A veteran sports journalist who worked for the media arm of the NFL filed a lawsuit Tuesday criticizing the league's record on hiring and the handling of racist remarks by two team owners.
Jim Trotter, a former reporter for NFL Media from 2018 to 2023, said in a complaint filed in U.S. District Court that he was not offered a new contract in retaliation for questioning NFL officials about the league's hiring practices pertaining to race. He is suing for retaliation and discrimination and is seeking damages to be determined at trial.
"During his tenure, Mr. Trotter repeatedly called out the NFL for refusing to address long-standing, systemic and institutional discrimination within coaching ranks, within the NFL league office and within the NFL Media newsroom," the lawsuit said. "For having the integrity to stand up to the NFL, Mr. Trotter lost his job."
Trotter, who is Black, raised concerns about the lack of racial diversity in the ranks of NFL Media, an internal unit that reports on the league. The lawsuit also cites two instances in which NFL team owners made racist remarks without any remedial action taken.
The NFL disputed Trotter's claims, saying in a statement that the decision not to renew his contract was business-related. The league said it has made significant strides in improving diversity and inclusion but acknowledged there is "always more work to be done."
“We share Jim Trotter’s passion for quality journalism created in and supported by a diverse and inclusive environment," the league said. "We take his concerns seriously, but 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.”
Trotter's suit comes a year after Brian Flores, a Black and Latino defensive coordinator for the Minnesota Vikings, sued the league for being passed over for several head coaching jobs. Flores' lawsuit is ongoing.
Trotter's lawsuit describes a Zoom meeting at NFL Media in September 2020 where a reporter revealed a conversation with Terry Pegula, owner of the Buffalo Bills. When Pegula spoke about the social activism among NFL players, he allegedly said, "If the Black players don't like it here, they should go back to Africa and see how it is."
Trotter, according to the complaint, once brought up the "dearth of Black professionals" in decision-making positions at the NFL during a 2020 discussion with Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones. After being pressed on the issue, Jones allegedly said: "If Blacks feel some kind of way, they should buy their own team and hire who they want to hire."
Both Jones and Pegula denied making the remarks Trotter cited in statements to the press.
Trotter raised concerns about the remarks and the NFL's record on racial diversity, according to the filing. He said the league "did nothing to legitimately investigate or address his concerns — even though offensive conduct was being committed by people at the very top of the hierarchy."
Trotter also raised the lack of diversity inside NFL Media with his supervisors, saying it did not have single full-time Black employee working at its news desk. Around 70% of the NFL's players are Black.
Additionally, Trotter brought up the league's diversity record at a press conference featuring NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell held ahead of Super Bowl LVI in 2023. He pressed Goodell at length about hiring practices at NFL Media, citing 13 franchises that have never had a Black head coach. He had raised similar concerns at Goodell's press conference the previous year.
According to the suit, one of Trotter's supervisors asked a colleague, "Why does Jim keep bringing this up?"
Trotter had been given indications that his contract would be renewed when it was up in March. It wasn't, which the lawsuit calls "a blatant act of retaliation" for raising concerns regarding discrimination within the NFL and NFL Media.
Trotter has had a distinguished career as sportswriter, having previously worked for Sports Illustrated and ESPN. He currently writes for the Athletic, the web site owned by the New York Times.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.