden and Bruce Allen initially became public when they were obtained during an unrelated confidential investigation into the Washington Football Team’s workplace. The investigation was launched after 15 female employees alleged sexual harassment and verbal abuse while working within the organization.

Several cheerleaders also alleged they were filmed nude without their consent for a “good bits” video that they claim was filmed for team owner Daniel Snyder.

Snyder initially hired a private law firm to conduct the investigation, headed by Beth Wilkinson, but the NFL ultimately took over. Gruden, points out in his lawsuit that the NFL retained the same attorney that was hired by the subjects of the investigation to do an “independent” inquiry, mocking the independence of it.

The investigation included the collection of 650,000 emails and involved at least 150 witness interviews. Calling Snyder’s workplace environment “highly unprofessional”, and a place where sexual harassment, bullying and intimidation took place, the NFL fined the team $10 Million dollars but decided to keep specific results of the investigation and all of the emails confidential.

“After a secretive, self-serving, and year-long investigation into a decade of allegations against the Washington Football Team, the NFL fined the Washington Football Team a paltry $10 million, required Snyder, the team’s multibillionaire owner, to participate in sensitivity training, and swept the rest under the rug,” says the complaint.

“The NFL’s traditional practice is to prepare and release a formal written report of its internal investigations….Unlike in the independent investigations, the NFL instructed Wilkinson not to prepare a written report and did not release any specific details …The NFL refused to officially release any of the 650,000 emails that it uncovered during the investigation into the Washington Football Team,” says Gruden’s suit.

Gruden is not the only one calling for the release of the emails, Congress and the NFLPA have both demanded the NFL & Washington Football Team share the emails. In addition, Representatives from Capitol Hill have asked Snyder to release young women from non-disclosure agreements they were required to sign as part of confidential settlements related to the alleged nude videos.

Gruden’s lawsuit continues, “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.”

Ultimately several outlets reported that Snyder had also settled a sexual-misconduct claim for $1.6 Million in 2009, with a former female employee who accused him of making unwanted sexual advances on a private jet.

Gruden did not ask for a specific amount in the lawsuit but is seeking a whole host of damages in excess of $15,000.

NFL Reporter Tom Pelissero broke the news of the lawsuit on Twitter and tweeted out the NFL’s statement and Gruden’s attorneys official statement, which can be found HERE.

Gruden was hired by the Oakland Raiders back in 2018 and was coaching under a 10-year, $100-million contract, at the time he resigned. He formerly coached the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from 2001-2009.