The range of emotions and the levels of those emotions are considerable for the Raiders players and coaches right now. Five games into their 2021 season, and sitting with a winning record, they suddenly had a bomb dropped on them.
It started with the news of an email from 2011 in which head coach Jon Gruden made a racist trope directed at NFLPA President DeMaurice Smith. Gruden addressed the team before the report, trying to prepare everyone for the backlash. They then went into last Sunday’s game with that weighing on their mind.
In speaking with players after the game, it appeared as if they were willing to move past it and insisted it didn’t affect their play in the game. But the next day the dam broke and the existence of several other more recent emails that had equally offensive content that contained homophobic and misogynistic language. Not long after the report came out, Gruden resigned as head coach, citing that he didn’t want to be a distraction.
Taking over as interim head coach is Rich Bisaccia who get the promotion from Assistant Head Coach and Special Teams Coordinator.
The mixed emotions this whole thing has left behind has been a distraction to say the least. First and foremost to quarterback Derek Carr who has spent the past three plus years as an extension of Gruden on the field. The two were even neighbors.
“I think that for me just the message today was I just tried to push everything off,” Carr said following Wednesday’s practice. “I mean I’m sick about it. I have a lot of emotions— angry, sick, upset, mad, frustrated. All those things. Empathy. I don’t think there is a book on how to handle all this. Actually there is, but I don’t think that there is a way for a quarterback to stand up here and answer these types of questions is what I should say. But for me, my message today was we have a job to do. It’s Wednesday, if we are still in our feelings, it’s too late. We got to move on.”
Carr is having his struggles with this for obvious reasons. As you can imagine the black players on the team are having their issues as well. Not the least of which has to do with trust. The team dynamic of late has seemed great. And something like this can disrupt that.
It is eerily reminiscent of the game in Washington in 2018 in which the Raiders were split on how to respond to some toxic words from Donald Trump about players kneeling during the National Anthem to protest racial profiling and police brutality.
The team was split on how to respond. In the end much of the team sat on the bench interlocking arms, while several other players stood away from them. The season went into a tailspin at that point. Team chemistry is a very real.
This time around the Raiders must find a way to use this as a way to coalesce and become stronger because of it. There are positive signs of that.
“I have a lot of emotion going through all this,” said tight end Darren Waller. “It’s like ‘yeah, I got to prepare for an opponent who happens to have a really talented defense’. So, it’s like, yeah, it is a lot on our plate, but guys are speaking out and recognizing that it’s ok to be a little stressed, it’s ok to be like, ‘man, what is this?’ because it’s not normal, it’s not something that happens every day. . . Some guys are a little shocked, some guys are a little bothered by the uncertainty, but once we had a meeting this morning and guys were able to speak, I feel like the guys went into meetings and practice with a good attitude.”
A strong sign that this team may have strong enough bonds to overcome this occurred last June when defensive end Carl Nassib felt comfortable enough with his teammates and coaches to become the first ever openly gay player on an NFL roster.
Now imagine how it must feel for him to learn that the head coach who he put so much faith in had been launching homophobic slurs, both using those slurs as insults and referring to gay people in a derogatory fashion.
Mike Mayock noted in his press conference Wednesday that unlike the black players on the team who were affected by Gruden’s remarks, Nassib is “a community of one” as the league’s only openly gay player. For that reason Nassib requested and was granted a personal day Wednesday.
Not surprisingly it was Darren Waller who offered the proper perspective on the struggles Nassib must be experiencing right now and his need to take a moment away.
“I support that 100%. He’s pretty much a lone wolf when it comes to that,” Waller said of Nassib’s being the league’s only out gay player. “Nobody should be able to tell him how to feel, nobody should be able to tell him how to grieve. And he deserves to take time for himself because that’s a lot to process. Somebody that you’ve been invested in and battled with and you come out and there’s a quote that something was said. I can’t imagine what he must be feeling and I respect him wanting to take his space and be able to come back clear headed.”
Nassib returned to practice on Thursday. And his teammates and coaches welcomed him back.
“I think things like this affect people differently and we understand that part of it,” defensive coordinator Gus Bradley said of Nassib. “But [he is a] great communicator and it was great to have him back. Whenever he comes back, he provides a little juice for us and so he was great in meetings. He’s all caught up and ready to go.”
When Bradley came in Thursday, he saw a team that took a day to process, got it out of their systems, and is ready to get to work on the task of football and preparing for the Broncos.
“The one thing I think I’ve noticed with the players is they are pretty resilient, even more so than coaches,” Bradley said. “They get over things pretty quick and they deal with it, and they move on to the next thing, ‘Alright, what’s the game plan? How are we going to go about this?’ And that’s what I appreciate about them, is their resiliency and they understand it’s a difficult situation but the ability to quickly recover and then move on. So, I really like where we are at right now.”
This team started the season 3-0 and was already on a two-game slide before this happened. Now, even with the first few days of their game week prep disrupted, they have no choice but to shake it off and make the best of a bad situation. One thing is for certain, if they can recover from this, they can recover from anything.