The last time I saw Eric Grubman, the NFL’s Executive Vice President of Business Affairs, was at the NFL Spring League Meeting in Atlanta. He looked preoccupied and distant, as he emerged from a still-active meetings at The Whitney Hotel in Atlanta’s Buckhead area.
Walking with his head pointed down to the ground was interesting to me because Eric usually walks with his head upright, and maintaining a gait that could be called comfortable and flowing. I’ve noticed that every time I’ve seen Eric: for example, outside NFL Headquarters on a Wednesday morning while media types were waiting for NFL Owners to come into the Park Avenue building for a finance committee meeting related to the relocation issue, where Eric was nursing a broken collarbone, arm in a sling, he waked upright, carrying a cup of coffee.
Then, there was the NFL Fall Owners Meeting in Houston, in 2016, where Eric, dressed in blue suit, was walking briskly through the lobby of that hotel, head up and forward. And there was the 2017 NFL Annual Meeting at the Biltmore Hotel in Arizona, where the same Eric Grubman who would be seen as the architect of the Raiders attempted departure from Oakland to Las Vegas, was walking, again head upright, shaking hands and talking with friends.
I’ve seen Eric a lot and talked to him a bunch of times (just check out the 51 videos of my Eric Grubman Zennie62 on YouTube Video Playlist ) – be it an NFL owner’s meeting or the Leigh Steinberg Super Bowl Party in San Francisco in 2015, Grubman’s never communicated a body language that made him looked like he lost a war and was licking his wounds. At the 2018 NFL Spring League Meeting, that was just how he looked.
Eric made his way past the media with his head down, until I called out his name and he propped his head up, smiled, and we exchanged a couple of plesantries. I have no evidence to back the observation I’m about to make, just a feeling, but it seems to this blogger that Eric’s resignation may be a protest move to what seems to be the NFL’s inevitable embrace of gambling. I’ll get back to that, later.
The fact remains that for reasons not made publicly known to this point in time, Eric Grubman, the Executive Vice President of Business Affairs for the National Football League, has reportedly elected to resign from his job. And the move’s so fresh and new, that as of this writing, his bio’s still up on the NFL Media website.
Eric is best known to the public as the unofficially designated head of the league’s effort to relocate the St. Louis Rams, San Diego Chargers, and Oakland Raiders away from their home cities, and to Los Angeles for the Chargers and the Rams, and Las Vegas for the Raiders. In doing so, Eric went from unknown to known
The NFL put Eric in a position that, at first, seemed not to suit him, being the face of the league’s new stadium efforts, evaluating the “home markets” plans for new facilities, and giving the NFL Owners a presentation that could either cause or terminate an owner’s desire to move his team. In the area of “being the face”, which meant dealing with the public and politicians, Eric had a rough start, to say the least.
He was the first NFL Official I’ve ever seen who was marked more by negative comments he made about cities and their stadium progress than I’ve ever seen before. And there was the war between Eric and Oakland Coliseum City Developer Floyd Kephart. The two didn’t like each other, with Kephart openly saying that Eric should stay out of his negatiations with the City of Oakland and County of Alameda, and Eric only shaking his head when Floyd’s name was mentioned.
The NFL of the past was known forwhat I called “nicing” you to death (and I experienced this as the Super Bowl Oakland campaigner in 2000): not getting into public arguments or squabbles with city representatives and making everyone feel as it the league’s their best friend.
That was not Eric.
Grubman was direct and at times, in your face. Like the time he argued with me about my suggestion that he, as a former Goldman Sachs executive, was steering new stadium business to the storied investment banking firm. He mentioned it to me while we were in a group of people at the 2017 NFL Annual Meeting; I shot back that given his history with the firm and the number of NFL new stadium deals Goldman handled, it was right for me to raise the question, if only to learn I was wrong. Fine.
Eric made a number of observations about Oakland, most of them negative, a few directed to the Raider Nation fan base, positive – and all public.
Eric Grubman was confusing for Oakland Raiders Fans. Take this 2015 NFL New York City Press Conference, where Eric effusively praised the presentation of Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf:
Then Eric would blast Oakland in the media, yet again, making everyone wonder what was going on behind the scenes. In this interview after the Las Vegas Decision in 2017, Grubman revealed the NFL wanted to buy land from Oakland for a stadium, indicating that it was the City’s refusual to sell the land that was a rough point in talks:
But one observation made August 12, 2015, the idea that the Oakland submitted a Stadium Proposal that was “not viable”…
…and served to provide the death knell to any hope of Oakland convincing the NFL’s Owners to keep the Raiders in Oakland, even after the entry of Ronnit Lott and the Fortress Group’s plan into the mix.
The term “not viable” was repeated on social media in almost every exchange about Oakland and a new stadium, after Eric’s blast. And it seemed as if the league (and I think this may have been Eric working the media in Los Angeles) delighted in putting out the word that Oakland had problems, thus further causing social media users to type the word “not viable” again and again.
I think Eric Grubman was operating with several conflicting ideas in his head: one, that the Raiders weren’t getting what they wanted in what he called a “stadium solution” in Oakland, the other than the Raider Nation and the City of Oakland were not being given the true picture of what the NFL was doing in wanting to move teams, regardless of what San Diego, St. Louis, and Oakland did in presenting alternatives. A good person isn’t that if they’re not aware of how their actions impact people at a gut level. Eric certainly was that, because I know he personally emailed certain Raider Nation fans (who’s names I will not use) about the difficulty of the relocation effort, because they told me he did.
Perhaps the NFL’s direction to gambling as a rescue life-line to an organization that faces a future of lower media rights fee payments was the last straw for the former Goldman Sachs executive. Maybe Eric needed more time with his family and to watch his two boys grow and establish themselves. Whatever the reason, one thing’s clear, and that is that Eric’s left an indelible mark on the NFL – and Oakland – forever.
Zennie Abraham is the CEO of Zennie62Media