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Ex-NFL Media journalist sues over alleged institutional discrimination

Jim Trotter says voicing concerns over equity and racial injustice in the NFL Media organization cost him his job.
Ex-NFL Media journalist sues over alleged institutional discrimination
Posted at 5:46 PM, Sep 12, 2023

A former NFL Media journalist is accusing the league of refusing to address what he calls long-standing institutional discrimination, and said his contract was not renewed because he repeatedly voiced concerns regarding equity and racial injustice.

In making his allegations in a discrimination and retaliation lawsuit filed Tuesday in federal court in New York City, Jim Trotter also cited Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and Buffalo Bills owner Terry Pegula as making racially insensitive comments. Trotter said the concerns he raised with league executives, including NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, regarding those comments and the lack of diversity among NFL Media employees fell on deaf ears.

“The NFL has claimed it wants to be held accountable regarding diversity, equity and inclusion. I tried to do so, and it cost me my job,” Trotter said in a statement released by his law firm, Wigdor. “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.”

Trotter is Black and now works for The Athletic after previously being a reporter for the NFL Network, before his contract was not renewed in March.

The NFL issued a statement disputing Trotter’s allegations.

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

The NFL said Trotter’s contract was not renewed as a result of business decisions made to address “a challenging economy and a changing media environment.”

Pegula also said in a statement that the allegation against him is false. “I am horrified that anyone would connect me to an allegation of this kind,” he said. “Racism has no place in our society and I am personally disgusted that my name is associated with this complaint.”

Jones issued a statement that said: “Diversity and inclusion are extremely important to me personally and to the NFL. 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.”

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Trotter said he was subjected to discrimination on the basis of his race. He alleges the NFL fostered and condoned a hostile work environment by terminating him.

He is seeking to have a court-ordered monitor put in place to investigate and review the NFL’s policies and implement necessary changes on its hiring, retention and advancement of Black employees throughout its organization.

The lawsuit said NFL Media did not have a single Black person in a managerial position or on its news desk.

Trotter raised his concerns regarding the lack of Black people in decision-making positions to Goodell at several news conferences, including during the league’s Super Bowl festivities in February.

In a lengthy answer, Goodell said in part: “I think it’s not a single answer, Jim, the single responsibility comes on all of us in the NFL, and we have to be the ones that make that change, and we are the ones that have to make sure we bring diversity deeper into our NFL and make the NFL an inclusive and diverse organization, that allows everyone the opportunity to be successful.”

Trotter said that on the following day, his direct supervisor, Ali Bhanpuri, asked one of Trotter’s colleagues: “Why does Jim keep bringing this up?”

NFL Media noted that its three most recent senior hires are people of color, with two being Black and the other Hispanic. And eight of nine of its most recent on-air hirings represent diverse backgrounds, including seven being Black.

Trotter’s lawyers, Douglas Wigdor and David Gottlieb, issued a joint statement that said: “The NFL should be ashamed of the racial animus openly expressed by team owners and a complete lack of action by the league after being put on notice.”

Trotter implicated Jones by referring to a conversation he had with the Cowboys owner in 2020 on the issue of the lack of Black professionals in decision-making positions across the NFL. He said, Jones’ response was: “If Blacks feel some kind of way, they should buy their own team and hire who they want to hire.”

Trotter said he was ordered by his superiors to not mention Jones' comments in his reporting.

Trotter then cited a comment Pegula allegedly made during a dinner with reporters on the issue of player protests against racial injustice. Though Trotter wasn’t present, he said the comments were raised by one of his colleagues during an NFL Media Zoom call in 2020.

A person briefed on the matter told The Associated Press that the NFL conducted an investigation into Pegula’s alleged comments by interviewing all those present at the dinner, and it could not find anyone else recalling the comments being made.

The person spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because the NFL has not revealed the contents of its investigation.

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