Jim Trotter has worked for NFL Media (the league division that includes NFL Network and NFL.com) since 2018, following stints at Sports Illustrated (2007-2014) and ESPN (2014-2018). In that time, he’s been known for a lot of different reporting and analysis work, both on TV and online. But he also got some wider attention on a specific front for what he did at NFL commissioner Roger Goodell’s press conference at the last two Super Bowls, where, both times, he asked about the league’s diversity commitment and how that related to NFL Media. And now, he revealed Monday that the league has opted not to renew his contract:
Some personal news: This will be my final week with the NFL Media Group. I was informed over the weekend that my contract is not being renewed. I thank NFL Network and https://t.co/CrvPSHPLsn for the lessons learned and affirmed over the last five years.
— Jim Trotter (@JimTrotter_NFL) March 27, 2023
What was the Goodell-Trotter exchange? Well, in particular, Trotter pointed out this year (he’s seen at that press conference above) that a year after he initially raised questions about NFL Media management and news desk diversity, the league had said they’d address that but had not done so. As per his remarks to Goodell this year, the league still didn’t have a Black person in NFL Media senior management or in a full-time role on the news desk:
This is what Roger Goodell came up with after having 80 seconds to think through his response to @JimTrotter_NFL's question about diversity issues at NFL Media (which Trotter also asked him about last year) pic.twitter.com/EQlbrsI0hg
— Awful Announcing (@awfulannouncing) February 8, 2023
Here’s the transcription of the Trotter-Goodell exchange there:
“You and other league officials have said that the league’s commitment to diversity equity and inclusion extend beyond the sidelines and beyond the front offices,” Trotter began his question to Goodell. “And it’s applied to all aspects of the company. I’ve worked in NFL Media for five years. During those five years, we’ve never had a Black person in senior management in our newsroom. That’s a problem because we cover a league who according to league data, the player population is 60 to 70% Black which means that there is no one who looks like these players at the table when decisions are being made about how they are covered.
“More concerning is that for a year plus now, we have never had a full-time Black employee on the news desk,” Trotter continued. “Which again is a problem because we cover a league because player population is 60 to 70%. Black according to league data. I asked you about these things last year and what you told me is that the league had fallen short, you were going to review all of your policies and practices to try and improve this. And yet a year later, nothing has changed. You know, James Baldwin once said that ‘I can’t believe what you say because I see what you do.’ And so I would ask you as an employee, when are we in the newsroom, going to have a Black person in senior management and when will we have a full-time Black employee on the news desk?”
…“I am not in charge of the newsroom,” Goodell said before he began to stammer. “Can I answer your question? As you point out, it’s the same question you asked last year. And we did go back and we have reviewed everything we’ve been doing across the league. And we are looking at everything from vendors that we’re working with, to partners that we’re working with, to ownership where we’ve seen significant changes in diversity just this year. And I do not know specifically about the media business.
“We’ll check in again with our people,” Goodell added. “But I am comfortable that we made significant progress across the league. I can’t answer the specific questions. Some of the data you may have raised there may be accurate, may be not. Last year, I was told some of it wasn’t. We’ll get to you on that. We want to make progress across the board. And that includes in the media room. And so those are things that we’ll continue to look at and hopefully make real progress to. I can’t answer because I do not know specifically what those numbers are today.”
After that exchange took off online, Trotter appeared on the Sports Media with Richard Deitsch podcast and said a number of interesting things. For one, he revealed that his contract was up in April, and said there he wasn’t worried if he did have to find a new job. He also said that no one from the NFL offices has ever reached out to him to discuss the issues he raised:
“I’ve not heard from anyone in the league office,” said Trotter. “I’ve not heard from the senior manager in the newsroom. I’ve heard from one person and that’s one of the editors in the newsroom who I was crossing paths with as I entered the stadium and we had a conversation just about why I asked the question that I had asked and where he is on this whole issue. And that is it.
Truthfully, Richard, I think that’s the most disappointing thing to me. If you’re serious about this. I mean, really serious about it, genuinely serious about it. And I raised this question to you a year ago. And no one from the league office has reached out to me one time to say ‘Let’s have a conversation and see if we can come up with ways to address some of these issues. It makes me question whether or not you’re really that serious or whether all of these statements are just performative gestures to kinda deflect what’s actually going on.”
Of course, Trotter’s questions to Goodell and the league deciding not to renew his contract could be correlation rather than causation. And there is wider context of reported cost-cutting moves and upcoming layoffs at NFL Media, which in itself fits with wider layoff discussions we’re seeing across tech and media companies. (It appears there will be no parting of the ways with Goodell himself, though, as he’s reportedly finalizing a new deal. It’s unclear what he’ll make under that, but Ken Belson of The New York Times reported in 2021 that Goodell made $63,900,050 for each of the 2019-20 and 2020-21 fiscal years, with his yearly pay under his current deal determined by several committees of owners.)
Regardless of if this non-renewal with Trotter has anything at all to do with his questions to Goodell, it’s certainly not a fantastic look for the league media division to not renew his contract in the wake of a lot of attention for that. That criticism of NFL Media’s diversity was factually-based: Trotter’s perspective that NFL Media should be more diverse is an opinion, but his comment on the makeup of senior management and the news desk is factual. And it was a fair thing to bring to Goodell’s attention, especially after he said he would look into that in 2022 and didn’t particularly seem to. But Trotter is now out at NFL Media, so he won’t be asking that question from that particular media side next year; however, given his long history of work at SI, ESPN, and NFL Media, it feels like there’s a good chance his days covering the NFL may be far from done.
[Jim Trotter on Twitter; photo from Kirby Lee/USA Today Sports]