The National Football League said in a court filing Wednesday that a lawsuit by former Las Vegas Raiders coach Jon Gruden, which blames the league for leaking emails that lead to his exit as coach, is “baseless.”
Gruden sued the NFL in November, alleging the league and commissioner
had orchestrated his downfall by releasing years-old emails in which he used offensive language. Shortly after those emails were reported, first by The Wall Street Journal, Gruden resigned.
Gruden’s emails had turned up in connection with an investigation of workplace misconduct at the Washington Football Team, because the emails were sent by Gruden to a former executive of the club. In his lawsuit, seeking damages for his financial losses, Gruden accused the league of conducting a “a malicious and orchestrated campaign” to destroy his career and reputation.
The NFL filed a pair of responses Wednesday night in Clark County District Court in Nevada. It moved to dismiss the case, saying his claims were false and not backed by law. In a separate filing, the league sought to move the dispute to arbitration, where the league says it belongs under the terms of his relationship with the NFL.
The filings said that neither the NFL nor Goodell was the source of the leaks and that leaking the emails was damaging to the NFL and against its best interest.
In the court filings, the league described the lawsuit as an attempt to blame the NFL and Goodell “for the fallout from the publication of racist, misogynistic and homophobic emails.” It said Gruden was “painting himself as the victim in a fictional story and seeking money through baseless claims against the NFL.”
“Gruden does not, and cannot, dispute that he wrote the published emails. He does not, and cannot, dispute that he sent those emails to multiple parties,” the motion to dismiss says.
The Journal on Oct. 8 reported that Gruden had used a racial trope to describe NFL Players Association Executive Director DeMaurice Smith. The Journal also reported that those emails were among more than 650,000 that the NFL said it was investigating after they initially were brought to the league’s attention amid the probe into the Washington Football Team, which finished in July of last year.
“Dumboriss Smith has lips the size of michellin tires,” he wrote in the email reviewed by the Journal.
Gruden, in an interview at the time, apologized for the language and said he wasn’t racist. The NFL denounced the language used as abhorrent. Smith, the union boss, said the language reflected the struggles Black people face as they try to advance in their careers.
Three days after that initial story, the New York Times reported on additional emails in which Gruden used antigay and offensive language. Gruden resigned as the Raiders coach that evening. His lawsuit in November accused the NFL and Goodell of deliberately leaking the emails to media outlets to lead to his ouster.
“In contrast to the formalities of the Washington Football Team investigation, Defendants’ treatment of Gruden was a Soviet-style character assassination,” Gruden said in his complaint.
At the time of Gruden’s lawsuit, a New York Times spokesperson said the company does not discuss matters of sourcing. A spokesman for Dow Jones, which owns the Journal, had declined to comment.
A lawyer for Gruden didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on Wednesday.
The revelation of Gruden’s emails caused shock waves across the sport. Raiders owner Mark Davis expressed concern that he had only become aware of the emails existence after being contacted by The Journal, when the league had been in possession of them for months.
Former employees of the Washington Football Team expressed outrage that Gruden was the only one who faced severe punishment after an investigation into misconduct at the team, which never employed Gruden.
Meanwhile, the House Committee on Oversight launched an investigation into the NFL’s investigation, demanding transparency into what occurred inside the Washington Football Team.
Write to Andrew Beaton at firstname.lastname@example.org
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