By Melanie Eversley
NABJ Black News & Views
Prominent Black sports journalist Jim Trotter has filed a racial retaliation and discrimination suit against the National Football League and NFL Media alleging that his contract as a reporter was not renewed because he publicly questioned Commissioner Roger Goodell about the league’s commitment to diversity.
Trotter, reached by phone Tuesday, declined to comment on the 53-page complaint directly, but he did release a statement explaining his motivations. Trotter began working as a columnist with The Athletic, a New York Times site, after he learned in March that his contract with NFL Network would not be renewed. The National Association of Black Journalists named Trotter Journalist of the Year in August.
“The NFL has claimed it wants to be held accountable regarding diversity, equity and inclusion,” Trotter’s statement read. “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.”
Trotter’s statement continued, “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.”
The NFL did not respond to attempts to reach its representatives but, according to The New York Times, the league released this statement regarding Trotter:: “We take his concerns seriously, but strongly dispute his specific allegations, particularly those made against his dedicated colleagues at NFL Media.”
The organization further went on to say that the decision not to renew Trotter’s contract was due to budget constraints, the Times reported.
The National Association of Black Journalists, while not involved in the lawsuit, did step in to have conversations with the NFL after the league failed to renew Trotter, NABJ President Ken Lemon told Black News & Views.
“That’s a powerful voice that was removed from that newsroom … a strong voice calling for fairness, calling for Black representation in decision making – something that has been a void for far too long,” said Lemon, a reporter for WSOC-TV in Charlotte, North Carolina.
The suit filed in federal court in Manhattan names various NFL representatives and accuses them of making multiple racially discriminatory comments and ignoring racially insensitive behavior. It seeks unspecified damages.
In one example, the filing credits Buffalo Bills owner Terry Pegula with saying, “If the Black players don’t like it here, they should go back to Africa and see how bad it is.”
Pegula issued a statement Tuesday denying he made the comment.
“I am horrified that anyone would connect me to an allegation of this kind,” Pegula’s statement read. “Racism has no place in our society and I am personally disgusted that my name is associated with this complaint.”
The lawsuit also credits Jerry Jones, owner of the Dallas Cowboys, with saying, “If Blacks feel some kind of way, they should buy their own team and hire who they want to hire.”
A representative with the Cowboys’ press office did not respond to a request for comment.
Lawyers David Wigdor and David Gottleib of Wigdor law firm in New York City, which is representing Trotter, released a joint statement admonishing the NFL for its alleged behavior.
“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,” the statement read. “The NFL and its owners have (a) duty to the players, their employees and the public to stand up against racism. They continue to fail in this duty.”
A source close to the case told Black News & Views that the incidents leading up to the league not renewing Trotter’s contract had been building up for two years. Trotter fought internally to have the NFL address diversity issues and repeatedly received the silent treatment, the source said.
Today, there are only three Black head coaches out of 32 total in the NFL, according to Sportskeeda. At the same time, 56 percent of the players are Black, Statista reports.
When Trotter interviewed for the NFL job, he asked how controversial news involving the league was to be handled, and he was told that all news was to be reported, the source said. But after Trotter began working with the NFL Network, he learned that if no one else knew about a controversial situation, whether newsworthy or not, it should not get reported, the source continued.
Then, in November, Trotter realized his contract would end in six months and his agent asked Sandra Nunez, vice president of on-air talent, about continuing Trotter’s contract, according to the source. Nunez assured Trotter’s agent that the league loved Trotter and Nunez said she could not see any reason why Trotter would not be extended, the source said. In February, just before the Super Bowl, Trotter grilled Goodell during a televised news conference on national television about the league’s commitment to diversity and the fact that there was no Black senior manager in the NFL Network’s newsroom. The following month, Trotter learned his contract would not be renewed, the source went on.
Nunez allegedly told Trotter, “Sometimes you have to compromise,” but Trotter responded that he’d done that “an awful lot,” the source said.
NABJ President Lemon said he is looking at this latest development as an opening.
“This is an opportunity that is not missed by us,” Lemon said. “We’re still working to make sure that we have those voices in those newsrooms. … The NFL has a large percentage of Black athletes. It’s just hard to believe that its main media source doesn’t also reflect that.”
Trotter worked with the NFL Network for 5 years. He also has worked with Sports Illustrated, ESPN and NBC Universal.