Jon Gruden (L) and Roger Goodell. Jon Gruden (L) and Roger Goodell. (Gruden photo from 2021 from Kirby Lee/USA Today Sports, Goodell photo from March 2024 from Nathan Ray Seebeck/USA Today Sports.)

A lawsuit that has high potential to embarrass the NFL and perhaps shed further light on the leaks of Jon Gruden’s emails may wind up being resolved quietly in arbitration. Gruden resigned from his job as the head coach of the Las Vegas Raiders in October 2021 after many media outlets published excerpts of emails he sent from 2011-18 while working as an ESPN commentator, with those emails containing racist, sexist, and homophobic remarks.

Gruden (last seen coaching with the Milano Seamen in Italy this spring) then sued the NFL and commissioner Roger Goodell the next month, claiming they were behind the email leaks. The league and Goodell have denied that, and a congressional investigation into several matters around the Washington NFL team saw former team president Bruce Allen (who many of the Gruden emails in question were to) testify that NFL senior vice president and special counsel for investigations Lisa Friel told him someone with the team was behind the leaks. But the dispute about who leaked what remains quite notable, and not just for Gruden’s lawsuit.

With that in mind, news on Gruden’s lawsuit has significant wider implications. And as Ken Ritter of The Associated Press reported Tuesday, the latest news there has a Nevada supreme state court panel refusing to hear Gruden’s appeal of their May decision that his lawsuit could go to the NFL’s secret arbitration process rather than be resolved more publicly in court:

Jon Gruden lost a bid Monday for three Nevada Supreme Court justices to reconsider whether a lawsuit he filed against the NFL over emails leaked to the media before he resigned as coach of the Las Vegas Raiders should be heard in court or in private arbitration.

Attorneys for Gruden, the league and an NFL spokesman didn’t respond to messages after a two-word order — “Rehearing denied” — was posted on a court website. It wasn’t immediately clear whether Gruden will seek a hearing before the entire seven-member state high court.

Gruden’s lawyers sought a rehearing after the three-justice panel split in a May 14 decision that said the league can move the civil contract interference and conspiracy case out of state court and into arbitration that might be overseen by one of the defendants, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.

…The two-justice majority said Gruden understood the NFL constitution allowed for arbitration to resolve disputes, and said it wasn’t clear whether Goodell or a designated third-party arbitrator would hear Gruden’s case.

The dissenting justice wrote that it would be “outrageous” for Goodell to arbitrate a dispute in which he is a named defendant.

For Gruden, there are definite potential financial consequences to this decision. A NFL arbitration hearing may wind up in him getting much less than he might be able to receive if his lawsuit is heard in court. But the larger implication here is for the media and the public; the discussion of who leaked what, and which of the 650,000 emails in the Washington investigation were and were not leaked (and what’s in the emails not yet leaked or released), is highly important as an example of how the NFL conducts its business with regard to investigations into individual teams and coaches. And if there’s anything to buttress some of the many claims Gruden has made in this lawsuit, there’s value to those covering the NFL in finding that out, and value to NFL fans in learning how the league handles these cases.

It’s not clear yet how this one will be resolved. Gruden still has an option to seek a hearing before that full seven-member state supreme court, and he has some time (until July 29, as per A.J. Perez of Front Office Sports) to file a petition for reconsideration there. But if he doesn’t file that or if it’s not accepted, this may wind up settled in private through arbitration. And that would be a loss for those interested in learning exactly what happened with the “professional hit job” (as Brent Musburger described it) on Gruden.

[The Associated Press]

About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz has been covering sports media for Awful Announcing since 2012. He is also a staff writer for The Comeback. His previous work includes time at Yahoo! Sports Canada and Black Press.