Can the NFL, Raiders discipline Jon Gruden for his 2011 email?

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But for the investigation of the Washington Football Team’s chronic atmosphere of workplace misconduct, the NFL wouldn’t be investigating Raiders coach Jon Gruden for an email sent to former Washington executive Bruce Allen. Still, now that the NFL has described the contents of the email as “denigrating, appalling, abhorrent, and contrary to our values of respect and inclusivity,” the NFL has to decide what to do about it.

The Personal Conduct Policy becomes the first place to search for potential grounds for discipline. Nothing in the current policy directly addresses the use of racist language in a communication with a third person, even if a violation from 10 years ago would qualify for discipline.

That said, the policy has a broad catch-all, prohibiting “conduct that undermines or puts at risk the integrity of the NFL, NFL clubs, or NFL personnel.” It would be easy for the league to argue that Gruden’s comments fall within that standard.

Gruden would likely claim, if disciplined under that standard, that it was a private comment not a public statement. The league likely wouldn’t care.

The stronger argument against any type of discipline under the Personal Conduct Policy comes from the fact that Gruden made the comment when he wasn’t employed by any NFL team. The league could then try to claim that Gruden said what he said while working for an NFL broadcast partner, and that the definition of “workplace setting” in the policy pulls those remarks within its purview.

“The workplace setting means any location or conveyance used in connection with NFL activities, including the club facility, training camp, stadium, locker room, location at which a club-sponsored event takes place, and while traveling on team or NFL-related business,” the policy explains. While it would be a bit of a stretch, Gruden sending emails in his role as a high-profile employee of an NFL broadcast partner to a high-profile executive with an NFL team could qualify as behavior occurring within a “workplace setting.”

Ultimately, Gruden’s arguments and defenses may not matter. Just ask Saints coach Sean Payton about that; he was suspended for all of 2012 based on flimsy evidence and no meaningful basis for fighting it. Coaches have no union, and their rights if any flow through the league. Basically, if the league decides to take action against a coach, it will do it — and the coach won’t have many viable options in response. Unless Gruden wants to take a page from former Raiders owner Al Davis and sue the league, Gruden could have a hard time defeating any and all discipline the league may choose to impose, even if the Personal Conduct Policy doesn’t justify it.

The Raiders would have a hard time taking significant action against Gruden, up to and including firing him for cause and shutting off his right to any remaining guaranteed pay. Unless he signed paperwork when he was hired in 2018 promising that he has engaged in no past misbehavior of which the team isn’t aware and if the paperwork also reserves the right to fire him for cause if such behavior later comes to light, the Raiders will be stuck.

Then again, any discipline imposed by the team undoubtedly would be subject to the dispute-resolution procedures in nearly every coaching contract. That term requires the coach to pursue any rights or remedies through a grievance process that will be resolved by the Commissioner.

This, while on the surface it looks like the league’s and team’s options are limited, the absence of a union for coaches and the presence of contracts and policies that stack the deck in the favor of the league and the team will make it difficult for Gruden to defeat any and all punishment that the NFL or the Raiders may choose to impose.

38 responses to “Can the NFL, Raiders discipline Jon Gruden for his 2011 email?

  1. They should fire him. We Raider fans are some of the most culturally diverse fan bases in all of sports and I can’t imagine this is going to fly with most of us, not to mention his players and potential free agents. Promote Bradley to interim HC and let Olsen run the offense.

  2. This is ridiculous. You want to discipline a guy for something he said 10 years ago in a private email?

  3. Little Johnny cussed out his teacher when he was 13, can the league punish players for things they did when they were in 7th grade? This is dumb, move along.

  4. This is ridiculous. You want to discipline a guy for something he said 10 years ago in a private email
    I don’t think the league should discipline him but Davis should. It doesn’t matter when he said it, it’s now out there for his players and FA to see. I’m not a fan of digging up old quotes from years ago, but this is something that might cause his players to lose all respect for him. It’s definitely a Raider issue.

  5. Gruden’s defense is that he uses the term “rubber lips” to describe liars.

    If he can show other emails/video clips/etc that he uses that same term with everyone of every race, then that would prove he’s just rude jerk, but not a racist.

    As for punishment for something when not under contract – no chance.

  6. Not as disturbing as Davis giving this 0.515 coach a 10y big$ contract.
    Gruden’s W-L record is ranked #36, behind John Fox and Mike Ditka. Digest this.

  7. It takes a lifetime to mature and build character. It doesn’t happen the day you turn eighteen. For something he did ten years ago? None of us are the same person we were ten years ago. It doesn’t excuse it but it does allow me to ignore it. No big deal.

  8. It really doesn’t matter how long ago he said it in today’s world people never forget. I’m surprized he hasn’t had this kind of problem before.

  9. Amazing how people want to skewer Urban but look the other way when Gruden’s clear racism is showing in his comments. That comment can’t be taken any other way! What a double standard, I guess Urban really needs to win some games to save himself.

  10. This is silly. Okay, Gruden is a rude jerk when he’s angry. But fire him for a stupid comment made 10 years ago? Just, no.

  11. If the Raiders didn’t vet him or did vet him and looked away then it’s time to put the past in the past.

  12. The real issue is whether the Raider’s players will accept the lame apology. Jon Gruden normally is quite transparent. Perhaps he is having a hard time looking in the mirror and accepting the basis for the remark. Nobody is perfect and everyone makes stupid mistakes regardless of race or color. The question is what we learn and how we act in the future by turning the mistake into a learning experience. Whether he has any credibility to continue coaching remains to be seen, as is his ability to accept the mantle of responsibility. He is now in a unique position to be the lightning rod for positive change.

  13. We live in a totally unforgiving culture. This happened many years ago. Everyone should just move on.

  14. How does he look his players in their eyes and how does he recruit free agents with this?

  15. Okay ..after reading comments, it’s more revealing now that the real reason people are upset with Urban Mayer encounter is due to JEALOUSLY . Jealous of him and the other person involved. Urban was severely condemned left and right. I’m not seeing that same treatment of Jon Gruden, in regards to comments .

  16. Perhaps Davis disciplines him but he’ll pay his penalty in the court of public opinion. Enough of firing people already.

  17. 10 years ago what about all the NFL players that have said and done plenty where is their big write up and action by the league office. public opinion maybe should look at what they have sent in emails for ten years. What a thin skinned country especially the sports world. Just look at what player say on the field and has been commented on by sports world

  18. Fair question….Did the NFL ever take any action against Antonio Brown when he used a racial slur against Mike Mayock?….If not, what moral ground do they have in this instance?

  19. …or we could give the man with 30+ years of working well with all sorts of people the benefit of the doubt for one ambiguous, albeit, insensitive, email from 10 years ago. Does he have a pattern of racist behavior? Sure doesn’t seem that way. Nothing to see here, really.

    I’m just wondering when people will grow weary of allowing everyone around them to be destroyed because of actual and/or perceived ideological impurity.

  20. If they try and punish him for something that happened 10 years ago, it will be their undoing. A good lawyer will expose all of their hypocrisy.

    I want to be fully open, I do not condone what he did. But the fact that he was not employed by the NFL and it was 10 years ago makes it untouchable.

  21. boknowsvt says:
    October 9, 2021 at 8:44 am
    They should fire him. We Raider fans are some of the most culturally diverse fan bases in all of sports and I can’t imagine this is going to fly with most of us, not to mention his players and potential free agents. Promote Bradley to interim HC and let Olsen run the offense.
    Obviously you’ve not been a fan for very long. Perhaps you need a trip down memory lane when the Raiders use to sign some of the most troublesome (and criminal) players in the league. Yup, won’t fly. GTFOH.

  22. This is ridiculous. You want to discipline a guy for something he said 10 years ago in a private email?


    Exactly!! Whatever happened to the statute of limitations???

  23. The double standard and hypocrisy to statements made about someone’s visual characteristics is pathetic .
    Does Smith have rather large lips regardless of color?
    Does P.Manning have a huge forehead?
    Does Gruden being a near clone of Chucky have merit? Etc.

    Had Gruden used any reference of color with the lips remark I would agree with the racist aspect of his comment….he didn’t.

    This is much to do about nothing

  24. What in the world?! 10 years ago?! Let’s go back and watch his childhood videos to see if he some cookies from other kids in preschool… I don’t care for the guy one way or the other, but this is stupid.

  25. It’s called being a human being. Just because he is a football coach is he no longer human and makes mistakes? It’s easy for those that will never be held accountable for their actions to criticize this man. None of us are perfect let’s stop acting like we are.

  26. The NFL punished Terrell Pryor and Jim Tressel for things that happened in College. There is no rhyme or reason for how the NFL decides what they can punish.

  27. Yes, let’s dig into everyone’s history and punish them for anything bad that they have ever said or done!!

  28. Hey guys… remember when Mike Richards got promoted to EP and host of Jeopardy for like a week and ten year old podcasts were unearthed revealing reprehensible things that he said? It took them what… 3 days? 4? to fire him. Same situation here. Plus D Smith is still head of the players union?
    Also.. please stop using statute of limitations as something that might be relevant here. C’mon man!

  29. Discipline Gruden? The NFL should reward Gruden. Having D. Smith remain as head of the NFLPA is possibly worth billions of dollars to NFL owners. This was timed to make sure Smith was re-elected. Literally, billions, with a B.

  30. Wow, you commentators act as if Gruden was 12 when he said this. He was 47. But he should get a pass? And the amount of folks who agree with it is unnerving.

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