Over the course of the NFL’s 2021-2022 season, two major lawsuits have come out against the organization. One lawsuit related to the Miami Dolphin’s former head coach, Brian Flores, and the other by former Las Vegas Raider’s head coach, Jon Gruden.
In October 2021, multiple emails were leaked of Gruden using homophobic, misogynistic, and even racist remarks toward other members of the NFL. Specifically, emails showed Gruden making racist remarks directed at the executive director of the NFL’s player union who is Black, DeMaurice Smith.
About a month after The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal reported about the emails and Gruden resigned, he filed a lawsuit against the NFL. The lawsuit claims that the NFL leaked specific emails on purpose with the intent to ruin his career and to also distract the public from how they were handling their current investigation of the workplace culture in the Washington Commanders program.
Recently, two very important civil rulings were made in the Gruden case that could have major effects on the NFL. In court, representatives from the NFL argued that the case should be dismissed and, if not dismissed, moved to arbitration. Judge Nancy Allf of Clark County, Nevada, decided against either of those rulings due to the defendant’s arguments not meeting the criteria to be fully dismissed. Judge Allf also was concerned with the fairness of the case if it was to be moved to arbitration. This means that Gruden’s lawsuit will proceed and could be heard in court, and the information may not be kept behind closed doors.
Why Did the NFL Want Arbitration for Gruden’s Case?
Whenever there is a lawsuit, legal issue or other dispute within the NFL, they want to deal with them in arbitration. This is because, in arbitration, all the information involved in cases is kept completely private. It allows the NFL to deal with these cases without the pressure of unwanted information spreading to the public and causing more issues.
Another important aspect is that in arbitration, the decisions are not made by a judge but by an arbitrator. In the case of the NFL, the arbitrator is usually Rodger Goodell, the commissioner of the NFL. The NFL is allowed to use arbitration because its constitution and bylaws state that the commissioner has the authority to arbitrate any dispute among players, coaches, and/or other employees of any member club or clubs of the League.
The defendants of the NFL argued that the Gruden case should be sent to arbitration, but Judge Allf ruled otherwise. It’s believed Gruden’s case is different because when the emails were sent, even though they involved the NFL and were sent to people in the NFL, John Gruden himself wasn’t a part of the NFL at that time. The emails were sent over the course of seven years ending in 2018. During this time, Gruden was working with ESPN as an analyst, meaning that since Gruden was not contracted as a coach or any part of the NFL, the arbitration rule is void and left to the judge to decide.
So why could Gruden’s case playing out in court be bad for the NFL? As stated before, the NFL likes to proceed privately with lawsuits or other legal issues. Mainly so that no unnecessary information about the NFL gets shared with the public. Because the Gruden case could be heard in a public court, it is very possible for confidential details from both sides to be revealed to the public. People could discover a lot of information about the NFL that they wanted to keep secret. Specifically, if Gruden’s claim that the NFL intentionally leaked emails to ruin his reputation and to hide how they are handling the Washington Commanders investigation is proven to be true, it could have severe consequences for the NFL and the future of the league.
The NFL said it would appeal the judge’s decision. If Gruden’s case has any effect on the federal lawsuit filed by Brian Flores alleging racism, discrimination and other unethical actions is yet to be seen.