Canceled Raiders Coach Must Share Part of the Blame

AP Photo/Rick Scuteri

People can dislike former Las Vegas Raiders coach Jon Gruden. They can regret the loss of his coaching fervor to football. They can believe that his resignation was unwarranted. They can argue that his apologies are sincere and that he should be given another chance. They can pity him. Those who knew him either closely or peripherally can affirm out of deep conviction that Jon Gruden is not a racist, sexist homophobe.

But whatever anyone might believe, Gruden is not coming off the hook. Like Michael “Cosmo Kramer” Richards before him, he’s through. My sense is that he will officially retire. Not only will he never work in football again, it’s an exercise to imagine who would hire him for any high-profile position now. You don’t survive getting caught using the kind of language he did in the contemporary socio-political environment.

If the initial lapse, comparing the lips of NFL players union head DeMaurice Smith to automobile tires, were the only transgression, I would be among those suggesting that Gruden survive. But there’s a pattern here, and it’s all on the record. The “f” word pertaining to homosexuality. The “q” word. The “p” word pertaining to women. It is a sad debacle; Gruden had to go. He has been capital C cancelled, and, notwithstanding what I believe is his sincere official apology, he must share part of the blame.

Spare me the histrionics about how leftists routinely get away with stuff, while figures on the right get the lambast. It can work both ways (see Al Franken) or not (see Virginia Governor Ralph “Blackface” Northam). There are myriad calculations made, political and often hypocritical, by powerful entities when the subject of cultural cancellation comes up.

This is coming from a guy, me, who grew up in the fifties and sixties around a cadre of my father’s work friends, all white male executives, who amongst themselves often and openly used the same kind of language Gruden did. The irony is that every one of these men would have been described in their day as “a good man.”

They called people, and even jokingly each other, “pussies,” and unabashedly denigrated “faggots.” They didn’t have to worry about what they said being somehow recorded and preserved for posterity. That is Gruden’s ancillary sin. Aside from a propensity to engage in questionable epithets and stereotypes, he didn’t seem to grasp that every time he went “public” with his trash-talk he was creating a record that social justice-obsessed journalists could go back and check.

Gruden was often described as “fiery.” Lip-readers routinely discerned him mouthing obscenities into his mic when things went wrong on the field. The word “careful” is not usually paired with fiery, but these days, if you’re going to be fiery and meteoric, you also need to be careful. See: Coach Bobby Knight.

I was born in Oakland, California, and have often described how our little NFL burg would come to a standstill whenever the Raiders were on the field. There were many glory days, and many hard days. The move to Los Angeles was a bitter pill at first, but most of us stayed loyal. The move to Las Vegas was less of an upheaval. Oakland had seen better days, and the bright lights, the big city, and an awesome new stadium beckoned. It was a fresh start for a team that had struggled for years—in the hunt but rarely in the postseason.

There were glory days and hard days, but the hard days always had something to do with football. Not anymore.

The Raiders should have beaten the Chicago Bears at home on October 10, just after the first revelation about Gruden surfaced. Instead, we got a lackluster loss, 20-9, in which the team seemed without direction, and stalwart quarterback Derek Carr seemed hapless. This same Vegas team outlasted the powerful Baltimore Ravens in a classic game on the 2021 premiere of “Monday Night Football.”

So it goes. The splashdown in Sin City has been adversely affected, there’s no question. You don’t lose a Gruden without repercussions on the field. Several commentators, speaking on the night Gruden resigned, expressed doubts about whether the Silver & Black can salvage the season. The thrust of their analysis was that Gruden’s fall had effectively turned 21-22 into a rebuilding year under interim coach Rich Bisaccia.

Not necessarily so, IMO. With the sad departure of Coach Gruden behind them, I predict the team will rally and find a determination not to let this unfortunate chapter derail the pride and poise that has been the operative Raider mantra for 61 years.

Just win, baby.

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