Former NFL star Andre Rison defends Jon Gruden: ‘I know he’s not a racist’

The one-time star of the Falcons and Super Bowl champion says ex-Raiders coach Jon Gruden isn't prejudiced despite his emails

Former NFL wide receiver Andre Rison, who himself has made headlines in the past, has come out on the side of former Raiders coach Jon Gruden who stepped down earlier this week under intense scrutiny.

In a new interview with TMZ, Rison said he knows Gruden’s comments on women, the LGBTQ+ community and NFL Players Association head DeMaurice Smith were problematic, but in his experience, Gruden is a good guy.

“We all say some things behind closed doors that we regret or we wouldn’t say in public,” Rison told TMZ. He last played for the Raiders during Gruden’s first stint coaching the team in the 2000 season, but says the two remained in touch.

Andre Rison with the Raiders in 2000. (Tom Hauck /Allsport)

Rison, the 54-year-old five-time Pro Bowler whose career included time with the Atlanta Falcons, Indianapolis Colts, Jacksonville Jaguars and Cleveland Browns among others, won a Super Bowl with the Green Bay Packers in 1997. He is best known outside of the sports world for dating the late Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes of TLC, who infamously burned down his Atlanta mansion in 1994.

Rison was also one of the subjects of the ESPN documentary Broke where he recounted running through millions of dollars he earned throughout his 11-year NFL career.

While Gruden said what he said, Rison believes that emails meant to be shared in private should have stayed that way.

“I believe who he said and what he said and who he intended it for, it was intended for that person and nobody else,” Rison told TMZ.

Gruden made the comments over the years from 2011 to 2018 in emails to then-Washington Football Team president Bruce Allen. At the time Gruden was working for ESPN, despite a long history in the NFL as head coach of the Raiders in previous years and as the Super-Bowl winning head coach of Tampa Bay, among other positions. The emails surfaced as part of an overall investigation of the workplace conditions of WFT. They were part of 650,000 emails that were reviewed as part of the probe.

“I was just in Las Vegas several weeks ago,” Rison said. “He laid out the red carpet for my wife and I. I spent a lot of time with (Raiders owner) Mark Davis. I don’t see it, man. You can see it within the whole organization. There are more Black former Raiders that have some significant role in the organization – alumni, community, the current players. There’s a lot of Afro-American up in there. There’s a lot of blood and juice up rolling through there and he [Gruden] had control of that.”

Rison doesn’t condone or agree with the coach’s comments, but said he would offer an apology on the coach’s behalf and offers him some advice if his career in sports, which appears to be over, actually is.

“You’ve already given this game some of the best tutelage and best leadership that you could possibly give,” Rison told TMZ. “So if you don’t ever touch the game again, don’t feel any type of way.”

“Go on with your life and enjoy it with the rest of the Gruden family,” he added.

But if the response to Tony Dungy is any indication, Rison should expect some backlash. When the initial emails about Smith were discovered, the NBC host and former NFL player and coach said that he’d never seen any behavior from Gruden that would indicate he is racist.

His co-host, Mike Tirico, agreed, as the two discussed the NFL issues of the day during a 75-minute weather delay during the Sunday Night Football telecast of the Kansas City Chiefs Buffalo Bills game at Arrowhead, an outdoor stadium. When more emails came out, Dungy, 66, one of the NFL’s most avid Christians, condemned the emails but said he’d forgive the man.

Ironically, Gruden won Super Bowl XXXVII in 2003 with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after Dungy was fired as their head coach, in what was largely viewed as a team Dungy put together. Dungy would go on to become the first Black head coach to win a Super Bowl in 2007 with the Indianapolis Colts.

Fans and observers criticized both Dungy and Tirico for defending Gruden initially. That prompted a fairly impassioned Twitter response from Dungy.

Gruden has not spoken publicly since his resignation from the Raiders.

Have you subscribed to the Grio podcasts, Dear Culture or Acting Up? Download our newest episodes now!

TheGrio is now on Apple TV, Amazon Fire, and Roku. Download theGrio today!