Now that Jon Gruden has been forced out in Las Vegas – and this, after an eight years-long email trail of his racist, homophobic and misogynistic exchanges were unearthed as part of an investigation into the Washington Football Team’s fratty workplace culture – it’s worth revisiting how the coach came to power in the Raiders organization for the second time in his gilded career.
Six years before Gruden was lured out of ESPN’s Monday Night Football booth with a 10-year, $100m carrot, the Raiders were circling the drain; in 2014, they’d win a paltry three games on the way to tying for the NFL’s third-worst record. But over the next few seasons the team slowly rebuilt itself into a contender, winning 12 games to reach the 2016 playoffs. And there was no doubt that resurgence was a credit to the shrewd work of general manager Reggie McKenzie, the former Raiders linebacker and the first person to run football operations other than owner Al Davis.
But when Gruden returned to the team in 2018 , what did he do? He won a whopping four games with almost the same group that had won 12. He undermined McKenzie – the NFL’s leading executive in 2016 – by installing a rival scouting department and creating a separate draft board. And Gruden jettisoned many of McKenzie’s best discoveries, not least trading away All-Pro defensive end Khalil Mack to Chicago. In the end the yawning divide in the Raiders front office grew untenable, and McKenzie was let go – and now it’s difficult not to wonder if that wasn’t because he’s Black.
You can believe Gruden when he says he doesn’t “have a racist bone in my body.” You can chalk him up as the blood sacrifice of a football culture whose moral rot runs deeper than just emails. You can dismiss his exchanges as the private ramblings of a small and insecure man woefully out of touch with the world at his fingertips. You can’t say it isn’t rich that the coach who all but called the NFLPA chief a sambo doll is the same guy who crafts his personal brand around the image of Chucky.
But the fact that Gruden felt free enough to insult the appearance and intelligence of NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith (who is also Black) in a message to Bruce Allen (then the WFT’s highest-ranking executive) over a corporate server not only confirms what most Black people around the game have long figured (this is what these white folk really think about us). It proves that Black people aren’t crazy for thinking that they’re being denied opportunities in the league because the white ruling class have no interest in sharing power with them.
You can say Gruden’s words don’t matter. But consider his 15-year track record: There are no young Black assistants in his coaching tree; Willie Shaw is the only Black person Gruden’s ever retained as a coordinator – and Shaw only lasted a couple seasons.
For all of Gruden’s outsize…
Read More: Jon Gruden was hostile to Black people for years before his emails came out | 2021-10-14 13:19:00