The Raiders moved to a new, $2 billion stadium in Las Vegas last year, hoping to build a football dynasty. Things haven’t gone as they’d hoped.
On the lower level of Allegiant Stadium on Sunday, Raiders running back Josh Jacobs defended his team, which had just lost sloppily, 20-9, to the Chicago Bears only two days after reports that Coach Jon Gruden used a racist stereotype in reference to DeMaurice Smith, a Black man and the executive director of the N.F.L. Players Association.
“No, I don’t think it had anything to do with that,” Jacobs said as he looked down at a microphone.
Anthony Herrera, an extraordinarily dedicated Raiders fan, disagrees. The performance — receivers dropping passes, offensive linemen missing blocks, quarterback Derek Carr overthrowing open targets — was not what he expected from the team he uprooted his life for. Last summer, as the Raiders relocated to Las Vegas, Herrera and his fiancée moved from Inglewood, Calif., to a Las Vegas townhome solely to be closer to the Raiders. Herrera, 43, a truck driver, didn’t like what he saw from the stands.
“In my heart, I knew something was wrong,” Herrera said.
The Raiders hoped for a new start when they departed Oakland, Calif., for a new stadium in Las Vegas before the start of the 2020 season. But they ended up playing their first season in front of empty seats because of the pandemic, then suddenly lost their popular team president and some top executives. Along the way, Mark Davis, the team’s owner, had to apologize for a tone-deaf tweet as he and the team were trying to build a fan base in their new city.
The Raiders’ troubles deepened Monday, when Gruden resigned hours after The New York Times detailed additional emails in which he made homophobic and misogynistic remarks. Gruden, whose son Deuce is still listed as a strength and conditioning coach on the team’s website, has been replaced in the interim by Rich Bisaccia, the special teams coach. How Davis handles the situation from here will carry broad ramifications not only for the team and its relationship with the city, but for the entire N.F.L.
The team did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
“The Raiders have an opportunity to take the lead and show true sincerity and understanding of how they’re going to go about really changing the minds of those who have been hurt,” said Nancy Lough, a professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas specializing in sports marketing and gender equity.
Gruden resigned shortly after the Times reported on his offensive emails, which were uncovered as part of an N.F.L. investigation into workplace misconduct at the Washington Football Team. The Wall Street Journal reported on Friday about Gruden’s 2011 emails regarding Smith, which included a racist remark about his appearance.
Gruden sent the emails to Bruce Allen, the former president of the Washington club, while he was an analyst for ESPN. The email exchanges spanned seven years and ended in early 2018, when Gruden signed a 10-year, $100 million contract to coach the Raiders franchise. He leaves his second stint as the Raiders’ coach after posting a 22-31 record, having never completed a winning season or made the playoffs.
Gruden won a Super Bowl with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after the 2002 season and was respected in league circles for his offensive mind-set. His hiring was meant to galvanize the Raiders’ fan base, which had not experienced a championship since the 1983 season. He arrived at a transitional period for the organization as it prepared to move for the third time in its history.
N.F.L. owners in 2017 approved the Oakland Raiders’ plan to relocate to Las Vegas after the team’s failed attempt to return to Los Angeles, where the Raiders played from 1982 to 1995. Many fans embraced the move to Las Vegas, as they felt the city suited the team’s reputation as the bad boys of the N.F.L. Gruden coached the Raiders for two seasons in a stadium they shared with Major League Baseball’s Oakland Athletics while Davis spearheaded the construction of Allegiant Stadium, a $2-billion jet-black venue. But players competed without audiences when the building opened in 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic, causing a major loss of revenue.
The distractions didn’t stop even as the pandemic eased. In April, after a jury convicted Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer, of murdering George Floyd, the Raiders’ official Twitter account posted a graphic that read “I Can Breathe.” Chauvin, who is white, knelt on the neck of Floyd, a Black man, for over nine minutes, and Floyd’s cries of “I Can’t Breathe” ignited months of protests and a racial reckoning across the country. Davis took responsibility for the post, which he said he “meant no disrespect.” Still, it received widespread criticism and has not been deleted.
Three months later, Marc Badain, the longtime popular president of the Raiders who started as an intern in 1991, abruptly resigned, saying only that he wanted to “focus on my family and look ahead to new pursuits.” The team’s chief financial officer and comptroller had also recently departed.
Addressing the Gruden episode falls to Davis, the son of the former team owner Al Davis, who made a series of influential decisions during his tenure and died in 2011. Al Davis hired Amy Trask, the first female chief executive in the N.F.L., in 1997. Tom Flores, who is Mexican American, was the first Latino coach in the N.F.L. to win a Super Bowl, winning two with the Raiders, in the 1980 and 1983 seasons. The team also drafted Eldridge Dickey, the first Black quarterback taken in the first round, in 1968, when the Raiders played in the A.F.L. In June, Mark Davis was supportive when Raiders defensive end Carl Nassib became the first openly gay N.F.L. player on an active roster.
Trask, who is now an N.F.L. analyst for CBS, said in an interview that it “struck her” that the Raiders had access to the emails as part of the N.F.L.’s investigation since last week, but did not publicly discipline Gruden.
“Would action have been taken if those emails had not been made public? We don’t know the answer to that,” Trask said.
Trask declined to comment on Mark Davis’ leadership style, saying she worked more closely with his father than with him. He has become a fixture in Las Vegas, though, and regularly sits courtside for games of the W.N.B.A.’s Las Vegas Aces, the team he purchased in January. Last year, he initiated a partnership with U.N.L.V. to create the Al Davis-Eddie Robinson Leadership Academy, a program to develop minority candidates for head coach and general manager jobs. Lough, the U.N.L.V. professor, works with Davis occasionally on the program. She said Davis can display his leadership qualities with his hire for the next head coach.
“I think there will be a great deal of insight into how committed the organization is to all of its fan base and those who have been marginalized,” Lough said. “Anyone that is hired going forward, if they have a history of any racially insensitive comments or misogynistic or homophobic behavior or comments, that will speak volumes to the intentions the Raiders have.”
Like many teams in 2021, the Raiders worked with The Ross Initiative in Sports for Equality (RISE) to foster conversation and develop programs about race relations within the club. Andrew Mac Intosh, the chief program officer for RISE, said the players were engaged and interested, and he will watch how the Raiders handle the Gruden situation.
“All of us in society, we have an opportunity to be better, and this is an opportunity,” he said. “Here a place to ask, ‘Have I been as inclusive as I can be in my own sphere of influence?’ That’s my hope not just for that organization but for all of us.”
The brief history of the Raiders in Las Vegas has been choppy, but Herrera said he does not regret his decision to follow them there. Gruden’s resignation allows the team to improve from top to bottom, he said.
“In order for us to grow and be better, we need some new brains,” Herrera said. “We need some new thoughts. Our office is going to have to change.”