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Ex-Raiders coach Jon Gruden sues NFL and commissioner alleging ‘Soviet-style character assassination’


Head coach Jon Gruden of the Las Vegas Raiders reacts to the crowd during warmups before a preseason game against the Seattle Seahawks at Allegiant Stadium on August 14, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Ethan Miller | Getty Images

Former Las Vegas Raiders coach Jon Gruden, who resigned last month after revelations that he had made racist, homophobic and misogynistic comments in emails, is suing the NFL and Commissioner Roger Goodell.

“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,” said the lawsuit filed Thursday in Clark County District Court in Nevada.

The lawsuit alleges that the league and Goodell “forced” Gruden out of his job.

“In contrast to the formalities of the Washington Football Team investigation, Defendants’ treatment of Gruden was a Soviet-style character assassination,” the lawsuit alleges. “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.”

It alleges that the NFL uncovered hundreds of thousands of emails as part of a larger investigation into sexual harassment allegations against the Washington Football Team, but selectively leaked emails that implicate Gruden.

The lawsuit also claims the NFL initially only released one email, which contained a racist remark about NFL Players Association executive DeMaurice Smith’s lips, and immediately began pressuring the Raiders to fire him over it.

When Raiders refused to remove him, the lawsuit alleges the NFL then released another round of emails to the New York Times. It alleges that the league “weaponized” them, ultimately causing the Raiders to pressure Gruden to step down.

“There is no explanation or justification for why Gruden’s emails were the only ones made public out of the 650,000 emails collected in the NFL’s investigation of the Washington Football Team or for why the emails were held for months before being released in the middle of the Raiders’ season,” said Adam Hosmer-Henner, Gruden’s attorney, in a statement Friday.

The lawsuit also claimed the leaks were an attempt to distract from the NFL’s failure to properly handle the sexual harassment allegations against the Washington Football Team.

Nowhere in the lawsuit does Gruden deny sending the emails.

NFL spokesperson Brian McCarthy on Friday called Gruden’s allegations “entirely meritless” and said it “will vigorously defend against these claims.”

Gruden’s move to take legal action comes after several reports emerged about his emails with disparaging remarks. The messages were sent was an ESPN analyst, before he became coach of the Raiders.

In the emails, Gruden called Goodell a “f—–” and a “clueless anti football p—-,” according to The New York Times. Gruden also said that Goodell should not have pressured Jeff Fisher, then-coach of the Rams, to draft “queers,” which is a reference to openly gay player Michael Sam who was chosen by the team in 2014.

There were also emails where Gruden shared inappropriate photos of Washington Football Team cheerleaders, the Times reported.

Gruden has since apologized for his past remarks that surfaced.

“I love the Raiders and do not want to be a distraction,” he said upon his Oct. 11 resignation. “Thank you to all the players, coaches, staff, and fans of Raider Nation. I’m sorry, I never meant to hurt anyone.”

CNBC’s Jessica Golden contributed to this report.

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