Jim Trotter, a former reporter for the NFL Network, the cable channel owned by the National Football League, filed a racial discrimination and retaliation lawsuit against the league and its media arm on Tuesday, alleging that his contract was not renewed after he spoke out against the lack of diversity among the league’s management, coaching ranks, and media outlet.
Trotter, who joined The Athletic as a sports columnist this past spring, claimed in his suit that the league retaliated against him for challenging NFL commissioner Roger Goodell on his failure to address the league’s supposed commitment to diversity in the newsroom and league offices.
Additionally, he said the league exhibited no concerns about discriminatory comments made by team owners, even after Trotter raised complaints about the offensive remarks that he and other reporters observed.
“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 after his suit was filed. “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.”
The reporter added: “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.”
According to Trotter’s complaint, which was filed in federal court in Manhattan, Trotter—who is Black—was told ahead of his contract expiration in March 2023 that there was no reason he would not be extended. A month before he was up for renewal, however, Trotter pressed Goodell publicly about failing to meet the league’s commitment to diversity, noting that the NFL Network had no Black managers, copy editors, or news desk employees.
In his complaint, Trotter claimed a supervisor asked one of his colleagues: “Why does Jim keep bringing this up?”
Following his exchange with Goodell, Trotter alleged he was asked whether he was “in alignment” with the league, prompting him to respond that he did not agree with the NFL’s apparent lack of diversity and inclusion. After those conversations, he said, the league told him it would not extend his contract, even though his agent had previously been told the network “could not envision any reason why his contract would not be renewed.”
Before he took Goodell to task on national TV about discrimination within the league, Trotter also said he repeatedly raised those same diversity concerns to his superiors at the network. Notably, he claims that Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones made racist remarks when asked about the dearth of Black employees in management-level positions in the league.
“If Blacks feel some kind of way, they should buy their own team and hire who they want to hire,” Trotter claims Jones told him in 2020.
Besides claiming nothing was done after he reported those remarks to his managers, Trotter said he had wanted to bring up Jones’ comments on-air while covering now-ex Las Vegas Raiders coach Jon Gruden’s racist emails that led to his inevitable firing. According to Trotter, though, his supervisors prevented him from doing so.
Another inflammatory remark that Trotter claims the league took no action against was made by Buffalo Bills owner Terry Pegula in light of player protests against racial and social injustice. According to the reporter’s lawsuit, a colleague told him that Pegula said: “If the Black players don’t like it here, they should go back to Africa and see how bad it is.”
In a statement released by the Bills on Tuesday, Pegula vehemently denied the allegations.
“The statement attributed to me in Mr. Trotter’s complaint is absolutely false. 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,” he said.
“We take his concerns seriously, but strongly dispute his specific allegations, particularly those made against his dedicated colleagues at NFL Media,” an NFL spokesperson said in a statement, adding that the decision to not renew Trotter was based on budget considerations.
Trotter is represented Wigdor LLP, the same law firm that took the case of Brian Flores, an assistant coach with the Minnesota Vikings who has accused the league of racially discriminating against him as he sought head coaching positions. A judge recently ruled that Flores’ case can move forward.
“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 NFL and its owners have duty to the players, their employees and the public to stand up against racism. They continue to fail in this duty,” Douglas H. Wigdor and David E. Gottlieb, partners at Wigdor LLP, said in a statement.