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Skechers Ditches Raiders Coach After Offensive Emails Surface

Skechers ended its contract with former Las Vegas Raiders head coach Jon Gruden after emails emerged showing he had used racist, homophobic and misogynistic language.

A company spokesperson said Tuesday Skechers had “immediately” terminated Gruden’s endorsement contract upon learning of the recent reporting that led the former ESPN analyst to resign his NFL coaching position on Monday.

“Skechers believes in equality, fostering tolerance and understanding for all people,” the spokesperson said. “It is at the core of who we are as a global lifestyle brand and why we have a zero-tolerance policy for such behavior within our business including those who we formally work with. We believe taking a stand against racist or derogatory comments and for inclusion of all is imperative.”

Reporting on Gruden’s emails began Friday, when The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times published articles describing a 2011 message in which the then-ESPN analyst used racist language to describe DeMaurice Smith, the executive director of National Football League Players Association, who is Black. Gruden, who is white, had reportedly sent the message to Bruce Allen, the president of the Washington Football Team at the time.

The Raiders’ Twitter account released a statement from Raiders owner Mark Davis the same day saying the team was reviewing the email, as well as “other materials provided to us today by the NFL.” Two days later, Gruden was still leading the team as it took on the Chicago Bears. In a post-game press conference, the coach apologized to Smith “and anybody out there that I have offended,” but insisted he didn’t have “an ounce of racism” in him.

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“I can’t remember a lot of the things that transpired 10 or 12 years ago,” Gruden said Sunday. “I’m a guy who takes pride in leading people together and I’ll continue to do that for the rest of my life.”

The New York Times published a deeper dive into Gruden’s emails the next day. The messages—discovered as part of an NFL investigation into workplace misconduct within the Washington Football Team— “frequently” featured misogynistic and homophobic language and spanned a several-year period ending in 2018, The New York Times said. In them, Gruden reportedly disparaged the introduction of women referees, called NFL commissioner Roger Goodell an anti-gay slur and shared photos of two Washington Football Team cheerleaders wearing only bikini bottoms.

The Raiders announced Gruden’s resignation shortly after Monday’s article went live.

Gruden first served as the team’s head coach in 1998, when it was still based in Oakland, Calif. In 2001, he moved to Tampa Bay, Fla. Though he led the Buccaneers to its first Super Bowl title in 2002, he was eventually fired in early 2009. Gruden returned to the Raiders in 2018 after nearly a decade in broadcasting. His 10-year, $100 million contract instantly made him one of the best-paid coaches in football.

In January, Skechers revealed it too had signed a contract with the high-profile coach. The partnership, the company said, would see Gruden “lead the charge” in its men’s footwear and apparel campaigns. Skechers had released multiple ads with the coach before the past week’s developments.

Skechers announced its partnership with former Raiders coach Jon Gruden in January
Skechers announced its partnership with former Raiders coach Jon Gruden in January. Courtesy

“We’re always looking for fan favorites to represent our men’s collections and Jon Gruden, with his colorful personality, fits the bill,” Michael Greenberg, president of Skechers, said in a statement accompanying January’s announcement. “From winning a Super Bowl in Tampa Bay to his weekly Gruden Grinder awards as a broadcaster, fans have been tuning into what Jon does and says for decades. We’re confident his signature leadership will fit seamlessly into our roster of sports celebrities and help convey the story of how our athletic and casual footwear and apparel delivers on style and comfort for men everywhere.”

Gruden isn’t the first sports figure to lose a major brand sponsor. In May, Nike confirmed it had prematurely parted ways with the world-famous soccer player Neymar because of his refusal to participate into an investigation into an employee’s allegations of sexual assault. The footwear giant has said the investigation was inconclusive and that “it would be inappropriate for Nike to make an accusatory statement without being able to provide supporting facts.” The Wall Street Journal, however, reported this spring that the employee told several friends, family members and Nike employees about the incident the night of and in the following days and weeks.

Neymar did not suffer for long. Shortly after leaving Nike, he signed a long-term deal with Puma, where the two have partnered on several football boots and a lifestyle sneaker. The German sportswear company has continued to promote the Brazilian footballer since The Wall Street Journal’s reporting.