September 22, 2023

Who Leaked Jon Gruden’s Emails? Report allegations that top Roger Goodell, Dan Synder and other NFL executives played a role

Daniel Snyder and Roger Goodell have had a rocky relationship for a while now.  (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Daniel Snyder and Roger Goodell have had a rocky relationship for a while now. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

The fall of Daniel Snyder as Washington Commanders owner cannot be attributed to one moment.

But one of the most pivotal points of his downfall came when the Wall Street Journal published an article on Oct. 8, 2021, detailing emails between former Las Vegas Raiders head coach Jon Gruden and former Washington executive Bruce Allen, who contained racial slurs against then-NFLPA director DeMaurice Smith. Those emails, which date back to Gruden’s time as an analyst for ESPN in 2011, set off a chain of events that began with Gruden’s firing/firing and accelerated the process that ultimately ended with Snyder’s sale of the team .

If those emails weren’t leaked, some believe Snyder still owns the Commanders, according to a report from ESPN’s Don Van Natta Jr. and Seth Wickersham. Snyder had already been suspended by the NFL over multiple allegations of workplace misconduct and sexual harassment, but the rise of the emails sparked a congressional investigation into Snyder, the NFL and the Commanders.

“He was free and clear in October – he just had to wait out his suspension and let it all blow over,” a source close to Snyder told ESPN. A big miscalculation. If it weren’t for the leaks, he might have survived.”

Snyder and Goodell are the top suspects in email leaks

There are many prevailing theories about who leaked the emails and why.

The most common is – ironically – Snyder himself. This had been speculated for a while, but another source told ESPN that Snyder believed Gruden’s racist remarks would shift the spotlight from the Commanders’ owner to the ex-coach while deflecting allegations of workplace misconduct from Allen, the former team manager.

If this is true, it’s just another attempt by Snyder to get his own sentence under control for the past three years. It also wouldn’t have been the first time Snyder used other people’s personal correspondence to influence the league. His legal team reportedly prepared a “blackmail PowerPoint” to undermine Beth Wilkinson’s investigation into the commanders and persuade Goodell to give Snyder a lesser suspension after allegations of workplace misconduct came to light.

From ESPN:

“What was presented was not a defense of Wilkinson’s findings to Snyder; it was a series of screenshots of potentially embarrassing emails and text messages from several top executives, including Goodell’s top lieutenant, [NFL general counsel Jeff] Pash. The rationale, according to a source with first-hand knowledge, was to argue the hypocrisy of league officials who reviewed Snyder. The tactic was so ruthless that some lawyers felt uncomfortable. While none of the content was sexist, anti-gay, or graphic, the signal was clear: If Goodell didn’t do what Snyder wanted in terms of handling the Wilkinson report and sentencing, these emails and texts would be leaked .

Later, more emails—this time between Allen and Pash—appeared in a New York Times article that allegedly were the same as those in Snyder’s “Blackmail Powerpoint.” This appeared to be another attempt to shift the blame from Snyder to Allen. Lawyers close to the league and Gruden also told ESPN that the decision to leak the emails to the Journal and Times rather than the Washington Post was a key clue that Snyder was behind it all.

Gruden and Raiders owner Mark Davis, meanwhile, believed Goodell and top-tier executives were the main culprits. Gruden still has a lawsuit against the league pending, while Davis reportedly said the timing of the leak “felt like a setup” after meeting Goodell, per ESPN. Davis was also reportedly angry that he was seemingly the last person to know about the existence of the emails after Goodell, Pash and Snyder and that he felt like a scapegoat for the underlying Snyder issue.

“It’s ridiculous that the league thought they could pick emails from years ago when I wasn’t a coach and try to end my career.” Gruden told ESPN in an added statement. “I deserved at least the chance to respond and receive a fair trial.”

Four owners also told ESPN — it’s unclear if Davis was one of them — that they believed Goodell personally contributed to the release of the emails. Other sources told ESPN that NFL executives at least approved of the leak.

The United States House Committee for Oversight and Reform also accused the commanders of leaking the emails in its investigation.

Another possible suspect is ex-NFLPA head DeMaurice Smith, who was the target of Gruden’s racist remarks. A source told ESPN that Smith “bragged” about his role in the leak, which coincidentally came on the same day he was voted to keep his job. Lloyd Howell replaced Smith on June 28 after 14 years as director of the NFLPA.

Naturally, all parties have denied or denied these allegations.

We may never know exactly who leaked the emails. But the outcome of it had and probably still will have major repercussions in the league. First, the Commanders have a new owner – a group led by hedge fund manager Josh Harris. Whatever comes out of the Gruden lawsuit could also affect the league. The story isn’t over yet, but one of the biggest players is now definitely off the board.

(Disclosure: Josh Harris is a co-founder of Apollo Global Management, which owns Yahoo, Inc. He left the private equity firm in 2022.)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *