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Why the Jon Gruden lawsuit could be NFL’s biggest problem in 2022

Matt Johnson

Former Las Vegas Raiders head coach Jon Gruden likely knows he’ll never work in the National Football League again. Facing the reality of his career in pro football being over, Gruden’s lawsuit against the NFL could have lasting impacts on the league.

Gruden resigned as Raiders’ head coach on Oct. 11, 2021 after The New York Times released a report detailing his usage of homophobic and misogynistic language in emails. It came just days after a leaked email exposed Gruden using a racist trope in 2011 to describe NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith.

After the first email was released, Gruden issued an apology and acknowledged he made disparaging comments about NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. He remained the Raiders’ head coach until the second wave of leaked emails was released.

Related: Jon Gruden says emails ‘selectively leaked’ by NFL

The 58-year-old is now fighting back against the NFL and Goodell. Months after the NFL filed a motion to dismiss Gruden’s lawsuit against the league, calling his claims ‘baseless’, Nevada 8th Judicial District Court Judge Nancy Allf ruled on May 25 that the suit could be heard in an open court.

Gruden is accusing the NFL and its commissioner of destroying his career and strategically leaking selecting emails with the intent of getting him removed. The electronic documents stemmed from the NFL’s investigation into the Washington Commanders’ workplace culture.

Related: Las Vegas Raiders owner Mark Davis believes ‘hit job’ led to Jon Gruden scandal

As this legal battle now heads towards litigation and potential discovery, the NFL could have real trouble on its hands.

Jon Gruden’s accusations of strategic leaking by the NFL

NFL: NFL Draft
Gary Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

All of this happened because the league investigated Daniel Snyder’s team. The Washington Post first reported on years of a toxic culture in Washington, with two dozen women coming forward alleging sexual harassment and misconduct. The NFL launched an inquiry and while Snyder was disciplined, the findings were only presented in an oral presentation with no written report provided.

Months later, Andrew Beaton of The Wall Street Journal obtained emails swept up in the investigation that showed Gruden using racial tropes and making disparaging comments about Goodell in 2011. When Gruden wasn’t removed as head coach by the Raiders, The New York Times released a second wave of emails days later.

In more than 650,000 emails gathered during the investigation into Snyder, the only documents that became public exposed Gruden’s usage of offensive language and ESPN’s Adam Schefter violating journalistic practices with emails sent to ex-Washington president Bruce Allen.

Congress and former Commanders’ staffers who brought the team’s toxic culture to light wanted findings from the full NFL investigation to be released. Instead, they’ve remained kept away from the public and it could become an issue in the lawsuit filed by Gruden.

Jon Gruden lawsuit could lead to revelations about NFL, team owners

NFL: Las Vegas Raiders at Pittsburgh Steelers
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL claimed in October that the remaining 650,000 emails contained no other troubling language used by current league employees. However, that suggestion came with immense skepticism as the NFL chose to keep everything private.

Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk reported in October 2021 that many people inside the NFL were nervous about emails to Bruce Allen obtained through the investigation.

More recent developments suggest the NFL is pushing hard to avoid more electronic communications coming to light. The league’s request to have the Gruden lawsuit moved to arbitration was denied. Furthermore, the judge sided with Gruden’s legal team in the notion that there is enough evidence pointing to the NFL applying pressure on the Raiders to fire Gruden and there also being legitimate concern about the email chain of custody.

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NFL history plays into this. In separate lawsuits by the city of St. Louis and former quarterback Colin Kaepernick, the league settled before communications between team owners could be revealed in discovery. It’s the same approach the NFL is taking with the Brian Flores lawsuit, desperately pushing for a financial settlement to avoid the risk of private communications between league officials being exposed to the general public.

The problem is that Gruden has no reason to settle. He’s made enough money as a coach and broadcaster to live out his days as he normally would. Filing a lawsuit against the NFL is entirely about getting back at the league he believes made him a scapegoat.

If Gruden shows no interest in making a settlement, the discovery process could be used as an opportunity to bring others down with him. All of that could happen after a dramatic offseason that saw Snyder, Raiders’ owner Mark Davis and Miami Dolphins’ owner Stephen Ross already facing investigations for allegations of damaging the NFL’s integrity.

Depending on what happens, the Jon Gruden lawsuit could have a far greater impact on the NFL than anything he did during his coaching career.