The emails that led to Jon Gruden resigning as head coach of the Las Vegas Raiders showed disdain for Black people, amongst many others. While the head coach has since said “the truth will come out,” what we have to go on is what he said when he didn’t think others were looking.
Now, we can also look at the way the roster looked when he took over as head coach in 2019 and the differences that existed when he left. And according to a study by FiveThirtyEight, there’s a very stark difference in the number of Black players on it.
Michael Tesler started tracking the number of Black players on NFL rosters after controversy surrounding Chip Kelly and the Philadelphia Eagles led to a discussion about head coaches not wanting certain Black players on their roster. What he found at the time was that the NFL team with the higher share of Black players on their roster (79.2 percent) in 2014 was the Raiders. That remained true in 2016 as well (82.3 percent) and the number was very similar in 2017 (82.0 percent) when Gruden began his second go-round as head coach of the franchise.
However, in the years since, that number has plummeted. According to his analysis, the percentage of Black players on the Raiders dropped to 69.0 percent in 2019, 67.1 percent in 2020, and 67.2 percent in 2021.
Tesler is careful to note that there might be more to it than Gruden specifically making roster decisions based on skin color. He also notes that it’s probably not a coincidence that the Raiders’ high percentage of Black players came at a time when their general manager, Reggie McKenzie, was Black. McKenzie was fired after the 2018 season, about the same time that percentage dropped precipitously.
But whether the drop in the number of players on the Raiders roster was more related to Gruden or a lack of Black leadership up top, does it actually matter? It feels like there’s a story here to discuss internally and around the NFL about the ways that non-Black leadership tends to foster rosters that are less Black. And given what we’ve seen in those leaked emails, there’s almost certainly a correlation there as well.