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6 takeaways from ESPN’s new article on Jon Gruden’s email scandal

More details emerge on the situation

Chicago Bears v Las Vegas Raiders
Jon Gruden
Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

The email leak/scandal that led to Jon Gruden resigning as the Las Vegas Raiders head coach in 2021 appears to be a story that just won’t end. The original Wall Street Journal article was published nearly two years ago and here we are still talking about it as ESPN’s Don Van Natta Jr. and Seth Wickersham found new information on the situation.

Van Natta’s and Wickersham’s piece primarily focuses on how Gruden’s email led to Washington Commanders owner Dan Snyder’s downfall, but they did divulge some more information that pertains to the Raiders and the team’s former coach specifically.

Below are my biggest takeaways that can provide a synopsis of the new article, and you can read the whole thing for yourself, if you’d like, via the hyperlink above.

1. Some Raiders wanted Gruden gone

After the Journal story, Davis polled current and former Raiders players and staff on how they felt about Gruden. Some wanted him gone; others didn’t. Davis knew Gruden could be crass and profane, the sources said, but in a relationship spanning more than two decades, he had no reason to believe Gruden was racist.

I’d be interested to know if any current players were in the group that voted to remove Gruden. After the original story broke, cornerback Trayvon Mullen posted a picture on Instagram with the caption: “It’s about how you finish, [ninja emoji] got you JG,” so he very clearly had Gruden’s back. Mullen wasn’t the only one as other players like running back Josh Jacobs shared their support for their former head coach.

However, defensive lineman Carl Nassib took a personal day after the email leaks, and general manager Mike Mayock said Nassib had “a lot to process” at the time. Nassib became the first active player in NFL history to come out as gay earlier that summer and Gruden’s emails contained homophobic language.

This isn’t to say that any particular players were on either side of the aisle or the other, but it certainly seems like the situation might have created a divide in the locker room.

2. It’s more obvious Goodell was part of the second leak

So when Davis and Ventrelle took the conference call with Goodell and NFL general counsel Jeff Pash, Davis leaned toward sticking by Gruden. But Davis felt immediate pressure. According to sources with direct knowledge of the call, Goodell repeatedly told Davis, “You have to do something.”

“What are you going to do?” Pash asked.

The statements and questions incensed Davis. He believed the league office had no purview to pressure an owner to fire a head coach, regardless of the circumstance.

“There’s more emails coming,” Goodell told Davis. “Something has to be done.”

When the call ended, Davis turned to Ventrelle.

“Motherf---er,” Davis said in exasperation.

On Monday, Oct. 11, The New York Times published a story revealing new emails in which Gruden wrote that Goodell was “clueless” and “anti-football” and described him in anti-gay and misogynistic terms. That evening, Gruden resigned, pushed by Davis. Gruden would soon file a lawsuit against the NFL and Goodell that accused the commissioner of “directly leaking” his emails to harm his reputation and force him out, something league officials have repeatedly denied.

That transcript is coming from an unnamed source, so the details might not be 100 percent accurate, but it’s pretty obvious that Roger Goodell was trying to force Gruden out. Also, the report states that at least four owners believe Goodell was involved in the leaks.

Combining this with what’s already been known, my read on the situation is that the commissioner didn’t get the reaction he was hoping for from Mark Davis, so Goodell pushed harder. They were very clearly trying to get Davis to fire Gruden on the spot, and when Davis didn’t, they dropped another bomb.

I know this isn’t a ground-breaking takeaway by any means, but it does serve as more evidence to the pre-existing theory most people have had for a while.

3. Snyder was looking for a lifeline

Sources said Snyder, who was serving a punishment after a league investigation had exposed a toxic workplace culture at the team, hoped the emails would deflect blame for workplace issues to [Bruce] Allen while currying favor with Goodell by giving the commissioner a chance to eliminate Gruden, a longtime antagonist. Commanders spokesperson Jean Medina declined to answer any questions about the leaks but issued a statement that “ownership is working constructively with the League to finalize the sale of the Washington Commanders to the Josh Harris Group and will continue to support the organization through the transition process.”

For years, Snyder has been a controversial owner in the league and it felt like Washington Commanders fans were begging for the league to force him out. The toxic workplace investigation ended up being the start of his downfall as the sale of the team is set to become final in less than two weeks.

It’s also kind of hilarious that Synder’s alleged intent was to throw Bruce Allen under the bus. Allen has been out of the NFL since 2019, two years before this whole ordeal started, and is walking away from the situation scot-free compared to everyone else involved.

4. Gruden’s lawsuit isn’t about money

Gruden persists in believing that Goodell “pushed the code red” against him, he told associates, adding that the commissioner executed the “kill shot” on his career, “a bullet to the head.” Gruden insists he won’t settle his lawsuit for any amount, intending “to burn the house down” to reveal the truth about who ordered the leaks. “This was a massive hit job,” Gruden recently told an associate, often saying Allen had told him the 650,000 emails “incriminate everyone in the league.”

Again, if you’ve been following this situation closely, we kind of already knew this and ESPN’s article just serves as another example. The former Raiders coach feels singled out by Goodell and the league as a whole and wants to “take everyone down with him” so to speak. The lawsuit, which is still ongoing, is more about vengeance than cash.

5. Gruden and Goodell’s beef runs deep

His frustration came to a boil during a December 2011 Monday night game between the Falcons and the Saints. Atlanta linebacker Curtis Lofton delivered a helmet-to-helmet hit on receiver Marques Colston over the middle and was flagged for unnecessary roughness. To a national TV audience, Gruden stated his displeasure with the call. “I just don’t understand how games are being officiated,” Gruden said after a play on the next possession.

Gruden’s commentary earned him a call from the league’s Park Avenue headquarters. Over the phone, Goodell asked Gruden to come to the league office to meet with John Madden and Jeff Fisher. The purpose, as the commissioner explained, was for Gruden to get a lesson on player safety.

“You’ve got to be s---ting me,” Gruden told Goodell.

Gruden wondered whether it was a joke, he later told associates. He needed a player safety lesson from Madden and Fisher, two coaches whose players had delivered some of the ugliest hits in NFL history? Gruden later told friends he felt that Goodell was treating him like a “stooge” who had “never coached in the league, like I don’t study football day in and day out ... like I didn’t know a damn thing about player safety.”

Maybe I was just a naive 18-year-old and not paying close enough attention at the time, but I had never heard this story before. I didn’t know Gruden and Goodell had a run-in, of sorts, in the past. For those wondering, the article says Gruden never attended that meeting which gave me a good chuckle as we all know how stubborn “Chucky” can be.

ESPN also wrote that Gruden and Goodell met years later at the league office to promote youth football. However, when it came time for the meeting, the commissioner stiffed the coach/Monday Night Football host and sent his assistant instead...pettiness at its finest!

6. COVID fines were optional, apparently

Gruden burned with suspicion when Mark Davis was elbowed out of the three-team derby to relocate to Los Angeles in 2016 despite owning the most popular team in the market by far. Those feelings intensified in 2020 when Gruden was in his third year back as the Raiders’ head coach. The league fined the Raiders $500,000, fined Gruden $150,000 and stripped the team of a sixth-round draft pick for COVID-19 violations — and that was after the league had fined the team and Gruden a total of $350,000 for violations earlier in the season. (Davis offered to pay Gruden’s $150,000 fine, but league officials insisted Gruden pay it personally, which he did.) Livid, Gruden appealed the fines but ended up writing the checks. After he did, his friend Sean Payton, then the Saints’ coach and who also had been fined for COVID-19 violations, called him and laughed.

“I never paid the fine,” Payton told Gruden, adding that other coaches also refused to pay. “You’re the only dumbf--- that paid the fine.”

This is not a good look for the league and I’m kind of surprised it isn’t a big storyline already. Aaron Rodgers took a lot of heat for saying the NFL’s COVID-19 policies were more about optics than anything else. Well, if the league wasn’t enforcing the punishments they were handing down, it sounds like Rodgers was right...