Las Vegas Raiders Used To Be The Blackest Team In The NFL Until Jon Gruden Came

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The NFL has a problem with Black people.

NFL race-norming concussion lawsuit settlement stands in the shadow of recently disgraced former NFL coach Jon Gruden’s racist, misogynistic and homophobic emails.

However, the NFL is overwhelmingly Black.

A League Of Disproportions

This proportion of African-Americans in the NFL was 70 percent in 2020, according to Statista.com.

That is why it is surprising that the league hasn’t evolved in the same way as the NBA: players first. The NBA has assumed the culture of its young African-American stars and embraced diversity, social justice, and the normalizing of not just shutting up and dribbling.

Meanwhile, the NFL has had a cantankerous relationship between upper white management and Black players.

The Eagle Has Landed

Remember Chip Kelly, who faced scrutiny over his record on race during his tenure as head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles?

The coach labeled Deshaun Jackson a gang member because he is from Compton, California, and hung out with the guys he grew up with.

When former Eagles running back LeSean McCoy was traded from the Eagles to the Buffalo Bills in 2015, he revealed his thoughts on Kelly to ESPN The Magazine later that year.

McCoy felt that Kelly was eager to scrap the team’s “good Black players,” adding, “there’s a reason he got rid of all the Black players — the good ones — like that.”

ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith added that Kelly’s personnel decisions “leave a few brothers feeling uncomfortable.” Tra Thomas, a former offensive lineman and assistant coach for the Eagles, said that there was a “hint of racism” in the locker room under Kelly’s leadership.

Raiders’ Responsibility

However, the Raiders were the team most responsible for driving the positive relationship between African American general managers having more Black players on their rosters in 2014.

Under the leadership of the team’s African-American general manager, Reggie McKenzie, the Raiders had a higher share of Black players on their roster (79.2 percent) than any other NFL team in 2014.

Was it because they still played in Oakland at the time? In 2019, the racial composition of Oakland was white: 35.48 percent, Black or African American 23.75 percent. Almost a quarter of “The Town.”

Black Leadership Vacuum

The Raiders also had the NFL’s highest percentage of Black players (82.3 percent) in 2016, according to ProFootballLogic. McKenzie was named executive of the year that season after Oakland went 12-4.

The two teams with the next highest shares of Black players, the New York Giants and Buffalo Bills, also had African-American GMs.

Five NFL teams had Black GMs in 2016. Not surprisingly, their rosters were, on average, 75.4 percent, Black. However, the rosters were 67.7 percent Black for the 27 teams that did not have a Black GM.

2017 was the year before Gruden began his second stint as the Raiders head coach. According to Michael Tesler of FiveThirtyEight, 82.0 percent of the Raiders’ players were Black in 2017.

But the number of Black players on the Raiders sharply declined soon after Gruden became the Raiders’ coach. By the end of the 2018 season, McKenzie had been fired, and Gruden assumed even more control over the Raiders’ personnel decisions.

That included changing the roster’s racial composition. Black players on the Raiders declined from 82.0 percent in 2017 to 69.0 percent in 2019 and 67.1 percent in 2020, and 67.2 percent in 2021.

Gruden’s Grovel

Former NFL receiver Keyshawn Johnson was scathingly critical of his former head coach on his ESPN Radio show with Jay Williams and Max Kellerman.

“The makeup of a coach puts together a team. And a coach wants a certain personality,” said Johnson.

“It’s pretty clear from his emails the type of personality that Gruden preferred on his team, and it’s easy to look back in hindsight with that knowledge and find a persistent pattern of anti-Black bias in the coach’s decisions.”

Gruden’s email scandal is yet another reminder of the NFL’s good ol’ boy culture. It is the world’s premier sports entertainment machine and the importance of diversity in leadership positions in the NFL are tantamount.

Change Gone Come?

Alliances with Black-owned entertainment and marketing brands like Roc Nation for the next Super Bowl are not enough. The NFL needs authentic Black leadership from within.

As long as the power imbalance continues in a league fueled by Black players and run by white head coaches and general managers, implicit and explicit racial biases will affect the roster.

The NFL reckoning is here indeed.

Rhett Butler is a Boxing Writer Association of America Journalist, Play-By-Play Commentator, Combat Sports Insider, and Former Mixed Martial Arts and Boxing Promoter. The New York City native honed his skills at various news outlets including but not limited to: TIME Magazine, Money Magazine, CNN's Wolf Blitzer Reports, and more. Rhett hosts the PRITTY Left Hook podcast, a polarizing combat sports insider's take featuring the world's biggest names.