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Jim Trotter, a former reporter at NFL Network, filed a discrimination and retaliation lawsuit this week against the NFL and NFL Media.
Well-known for a stellar career of reporting, earlier this year Trotter won the Bill Nunn Jr. Award from the Pro Football Hall of Fame for his “long and distinguished contribution to pro football through coverage.”
Trotter claims his contract was not renewed this year.
The lawsuit, obtained by both ESPN and CBS, included several moments of racist comments that Trotter said he heard from those within the NFL, including Bills owner Terry Pegula and Cowboys owner Jerry Jones.
On Sept. 30, 2020, a Zoom call took place with several NFL media members to connect coworkers who were unable to meet in person, according to Sports Illustrated.
Lawsuit alleges Bills owner said “go back to Africa” in 2020
An unnamed NFL Media reporter recalled a conversation with Pegula during which the Bills owner said, “If the Black players don’t like it here, they should go back to Africa and see how bad it is,” when discussing player support for social activism and the Black Lives Matter movement, according to the lawsuit.
Pegula released a statement Tuesday denying allegations that he made the racist comment.
“The statement attributed to me in Mr. Trotter’s complaint is absolutely false,” Pegula said in the release. “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.”
The comment left reporters and those in attendance stunned, according to the lawsuit. Jim Trotter asked about the racist comment, but was repeatedly told “the league office is investigating it”.
Jim Trotter was told “it’s an HR matter”
Finally, a year later, Trotter was told that “New York [the NFL league office] says it’s an HR matter and that’s the end of it.”
In the same section of the lawsuit, titled “Swept Under the Rug,” there’s also a mention of Jones telling Trotter, “If Blacks feel some kind of way, they should buy their own team and hire who they want to hire.”
Sports Illustrated reports the statement came after Trotter asked the Cowboys owner about the lack of Black professionals in decision-making positions in the NFL during a conversation at the 2020 Hall of Fame Game in Canton, Ohio.
Jim Trotter was later told not to mention the conversation on the air at NFL Network, according to the filing.
Jones also released a statement saying, “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.”
Though the NFL labels its teams end-zones with generic slogans like ‘END RACISM’ and portrays itself as an empathetic league reflective of its diverse fanbase, Trotter’s lawsuit describes a workplace environment where Black people are tolerated — not accepted.
Trotter says NFL controlled how reporters covered Damar Hamlin
Trotter also alleges that the league controls NFL Media, saying the league, “throttles content that is critical of the NFL.”
To prove that point, Jim Trotter makes specific allegations regarding his efforts to report information learned regarding the cancellation of the Bills-Bengals game on January 2, 2023, after Buffalo safety Damar Hamlin suffered cardiac arrest on the field.
One of the issues that lingered following the determination that the game would not proceed was whether a preliminary decision had been made to continue the game.
“In the days that followed, Mr. Jim Trotter learned that the teams were in fact instructed that play would resume after a five-minute warm-up, explaining why the players had been doing so,” the complaint alleges at paragraph 161. “This decision, Mr. Trotter and other reporters learned, came from the NFL league office not from the officials on the field.”
Jim Trotter is seeking damages to be determined at trial, and in addition he wants “the imposition of a court-ordered monitor to review the NFL’s policies and/or practices and implement necessary changes with respect to the hiring, retention and advancement of Black people throughout all levels of the NFL organization and hierarchy, including at NFL Media, the NFL league office and within NFL teams.”