Jerry McDonald: Raiders briefly step out of Gruden's dark shadow for feel-good win

Jerry McDonald, The Mercury News on

Published in Football

I rooted for the Raiders Sunday for the first time in more than 25 years.

The resignation of coach Jon Gruden over years-old misogynistic, homophobic and racist emails was an organizational gut punch that hurt a lot of people. I don’t cover the team regularly anymore, so I was free to temporarily shed the objectivity that comes with the job and feel good about a 34-24 road win over the Denver Broncos Sunday.

Oh, man, would Al Davis have loved seeing the Raiders give the Broncos the once-over on the day Mike Shanahan was inducted into Denver’s “Ring of Fame.”

Unfortunately, that old grudge was a minor sidelight to the downfall of Gruden, whose statement issued through the team ended with, “I’m sorry. I never meant to hurt anyone.”

I’ve known Gruden since 1998, the year he was hired to replace Joe Bugel, and not once did I ever hear or see anything like the offending emails. Not one racist joke. No remarks about women or gay people. Some bluster and overstatement to be sure, because Gruden likes to exaggerate to make a point. How else to explain calling Trent Brown “the LeBron James of right tackles?”

So like a lot of other people who know Gruden better than I do by virtue of coaching with him and playing for him, this was a blindside block. It was to Tim Brown and Charles Woodson, both of whom said they’d never heard or read anything like the initial leaked email about union leader DeMaurice Smith. It was to coaches who Gruden mentored such as the Rams’ Sean McVay, the 49ers’ Kyle Shanahan, the Steelers’ Mike Tomlin and Stanford’s David Shaw, all of whom expressed sadness rather than indignation or anger.


It was interesting that Amari Cooper, a wide receiver whom Gruden never really connected with and vice versa, was pretty much dead-on when he said he thought his former coach was impulsive, but “I never thought he was racist or misogynistic or anything like that.”

None of this is meant to exonerate Gruden from the words he typed. There is no statute of limitations in the court of public opinion when it comes to being offensive in matters of race, gender and sexual orientation. Nor does it matter that it seems ridiculous that Gruden is the only person paying the price for an investigation into the Washington Football Team and owner Daniel Snyder. He wrote what he wrote and the consequences belong to him no matter how the words were revealed.

I feel sad for Gruden in the same way you feel bad for a friend or family member who had a lapse in judgment and is paying the price, whether it be legally or in terms of job status and reputation. I reached out with a text message and told him I’d be writing about the past couple of weeks and Gruden declined to comment.

Gruden made plenty of money at ESPN and in coaching and he should be set for life, not that it matters. I never bought the whole 10-year, $100 million contract story anyway, given that initial contract figures are always bloated and deals with coaches are not made public in the same way they are with players.


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