Problematic Jon Gruden emails may be 'more common' than thought, congressman says

ByJohn Keim ESPN logo
Saturday, October 23, 2021

ASHBURN, Va. -- One of the House Democrats who sent a letter to the NFL seeking more information about its investigation into the Washington Football Team's workplace culture says he fears Jon Gruden's emails are the "tip of the iceberg."

Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Ill., told ESPN that the representatives wanted to get involved because the NFL "holds a special place in American life."

"The way they handle issues of race and gender and the way they treat their employees really influences the way society handles those very issues," Krishnamoorthi said. "We're very much interested in learning more about exactly why the NFL did what they did and the way they did it."

Gruden resigned as Las Vegas Raiderscoach earlier this month following reports that emails he wrote over a multiyear period included racist, misogynistic and anti-gay language. The emails were discovered as part of the investigation into Washington's workplace culture.

"The biggest fear is that what Jon Gruden appears to engage in is much more common than what we otherwise thought," Krishnamoorthi said. "That's what a lot of people are concerned about."

Krishnamoorthi and Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, D-N.Y., who is chairwoman of the Committee on Oversight and Reform, asked the NFL to turn over a number of documents and answer numerous questions about the investigation by Nov. 4.

They have not heard from the NFL, Krishnamoorthi said, other than to acknowledge receipt of the five-page letter. NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said in an email Thursday night that the league had received the letter and shares Maloney's "concern that all workplaces should be free from any form of harassment and discrimination. We look forward to speaking to her office soon."

If the NFL chooses not to cooperate, Congress could issue a subpoena. Asked if they would consider suing the league, Krishnamoorthi said, "If the NFL were not to cooperate after we attempted to work with them to enlist their cooperation, then we do have the tools to compel the production of documents. But our hope is it doesn't get there. I hope we can work with them to get this information."

In the letter, Maloney and Krishnamoorthi said they want the NFL to produce "all documents and communications obtained in connection with the investigation into the WFT, its management, its owners, and any other matter relating to or resulting from the WFT investigation." They also want the NFL to detail its role in attorney Beth Wilkinson's investigation into the franchise and why there was no written report after 150 people had been interviewed.

"I just don't know of an investigation where someone is not allowed to document what happened or to document the findings," Krishnamoorthi told ESPN, "but that appears to be what happened here. There's a large body of evidence she reviewed that others reviewed that is also somehow not surfacing in any way."

Tom Davis served as chairman of the House Oversight Committee from 2003 to 2007 and was the ranking minority member on the committee during Congress' 2008 investigation into baseball's steroid issue. He said it was able to bring that issue to a hearing because it had bipartisan support in the House and because the target was more than just one player or team.

"Members will want to know why Congress is getting involved and, if so, why are they singling out one team," Davis said. "This isn't unique to the Washington Football Team. It's all over sports. It's all over locker rooms and college campuses.

"To get to the floor of the House, you have to be broader than the Washington Football Team."

The representatives' letter also raised concerns about nondisclosure agreements that former employees had signed and sought more information about the role of the NFL's general counsel, Jeff Pash, in the investigation.

Pash's close relationship with former Washington team president Bruce Allen was revealed in some of the leaked emails, which included topics that ranged from jokes on the league's diversity initiatives to rescinding an NFL fine. Allen was fired at the end of the 2019 season.

Krishnamoorthi said the Congress members don't think the former Washington employees who cooperated with investigators have received any response.

"The Washington Football Team and the NFL enjoy special privileges under our antitrust laws," Krishnamoorthi said. "We thought it was important to get to the bottom of what's going on in the NFL, in regards to the Washington Football Team in the way they handled their employees. What we've seen so far is deeply disturbing."

Krishnamoorthi said the representatives want to investigate this situation to determine whether new or stronger laws are needed to help employees in a similar environment. He said they also want to make sure the NFL did not cover up information via the nondisclosure agreements signed by the former Washington employees.

The emails from Gruden, sent when he was employed by ESPN as the lead analyst for Monday Night Football, went to Allen's team account, which is why they were uncovered as part of the NFL investigation. Some were also included in court filings in which Washington owner Dan Snyder tried to show that Allen was a source of leaking negative information about the team.

Krishnamoorthi said the representatives were not asked by anyone to send a letter to the NFL. He said they have been observing the situation and that Gruden's resignation "highlighted the rather disturbing nature of the communications happening by high-level officials, and it seems appropriate to now intervene and try to get to the bottom of what's going on."

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