Why Jon Gruden's emails become public

Daniel Snyder's lawsuit against a Web site for suggesting a connection to Jeffrey Epstein (among other things) is what led to the emails first being made public.

Jon Gruden lost his job in Las Vegas because his emails became public.

His emails first became public because Daniel Snyder wants information from Bruce Allen.

Snyder wants that information from Allen to expose who told a Web site, owned by a company in India, that Snyder was connected to Jeffrey Epstein.

Those reports that Snyder was connected to Epstein are why Snyder is suing that Web site, in India, for $10 million. Snyder is alleging defamation because among other things, it said Snyder was subject of sex-trafficking allegations and even suggested the team’s new nickname be “Epsteins.”

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The biggest question I’ve had throughout the saga of Gruden’s emails has been why they became public. Up until Tuesday night, I — like many others — believed that the NFL had reached into the vat of 650,000 emails that were dredged up in the course of an investigation of the Washington Football Team and leaked those specific emails that incriminated Gruden to the press, first the Wall Street Journal and then the New York Times. Why the NFL would do this was a source of lots of theories, but nothing concrete.

I now see the chain of events differently, after this story by Los Angeles Times reporters Nathan Fenno and Sam Farmer:

Some of those emails were already public because of a court filing that Snyder made at federal court in Arizona. So what were they doing there? Well, the short summary is that it is part of Snyder’s pursuit to discover the source for a series of stories which were posted online by Media Entertainment Arts Worldwide (MEAWW).

The longer story requires taking a step back to look at what prompted Snyder’s lawsuit in the first place and then looking at lengths to which he’s gone to gather evidence for that suit. I want to be clear that I am not responsible for the primary reporting here. I have not requested nor looked through court dockets. I am simply connecting the dots that have been reported by other publications, primarily the Washington Post and the New York Times and showing how they connect to the story in the Los Angeles Times.

Let’s start with the basis of Snyder’s suit: A series of MEAWW articles and headlines which were posted online in 2020 and promoted on social media. Here’s how the Washington Post described the posts, which have since been deleted:

These posts were made prior to the Washington Post publishing a story documenting extensive sexual harassment within Washington’s football team. Snyder was not directly accused of harassment in the story. In fact, the Post story that was published in July 2020 did not include many of the more salacious rumors and allegations that had been circulating on social media and even in Reddit prior to the publication of the story. The MAEWW stories in question were part of that swirl of online rumors and allegations, which have never been substantiated or corroborated.

Snyder is suing MAEWW for $10 million, or more accurately, he is suing the company that owns MAEWW, which is based in India. Here is the New York Times article on the filing of the suit.

MAEWW, for its part, told the Washington Post it had no unnamed sources for the articles. “We had NO contact with anyone,” one of the site’s top editors said in a statement emailed to the Washington Post. Another employee of the company told the New York Times that errors had been made and an investigation is being conducted. Snyder’s suit against MAEWW has been filed in India before the Delhi High Court.

So how does this all connect back to Gruden? Well, Snyder’s defamation case doesn’t. At least not directly, but he is using the courts to try and force former employeess (among others) to provide information about who participated or even paid MAEWW to produce and promote these stories.

Snyder accused Mary Ellen Blair, a former executive assistant, of acting as an intermediary in a federal court filing in Virginia. The filing alleged she had knowledge about who had reached out to MAEWW and went so far as to allege Blair received compensation in the form of reduced rent at her apartment, which was owned by a company where the daughter of one of his co-owners served on the board.

Snyder asked a federal court in Colorado to subpoena Jessica McCloughan, the wife of former Washington general manager Scot McCloughan. He included her holiday-lighting company, Friday Night Lights LLC, in his filing. That was first reported by Daniel Kaplan of The Athletic.

Now we get to Allen, who was franchise president up until 2019 when he was fired after 10 seasons with the franchise. Snyder is seeking to compel Allen to produce discovery materials in a motion filed with the federal court in Arizona. Snyder’s attorneys introduced evidence in mid-June, filing Allen’s email correspondence with a number of people, including Gruden. These are the e-mails the Los Angeles Times looked at earlier this week. Gruden’s name was redacted in most of the records. He was labeled “ESPN Personality.” Gruden was working for ESPN at the time as analyst for “Monday Night Football.”

The Los Angeles Times reported that the content of the emails in evidence as part of the Arizona case matched some (but not all) of the emails that were described by the New York Times. According to the L.A. Times story, the contents of the emails had been leaked to the newspapers.

So why did Snyder’s legal team file Allen’s emails as evidence? Well, in response to Snyder’s request for material relating to his lawsuit against the MAEWW, Allen asserted in a sworn statement that he “maintained a low profile with respect to the media” and “never served as an anonymous source for any news or media reports.” That’s why ESPN’s Adam Schefter ended up catching a stray and Gruden’s emails were filed as well. It was to show that not only was Allen communicating with a reporter but he was essentially being given the ability to edit or revise what Schefter would report for ESPN. Same for the news about Navorro Bowman becoming available. Agent Drew Rosenhaus emailed Allen the linebacker was available, Allen forwarded the contents of the email to Schefter and Schefter then reported it on Twitter.

But aside from the industry gossip about how NFL reporting gets made, what should become clear here is exactly why the NFL had a motivation to make sure the contents of those emails became public. They were sitting there as an open record in a court file in Arizona where any reporter could request them, and while Gruden’s name was redacted in almost all of the filings, it wasn’t redacted in all of them. And “ESPN personality” probably isn’t the most low-key code name, either.

So the NFL had a choice: On one hand, it could wait and see if someone found the files in the court case and figured out it was Gruden saying all the racist, sexist, homophobic things. At that point, the NFL would be asked if it knew about the emails, and if it claimed ignorance, it would either be a lie or an incredible indictment of the investigation the league conducted of the Washington Football Team.

If the NFL said it knew about the contents of Gruden’s, but it was a private communication that occurred while the man in question wasn’t working for the NFL, that would also pose a problem for the league. The NFL would be on the hook because it did nothing even though it knew that a man who had brokered in racist humor and expressed opposition to the drafting of a gay player had managerial authority over players among the very groups he had expressed his prejudice toward and we haven’t even got to the misogyny yet.

The other option was to out Gruden. Point reporters to the emails or flat out provide the contents until there was enough offensive material that Gruden could no longer remain coach of the Raiders.

So I don’t think the NFL dipped into that vat of emails from the investigation out of some grudge against Gruden or to single him out. It dipped into that vat because those emails were already available publicly, and once a reporter found them the NFL would be exposed to criticism for how it handled the investigation of the Washington Football Team.

To be clear, I don’t feel bad for Gruden. At all. What he said is repugnant and the idea that he was allowed to have managerial authority over players for as long as he did, given the attitudes he expressed, is pretty unconscionable.

But no one should think the NFL is acting transparently or out of its social conscience here. Why did these few emails become public and not the other 650,000 that were reviewed as part of the NFL-ordered investigation? Because they were already sitting in a courtroom.

I don’t know about you, but it sure makes me wonder what else was in those emails and why the NFL never discussed them. After all, Snyder is litigious, but I don’t think we can count on his federal court filings to clean out all of the prejudice in the NFL. 

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