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Wednesday, June 19, 2024
Law

Reporter Jim Trotter Sues NFL, Alleges NFL Owner Made Racist Remark

  • Trotter alleged that Buffalo Bills owner Terry Pegula said Black players "should go back to Africa."
  • Pegula said the allegation is "absolutely false."
Jim Trotter
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Former NFL Network reporter Jim Trotter alleged in a federal racial discrimination lawsuit filed on Tuesday against the NFL that the league failed to take action after Buffalo Bills owner Terry Pegula made a “highly offensive and racist” remark.

In the 53-page lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, Trotter laid out several examples of the league’s failure to address issues of race and diversity — including Pegula’s remarks that the complaint alleged were “swept under the rug.”

“If the Black players don’t like it here, they should go back to Africa and see how bad it is,” Pegula allegedly said to an unnamed NFL Media reporter. 

Pegula denied he made the remark.

“The statement attributed to me in Mr. Trotter’s complaint is absolutely false,” Pegula said in a statement issued by the Bills. “I am horrified that anyone would connect me to an allegation of this kind. Racism has no place in our society and I am personally disgusted that my name is associated with this complaint.”

Trotter learned of the remark during an NFL Media Zoom meeting in September 2020, and pressed the NFL on Pegula’s remark, according to the lawsuit.

“In response to an allegation by an employee (the reporter) and complaint by another employee (Mr. Trotter) that an NFL owner (an employer) made racist remarks that ridiculed Black players (also employees) for their social activism, the NFL did absolutely nothing,” Trotter’s legal team wrote. 

Trotter confronted NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell on issues of race before the prior two Super Bowls, and alleged his contract was not renewed after he was seen having breakfast with Brian Flores in March.

“Mr. Trotter’s termination is not a one-off or a surprise or an anomaly,” Trotter’s lawyers wrote. “Rather, Mr. Trotter’s termination is the logical and expected result of an employer that has demonstrated time and time again that it does not value diversity, does not embrace Black voices and acts with vindictiveness towards anyone who speaks negatively about the NFL or opposes the NFL’s systemic discriminatory and retaliatory conduct.”

Beyond Pegula, Trotter also shared a conversation with Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones in August 2020 that centered around why so few Black employees work at the highest ranks of teams and the league. Jones said he felt “a little defensive” as the chat continued.

“If Blacks feel some kind of way, they should buy their own team and hire who they want to hire,” Jones said.

According to the lawsuit, Trotter followed up with a question — which Jones ignored — about the NFL’s 30% liquidity rule required to purchase (and maintain) a controlling interest in an NFL team. Josh Harris, for example, needed to have about $1.8 billion in cash as part of his ownership group’s $6.05 billion purchase of the Washington Commanders over the summer.

“Diversity and inclusion are extremely important to me personally and to the NFL,” Jones said in the statement. “The representation made by Jim Trotter of a conversation that occurred over three years ago with myself and our VP of Player Personnel Will McClay is simply not accurate.”

The NFL has never had a Black controlling owner.

The NFL said in a statement to Front Office Sports that Trotter’s departure “was one of many difficult decisions – similar to decisions recently made by many other media organizations — to address a challenging economy and a changing media environment.” 

“We share Jim Trotter’s passion for quality journalism created in and supported by a diverse and inclusive environment,” the NFL statement continued. “We take his concerns seriously, but strongly dispute his specific allegations, particularly those made against his dedicated colleagues at NFL Media.”

Douglas H. Wigdor and David E. Gottlieb  — Trotter’s attorneys who also represent Flores — said Trotter’s “termination is consistent with the NFL’s long record of retaliating against anyone who stands up against the league.”

Flores sued the NFL in February 2022, and the case racial discrimination case remains ongoing. While some of the claims in the case were compelled to arbitration, Wigdor and Gottlieb said that won’t be a factor in Trotter’s complaint.

“Trotter is not subject to any arbitration agreement for the NFL to try to hide behind, and the NFL will be held accountable in an open and public forum,” Wigdor and Gottlieb said.

Trotter seeks unspecified damages and a jury trial. 

“The NFL has claimed it wants to be held accountable regarding diversity, equity and inclusion,” Trotter said in a statement. “I tried to do so, and it cost me my job.  I’m filing this lawsuit because I can’t complain about things that are wrong if I’m unwilling to fight for what is right.

“I hope this lawsuit leads to real change across the league and in the newsroom. It is on the backs of a majority black player population that owners have made billions and those players deserve to have someone who shares their cultural and life experiences at the table when decisions are being made about how they are being covered.”

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