NFL Hall of Fame defensive tackle Warren Sapp has come to the defense of his former head coach, Jon Gruden.
Gruden resigned as Raiders head coach in October 2021 after emails surfaced where he made racist, misogynistic and anti-gay comments. In one of the emails discovered by the Wall Street Journal, Gruden used a racist trope to describe DeMaurice Smith, executive director of the NFLPA .
“Dumboriss Smith has lips the size of Michelin tires,” Gruden wrote in a July 2, 2011, email to then Commanders general manager Bruce Allen.
Sapp, who played under Gruden for two years in Tampa Bay (2002-03), appeared on a recent episode of VladTV and said the expression used towards Smith was not racist.
“That’s racist? If he walked in and said when I walk in my locker room ‘it looks like I got a bunch of DeMaurice Smith’s in there by the mouth’, that would be a racial trope,” Sapp said. “But to say DeMaurice Smith got big lips? Yeah, DeMaurice Smith got big lips just like Barack Obama got big ears. We been calling Big-Lipped Johnny ‘Big Lipped Johnny’ for the last 40 years.
“I bet this is the first time in DeMaurice Smith’s life someone called him ‘big lipped’ and he said it was racist.”
Sapp, who was born in Orlando and went to high school in Apopka, Florida, said that being from the South, he could say there’s “no way” Gruden is a “fire-breathing racist.”
“You’re not going to call my head coach a racist,” Sapp said. “I sat in front of him for two years and I’m a child of the South. I was raised in Florida. There’s no way a fire-breathing racist would be in front of me or on my speed dial and we haven’t had a real discussion about ‘your tendencies to not see the black man on your level’. There’s no way Jon Gruden’s that.
“I’ll bet my life on it that’s the first time DeMaurice… ‘Big Lipped’ DeMaurice Smith said somebody called him ‘big lipped’ and it was racist.”
Sapp is one of the most high-profile defenders of Gruden, whose NFL coaching career hangs in the balance. On May 25, a Las Vegas judge denied the NFL’s motion to dismiss Gruden’s lawsuit against the league. Gruden is arguing that the NFL leaked the emails to the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal with the intention to harm his reputation and force him out of the league.
“I’m going to let the process take care of itself,” Gruden said after the hearing. “Go Raiders.”
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