Jon Gruden sues the NFL and Roger Goodell

Jon Gruden has filed a lawsuit (the Complaint is here) in Nevada accusing the NFL and its commissioner of leaking emails to “publicly sabotage” his career and pressure him to resign from his job as head coach of the Las Vegas Raiders. Gruden was fired from that position due to the leaked emails.

Gruden alleges that “through a malicious and orchestrated campaign, the NFL and Commissioner Roger Goodell sought to destroy the career and reputation of Jon Gruden.” Gruden further asserts:

When [the Defendants’] initial salvo [of leaked emails] did not result in Gruden’s firing or resignation, Defendants ratcheted up the pressure by intimating that further documents would become public if Gruden was not fired. They followed through with this threat by leaking another batch of documents to the New York Times for an October 11, 2021 article. On October 7, 2021, Jon Gruden was the head coach of the Raiders on a 10-year, $100-million contract. By October 11, 2021, he had been forced to resign.

The lawsuit sets forth seven causes of action. They include intentional interference with contractual relations, tortious interference with future economic interests, and negligence (in case Gruden can’t prove the emails were leaked intentionally).

The lawsuit characterizes the actions of Goodell and the NFL as “Soviet-style character assassination.” Actually, the Soviets favored assassination in the strong, original sense. Maybe Gruden’s lawyers meant “American-media” or “Democrat operative” style character assassination.

It might be countered that Gruden assassinated his own character. After all, his own writings caused many to form a strongly negative view of his character and led to his firing.

However, Gruden has been wronged, for the reasons I set forth in this post. As I stated:

Gruden wrote [the emails] to his friend Bruce Allen, then the president of the Washington Redskins as the team was called at the time. The emails were discovered because of an investigation of alleged sexual harassment within the Redskins’ organization. They were made public because. . .I’m not sure. No other emails from the investigation have been. Maybe Goodell wanted them released because he was a target of some of the abuse.

(Emphasis added)

Gruden was not part of the Redskins’ organization (he wasn’t even an employee of the NFL when he wrote the emails; he was working for ESPN on Monday Night Football) and the content, as offensive as some of it was, had nothing to do with sexual harassment. Yet, these are the only emails — of the 650,000 said to have been uncovered in the investigation — that were leaked to the press.

It does seem that someone wanted to destroy Jon Gruden’s career.

Was it Roger Goodell? As I noted, he had a motive, given Gruden’s disparagement of him and some of his policies. In one email, Gruden called the commissioner a “clueless anti-football pussy.”

The NFL denies leaking the emails.

Other parties might also have had a motive. The team formerly known as the Redskins has denied that it leaked the emails. It’s not clear why the team would want to sabotage Jon Gruden, but it’s possible that the target was Gruden’s correspondent Bruce Allen, whom the team had fired. (Another possible motive, distracting people from the sexual harassment claims against the club, is discussed below.)

It’s also possible, I suppose, that someone with ties to the Raiders’ organization wanted the emails leaked in order to get the team out from under its long-term, very expensive deal with the legendary coach. Gruden hadn’t set the NFL on fire during his second stint with the Raiders.

The suit claims that releasing the emails was an attempt to shift attention away from the underlying issue of sexual harassment within the Redskins’ operation. (See paragraph 44 of the Complaint.) That claim is at odds with the much more plausible theory that someone wanted to sabotage Gruden’s career (as opposed to wanting to help the Washington team).

If the motive was to draw attention away from the team’s misconduct, the ploy didn’t work. In fact, it had the opposite effect. The selective leaking of the Gruden-Allen emails brought attention back to the matter and, more importantly, amped up pressure to release all of the emails.

Congressional Democrats have gotten into that act. They issued a subpoena for the email trove. (The NFL did not produce the materials by the deadline date. Congress has no business sticking its woke nose into this matter.)

It’s clear to me that Gruden has an actionable grievance against someone. Whether he can meet his burden of proving that it’s against the NFL and Goodell will depend on what facts emerge from discovery in this case.

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