Billionaire Penn State trustee and Buffalo Bills owner Terry Pegula — one of the university’s largest donors — has been accused of making a “highly offensive and racist” remark about Black football players, according to a racial discrimination lawsuit recently filed against both the NFL and NFL Network.
In the lawsuit, filed by former NFL Network reporter Jim Trotter, Pegula is accused of criticizing Black football players for their social activism. “If the Black players don’t like it here, they should go back to Africa and see how bad it is,” Pegula told a separate unnamed reporter in 2020, according to the lawsuit.
Pegula denied the allegations.
In Trotter’s filing, the longtime sportswriter — whose NFL Network contract was not renewed this past March — said the comments surfaced during a Sept. 3, 2020, NFL media Zoom meeting with about 40 employees. During that meeting, a separate unnamed reporter described a recent conversation he had with Pegula and mentioned the above quote.
Trotter, who is Black, said he spoke up at the time and asked two superiors if there would be a discussion about Pegula’s comments. Trotter said he was told the league was investigating it and, one full year later, was simply told it was “an HR matter and that’s the end of it.”
“... (T)he NFL did absolutely nothing,” the lawsuit read.
In his filing, Trotter alleged he was terminated because he “challenged Commissioner Roger Goodell and others regarding the NFL’s record of race discrimination and lack of diversity.” The NFL has instead said his contract was not renewed due to “a challenging economy and a changing media environment,” according to the Associated Press.
Pegula, who also owns the NHL’s Buffalo Sabres, forcefully denied the statement attributed to him in the lawsuit, calling it “absolutely false” Tuesday in a written 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,” Pegula said.
Pegula has made an indelible impact on Penn State and Happy Valley. He and his wife Kim donated $88 million in 2010 — and another $14 million in 2012 — to help build Pegula Ice Arena and pave the way for Penn State hockey’s move into NCAA Division I. In January 2022, the land-grant university referred to the Pegulas as the largest living Penn State donors.
Neither three spokespeople from the university nor board of trustees chair Matt Schuyler responded to an early afternoon message seeking comment. (Pegula was appointed a trustee by the governor but, according to published minutes, he has not attended a meeting since December 2021.)
Penn State President Neeli Bendapudi made national headlines in 2018, when she was Louisville’s president, after quickly moving to rename Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium due to a racial slur from Papa John’s founder and influential booster John Schnatter.
Schnatter admitted on July 11, 2018, that he used the n-word on a May conference call, and Bendapudi made the name change about 48 hours later. Pegula has denied he made any such racist remarks.
Pegula, who was born in Carbondale and attended high school in Scranton, graduated from Penn State in 1973 with a bachelor’s degree in petroleum and natural gas engineering. He’s estimated to be worth about $7 billion, with most of that fortune amassed from fracking, natural gas, real estate and professional sports/entertainment.
He purchased the NHL’s Buffalo Sabres in 2011, followed by the NFL’s Buffalo Bills in 2014.
CDT reporter Bret Pallotto contributed to this report