Jim Trotter covered the Chargers during his years with The San Diego Union-Tribune.
Jim Trotter covered the Chargers during his 18 years with The San Diego Union-Tribune. Times of San Diego photo illustration

Jim Trotter covered sports at The San Diego Union-Tribune for 18 years, ending in 2007, and said in 2020: “I’m at the point where I need to see change. It’s just not enough for me anymore to say we’re trying.”

Jim Trotter’s federal lawsuit against the NFL. (PDF)

The change he wants to see — far better Black hiring in the National Football League’s front offices and head coaching ranks — is now a demand of a lawsuit he filed Tuesday against the NFL, his recent employer of five years.

“Mr. Trotter seeks equitable relief to force the NFL to remedy and change its discriminatory and retaliatory practices and comply with the law,” says the federal suit filed in New York.

The 60-year-old Chula Vista resident — who left the U-T in 2007 for Sports Illustrated and later worked for ESPN and now The Athletic — was employed by NFL Media when he grilled NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell at Super Bowl press conferences.

Trotter alleges the NFL retaliated against him for his tough questioning — by not renewing his contract at NFL Media.

He noted lack of Black representation as coaches and general managers. Now his suit seeks to force NFL to improve its hiring record.

“Specifically, Mr. Trotter seeks the imposition of a court-ordered monitor to review the NFL’s policies and/or practices and implement necessary changes with respect to the hiring, retention and advancement of Black people throughout all levels of the NFL organization and hierarchy, including in the NFL Media newsroom, the NFL league office and within NFL teams,” the suit says.

His 53-page complaint, gaining wide attention, also seeks a full-scale investigation into the discriminatory and/or retaliatory “animus of all persons in position of power within the NFL, including the NFL team owners.”

An NFL spokesman, quoted by The New York Times, said in a statement: “We take his concerns seriously, but strongly dispute his specific allegations, particularly those made against his dedicated colleagues at NFL Media.”

Budget constraints led to Trotter being let go, the spokesman said.

Trotter taught sports writing this past spring at San Diego State University and is expected to resume his lecture role there in 2024, according to a journalism school official.

Last April, veteran U-T sports columnist Nick Canepa wrote: “Goodell says he wasn’t involved in the process of Jim’s release. I don’t believe it for a nanosecond, but even if he weren’t, he certainly could have nixed the firing.”

Canepa said up front that he’s a big fan of his former colleague — “a man unafraid, a man of convictions, a family man, and a beacon of Black pride who has pushed on through the headwinds.”

Recalling his travels with Trotter, covering the Chargers, Canepa wrote: “There were times we went through airport security and the TSA pulled him aside and left me alone. Not difficult to sense the frustration he held inside.”

Another colleague, former sports columnist Tim Sullivan, wouldn’t immediately comment on the suit.

But he told Times of San Diego on Tuesday: “I will say that Jim Trotter has earned the respect of his peers and the trust of his subjects through his high professional standards and his principled, dogged reporting.

“If he lost his job with the NFL because he put the commissioner on the spot regarding the league’s commitment to racial diversity, I would consider that a badge of honor.”

In a Tuesday tweet, Trotter said: “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.”

He said he filed suit because he “can’t complain about things that are wrong if I’m unwilling to fight for what is right.”

Trotter said he hoped the suit leads to real change across the league and in its 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,” he tweeted.

In an opinion piece written for the U-T while he still worked for NFL Media, Trotter told of how Goodell admitted for the first time that the “league got it wrong in silencing players who sought to demonstrate against systemic racism,” citing the Colin Kaepernick case.

“But I’d also argue that we in the media owe the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback a sincere mea culpa,” he wrote.

“Instead of staying focused on the meaning behind his protest, we allowed others to hijack the message and twist it into a discussion about the military, the anthem, patriotism, respect — everything but racial inequality or police brutality against people of color.”

Trotter added:

Several-plus decades later, and more pounds than I care to admit, the words of my father ring in my ears: older and wiser. Bylines might bring recognition and, in some cases, wealth, but they are not to be confused with power.

Power resides in the glass offices, not bylines. It’s where decisions are made about whether something will be covered, who will cover it, where the story will appear, and what the scope and focus will be or should be.

Updated at 4:54 p.m. Sept. 12, 2023