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JIM TROTTER ALWAYS SHOULD USE HIS COLUMN, NOT SEEK THE NFL IN COURT
Everyone in robust editorial roles is bludgeoned with slurs, including the chance he was fired by NFL Media for “institutional discrimination,” but an opinionated journalist should use his craft first
In my way of professional conviction, a line is delineated between journalism and legalese. Once a writer weighs in, he must prepare for the ugliest backlash from targets. Will there be a lawsuit against me? What about the human or sub-human insults, which, in my case, could have led to one court proceeding after another for years?
I’ve been called the “worst person who ever lived.” I’ve been called “a racist.” I’ve been called “a sexist.” I’ve been called “a fag.” I’ve been called “a dago” and “a wop.” I’ve been called “an anti-Semite” in a legal trail to Jewish attorneys in Chicago. I’ve been told I’d be dead if I kept writing about a basketball coach. I’ve been bludgeoned from behind by a football coach on the field. I’ve been attacked by a pitcher holding a baseball bat. I’ve been called the excrement of a female’s menstrual period. I’ve been termed a “mother f—er” so many times, I thought it was my real name, ready for a DMV resubmission.
If I’d wanted to sue any of them — the “anti-Semite” was the closest — lawyers would have said otherwise. My editors would have suggested a new job. When my gig permits an opportunity to fire away, even in sports, the counterblast will be far nastier than anything I’ve written on a computer or said on a program. Such is the grand career of a real columnist, bub, and you’d think an executive editor named Steven Ginsberg would know at The Athletic’s website.
Instead, the boss is swinging free in allowing his one general national column-writer, Jim Trotter, a chance to sue the NFL with a retaliation lawsuit and claim franchise owners Jerry Jones and Terry Pegula have made racially insensitive comments. Trotter is Black, and the league is run by Whites. Do we not see these battles waged every year by players and attorneys? Now, we have this addendum from the media? It’s a different time in my craft and on Planet Earth, I understand, but Trotter only has gained masterfully since he was released last March by NFL Media. He was hired at once in what could be a primary role in the industry. He has one editor, Ginsberg, who calls him “one of the most esteemed voices in sports journalism, and has delivered fearless reporting and perspective over nearly three decades. He’ll continue to write best-in-class commentary as a member of our opinion desk. We’re proud to call him a colleague here at The Athletic.”
Wrong. Let’s continue to call Trotter a columnist first instead of forcing him through a system deserving his strong written coverage, not using to his current benefit.
We already were aware why Trotter left NFL Media. He says it was a racial decision. League commissioner Roger Goodell says Trotter was part of an organizational restructure in which many writers, of all races, lost positions. As a columnist, these are peripheral issues you carry as you continue an editorial path. In my mind, whatever Trotter says in his viewpoint on the site is more important than his legal actions against the league. I want to know what else he knows about Goodell and the boys, which is why his appointment by The Athletic was tantamount. Rather, he is suing the league in a 53-page complaint for an absence of diversity which he calls “long-standing, systemic and institutional discrimination within coaching ranks, within the NFL office and within the NFL Media newsroom.”
Why? To prove Goodell and the owners are racists? I’ve said that during the Colin Kaepernick sideline protests. I’ve said it on other occasions. Why have Trotter execute that point in court? He should use his column to direct someone’s gaze in that matter instead of letting his legal people win. Whether he prevails or, more likely, loses in the total scheme, he still has a piece to write the next day about the NFL. Yet by taking this route, I feel his defiance about the league overcomes everything else in his life. “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 released by his law firm, Wigdor. “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.”
No, when you have a superior as rigid as the parent New York Times, Trotter should carry on in the same vein in his column. In a piece on The Athletic site, Ginsberg says, “As the lawsuit proceeds, Trotter will focus on a range of other sports in his reporting and commentary for The Athletic.” Other sports? Trotter’s background generally is in professional football and now, I have to read him on “other sports” while the lawsuit continues. So all readers lose, too, as he tries to bring down Goodell and the owners. We don’t have time in the daily crux for these matters. Another suit, another behind-the-scenes fracas … we’ll just read about the league elsewhere, right?
His comments about Jones and Pegula come from 2020. It’s almost 2024. Why not hire a lawyer back then? According to Trotter, Jones said about Blacks and team ownership, “If Blacks feel some kind of way, they should buy their own team and hire who they want to hire.” Imagine if it were said about me for some strange reason. If I couldn’t run the story in NFL Media, I’d run it elsewhere. Anyone in media would have blazed it about Jones, longtime owner of the Dallas Cowboys, but Trotter waited to sue until he was months in the bag at a new media operation. It reeks of a bizarre takeover by The Athletic, which should be above this stuff.
“Diversity and inclusion are extremely important to me personally and to the NFL," Jones said this week of the so-called comment. "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.”
Pegula, owner of the Buffalo Bills, was more pointed in denying his comment about Black players. In a remark made on a Zoom call with about 40 other NFL Media coworkers, Pegula reportedly said, “If the Black players don’t like it here, they should go back to Africa and see how bad it is.” When Trotter brought the feedback to the league office, he was “repeatedly brushed off and told the ‘league office is investigating it.’ ’’ Again, 2020.
“The statement attributed to me in Mr. Trotter's complaint is absolutely false," Pegula said this week in a statement. “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 story is misplaced in a turbulent world. Trotter doesn’t have enough clout in everyday life, nor does his relatively new publication. Many times in my career, I’ve been told by cowardly bosses in Chicago and elsewhere not to run sensitive information. I’ve found a way, in the past and now on Substack, to present it. Have you seen what I’ve said about certain team owners in that town, including White Sox and Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf?
My column carries on above the fray. Otherwise in that city, measly writers — The Athletic’s local writer, Jon Greenberg — continue to shrug off Reinsdorf’s poor performance even as his general ownership behavior leads to other problems. Yep, Greenberg is allowed to protect Reinsdorf while Trotter tackles Goodell, Jones and Pegula in court. See a problem? I do.
Steven Ginsberg should investigate that, too. Once a writer is allowed to lawyer up, consider who else might be at your door tomorrow?
Jay Mariotti, called “without question the most impacting Chicago sportswriter of the past quarter-century,’’ writes general sports columns for Substack while appearing on some of the 1,678,498 podcasts and shows in production today. He is an accomplished columnist, TV panelist and talk/podcast host. Living in Los Angeles, he gravitated by osmosis to film projects.