Jim Trotter, who was a sports reporter with the NFL Network for five years, has filed a lawsuit against the league and its cable sports channel alleging that racial discrimination played a role in his dismissal from the network.
In a 53-page complaint filed in Manhattan federal court Tuesday, Trotter alleged that his contract wasn’t renewed by the league due to him speaking out on the league’s lack of diversity within its office, coaching and media network.
Trotter, who is now a columnist at The Athletic and has also worked at Sports Illustrated and ESPN, had raised concerns about the league’s diversity issues before asking NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell about his inquiry during a Super Bowl week media session earlier this year, according to The New York Times.
“The N.F.L. 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.”
Trotter said in his complaint that he was expecting a contract extension with the outlet, but it allegedly fell through after he raised concerns about the league’s racial diversity and discrimination.
Trotter’s complaint also included allegations that two league owners, Jerry Jones of the Dallas Cowboys and Terry Pegula of the Buffalo Bills, made racist remarks.
According to the complaint, Trotter asked Jones in August 2020 about why there weren’t Black professionals in decision-making positions within the league. Jones allegedly told Trotter, “If Blacks feel some kind of way, they should buy their own team and hire who they want to hire.”
Jones, who has been the Cowboys’ owner since 1989, was embroiled in controversy last year after a photo surfaced showing him among a group of white boys standing outside the entrance of an Arkansas high school as six Black students tried to be the first to enroll in 1957.
“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,” Jones said in a statement.
The lawsuit claims that, according to an NFL Media staffer, Pegula — who has owned the Bills since 2014 — said during a video conference in 2020, “If the Black players don’t like it here, they should go back to Africa and see how bad it is.”
“The statement attributed to me in Mr. Trotter’s complaint is absolutely false,” Pegula said in a statement. “I am horrified that anyone would connect me to an allegation of this kind.”
Trotter also claimed that an NFL Network executive barred him from bringing up Jones’s remarks on air and was told by a league official that Pegula’s remarks to him were an “HR matter and that’s the end of it,” according to Axios.
Trotter’s lawsuit comes as the NFL has faced criticisms on its diversity record and allegations of racial discrimination within the league.
Recently, Minnesota Vikings assistant coach Brian Flores filed a lawsuit against the league in February 2022 alleging racial discrimination in its hiring practices.
In a statement to The Hill, NFL spokesperson Brian McCarthy said while the league praised “Trotter’s passion for quality journalism created in and supported by a diverse and inclusive environment,” they “strongly dispute his specific allegations, particularly those made against his dedicated colleagues at NFL Media.”
“Mr. Trotter’s departure from NFL Media 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. Jim was one of many employees who were unfortunately affected by these business decisions,” McCarthy said.
“We appreciate Jim’s five years of service at NFL Media and wish him much success in his new role. The NFL has made significant strides in improving diversity and inclusion and, while we acknowledge there is always more work to be done, we are committed to continuing that progress.”
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