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Graney: How will Raiders players react to Jon Gruden’s racial slur?

Updated October 9, 2021 - 4:44 am

Raiders coach Jon Gruden will and should be disciplined for his racially insensitive comments in an email from 2011 as reported by the Wall Street Journal.

Here are other issues for him:

Did he just lose the locker room?

And what else in this vein is potentially out there?

While working for ESPN, Gruden in that email to then-Washington team president Bruce Allen described NFL players union chief DeMaurice Smith, who is Black, as “Dumboriss Smith has lips the size of michellin tires.”

Gruden said he was upset because of the NFL lockout and didn’t trust the direction of the players when led by Smith.

Why in the world was someone working in TV so angry about something he had no intimate connection with at the time?

Is this actually a believable explanation?

Gruden is under review by the NFL and the Raiders for use of the racial slur.

On its face, this is a fireable offense. I don’t believe that will happen, but anything less than a suspension and fine by either the league or team would send a bad message. A really bad one.

Locker room reaction

There are 36 Black players on the Raiders’ 53-man roster. Much has been written about the sanctity of a locker room. About the togetherness within it. About understanding and accepting those differences among one another.

Gruden said the issue has been addressed internally and will be handled as such. Of course it will.

But what players say publicly about the situation when asked — and they will be — has every chance to be thoroughly different from their personal conversations and feelings. What undoubtedly will be a united front to the media could be a divisive group behind closed doors.

Either way, Gruden has some serious mending to do. Guys might talk one way and act another. Cohesion could be splintered. Never a good thing for a team game.

Also of note is a statement from owner Mark Davis who, among other things, said the team is reviewing the email, “along with other materials provided to us (Friday) by the NFL.”

It’s not uncommon for such a specific moment to be followed by similar past ones. Nobody knows if that will be the case here or if the email is an isolated incident. But “other materials” is enough to stay tuned.

Gruden was quoted as saying he has in the past referred to people he believes to be lying as “rubber lips” and that he took it “too far” when referring to Smith.

I’ve never heard the “rubber lips” reference. Perhaps you have. Internet searches reveal no use of the phrase matching that meaning.

“I don’t have a racial bone in my body, and I’ve proven that for 58 years,” Gruden said.

It’s a line that has become cliche in such situations. You almost would wish he simply had apologized and went no further. It’s not about his bones. Just his words.

Most fans won’t give a hoot about any of this and think only of how the Raiders can beat the Bears on Sunday at Allegiant Stadium. There will even be players — perhaps a majority — who choose to quickly move past it and focus on football. It’s their right.

But it’s yet again a terrible look for a franchise that has painted itself as tolerant and progressive as any other.

Al Davis died 10 years ago Friday. How incredibly ironic.

It’s a broken record and yet so true: The former owner championed diversity and racial unity like few in sports. He hired the first Latino head coach (Tom Flores) and the first Black head coach (Art Shell) of the modern era. The Raiders also hired the NFL’s first female executive (Amy Trask).

So for their current coach — who was so gloriously welcomed back to the franchise in 2018 with a reported 10-year contract worth $100 million — to have written such an email flies in the face of the values from which the organization was built.

Another controversy

The Raiders just can’t get out of their own way right now concerning controversial topics.

It was in April when Mark Davis took responsibility for a tweet that appeared on the team’s official account in relation to the guilty verdict in the George Floyd murder case.

The tweet read: “I Can Breathe 4-20-21.”

The 46-year-old Floyd was heard saying “I can’t breathe” 20 times as Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck on May 25, 2020.

Davis said the tweet was in reference to Floyd’s brother, Philonise, saying, “we are able to breathe again.”

Then, just two weeks ago, the Raiders chose former casino mogul Steve Wynn to light the Al Davis Memorial Torch before the team hosted the Dolphins. Wynn has faced three decades worth of allegations that he demanded sex from and assaulted several of his resort employees.

And now, Gruden.

Oh, for simpler days of silly “Crush the Virus” T-shirts.

The laughing, however, has instead turned into some pretty disturbing stuff.

Ed Graney is a Sigma Delta Chi Award winner for sports column writing and can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.