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With Jon Gruden gone, cheerleaders and players want the NFL to release more data

Jon Gruden resigned as coach of the Las Vegas Raiders after the publication of emails he wrote from 2011 to 2018, when he was an ESPN analyst, to then-Washington club executive Bruce Allen. The messages were roundly criticized as being misogynist, homophobic and racist.
Jon Gruden resigned as coach of the Las Vegas Raiders after the publication of emails he wrote from 2011 to 2018, when he was an ESPN analyst, to then-Washington club executive Bruce Allen. The messages were roundly criticized as being misogynist, homophobic and racist.

Jon Gruden's exit as an NFL coach is prompting calls for the league to release more information from the investigation that unearthed years' worth of misogynistic, homophobic and racist emails.

Some of the loudest calls are coming from former cheerleaders and other employees whose mistreatment by the Washington Football Team (WFT) prompted the NFL inquiry in the first place.

"It is further evidence that the league is just corrupt on a larger scale than we can even begin to imagine," said Melanie Coburn, a former cheerleader and marketing director for the WFT, told NPR.

Gruden is "the only person to be held accountable and lose their job" after the NFL's extensive inquiry into the Washington Football Team, according to lawyers Lisa Banks and Debra Katz, who represent 40 women and men who worked for the Washington franchise.

Gruden resigned on Monday after emails emerged in which he used misogynistic, homophobic and racist language. Gruden's messages were sent to Bruce Allen, then the president of the Washington Football Team, and other white men. At the time, Gruden was working as an on-air analyst for ESPN.

Bruce Allen, who was then president of the Washington Football Team, walks on the field before a game against the New York Jets at FedExField in 2019.
Will Newton / Getty Images
Bruce Allen, then president of the Washington Football Team, walks onto the field before a game against the New York Jets at FedExField in Maryland in 2019.

A circle of bigoted commentary was exposed

The messages' content quickly set off calls for more emails to be released, as people debated whether Gruden's words should be seen as an outlier or as an indicator of others' views in pro football.

DeMaurice Smith, the NFL Players Association executive director whom Gruden referred to with a racist insult in one message, says that what struck him in the emails was the comfort Gruden and others felt in expressing their unenlightened views.

"To me, the email was about a group of people in an email obviously thinking they would never be caught, and that just means people are cavalier about trading insults," Smith told USA Today.

He added, "But honestly, my biggest takeaway was, 'Wow, this was a group of people comfortable with saying things like that.' "

"These are emails to senior-level, senior executives with nudity, with bigotry, with all kinds of hate," Coburn told NPR.

DeMaurice Smith, executive director of the National Football League Players Association, speaks during a news conference in 2014.
Alex Trautwig / Getty Images
DeMaurice Smith, executive director of the NFL Players Association, speaks during a news conference in 2014.

The emails reopen painful wounds for Washington cheerleaders

The emails between Gruden and Allen dated from 2011 to 2018 — a sliver of a massive trove of some 650,000 messages that were collected during the NFL's investigation into the Washington team's abusive and toxic workplace culture.

In addition to inappropriate and boorish remarks, the messages "included photos of women wearing only bikini bottoms, including one photo of two Washington team cheerleaders," according to The New York Times.

The cheerleaders who were seen in two salacious videos created by team staffers settled with the franchise and signed nondisclosure agreements in December. Coburn was not in the footage or part of the agreement, but she says that as the news of shared photos has emerged, she has been in touch with cheerleaders who were in the original videos.

"They're all traumatized," she said. "It's just more anxiety-producing evidence that very private, compromising content was circulating not just amongst our team but apparently the entire NFL. So it's been an emotional 24 hours, to say the least."

Washington Football Team cheerleaders perform as their team plays against the Philadelphia Eagles at FedExField in Maryland on Dec. 15, 2019.
Patrick Smith / Getty Images
Washington Football Team cheerleaders perform as their team plays against the Philadelphia Eagles at FedExField in Maryland on Dec. 15, 2019.

Coburn also echoed the attorneys' assertion that the most high-profile case of accountability from the inquiry has brought down Gruden, rather than the leadership at the Washington franchise.

"All we wanted all along is transparency and accountability," Coburn said, as she called on the NFL to release the full findings of an outside counsel's investigation.

The NFL resists calls to release emails from its inquiry into the team

Smith says the NFL Players Association also wants the NFL to release more messages, but for now at least, the league seems unlikely to do that. The NFL says it sent Gruden's messages to executives in the Las Vegas Raiders franchise.

Brian McCarthy, the NFL's vice president of communications, told NPR, "We have released no emails during this process and have no plans to do so. "

Still, some of the emails were leaked to The Wall Street Journal and the Times, setting in motion the coach's departure from the Raiders. At least some of the emails emerged this year in a lawsuit filed by Washington team owner Daniel Snyder. But those versions were largely redacted, with Gruden's name obscured by a label identifying him only as an ESPN personality.

McCarthy also rejected a theory that has circulated online: that by sending Gruden's emails to the Raiders, the NFL was in some way retaliating against the coach for bad-mouthing Commissioner Roger Goodell in one of the messages.

"The emails from Jon Gruden are appalling, abhorrent and wholly contrary to the NFL's values," McCarthy told NPR. "We condemn the statements."

"We've made tremendous strides with our social responsibility, diversity and social justice programs, but we have more work to do," he added. "Our commitment is unwavering, and the progress we have made only strengthens our resolve to continue to improve."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.