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NFL

The Raiders’ Outlaw Pose Looks More Like A Tantrum

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - OCTOBER 25: Head coach Jon Gruden of the Las Vegas Raiders walks across the field before the game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Allegiant Stadium on October 25, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

No matter what city in which they happen to reside, the Raiders remain committed to the brand with an inspiring zeal. Well, it would be inspiring if one of the things they seem most committed to wasn’t “having a terrible defense.” But never mind that; some things are constant, even in this ever-changing dump we call a planet. The Vegas Raiders are also waging an apparent war of shaken fists and why-I-oughtas against the mean old people trying to keep them from becoming virus superspreaders. I mean, if you’re going to go out of your way to highlight in your new stadium a nine-story flaming cenotaph to the best rule-ignorer of them all, you’d better be ready to rebel up for the new audience, wherever it might be.

So Jon Gruden, who is trying to recreate the old days even though the old days were largely marked by him picking fights with Al Davis and vice versa, has decided to let the brand stand for ignoring COVID protocols, and then getting irritated when called on it.

Gruden has been caught and fined for using the required face mask as an optional fashion accessory. A number of players were caught socially contracting at a fundraiser. Their big-money offensive tackle decided not to wear his required tracking device, caught the goods, and apparently exposed his linemates. Then, when they expected to have their game moved back to a day when they could regather their line—Gruden was reportedly “livid” over the non-postponement—the league remembered its ancient role as Raider tormenters and moved this weekend’s game against Tampa Bay up by four hours, and the result was a 45-20 loss and a promise of more fines to tack onto the $500-plus K they’ve already been dunned.

And Gruden? Well, first he uttered the hilariously Trumpian pronunciamento, “As an organization, we are on the cutting edge of beating the virus,” and then went full third-grader with, “We’re not the only team in the league, so you know, that’s had people catch the virus.”

So violations beget declarations of virtue, and declarations of virtue beget a persecution complex. Frankly, Al’s Raiders did this thing better by simply continuing to violate and e-mailing middle fingers and photocopies of linebackers’ asses to the league office.

Gruden’s selective “we’re doing great” and “we’re not the only ones not doing great” is not all that amazing, given that we’ve been watching a presidential campaign do that very thing on a daily basis. It’s actually more imitative than cutting-edge. But the Raiders in whatever form they have taken have always misunderstood their place in the National Football League, as evinced by generally focusing on the football part. The NFL has given far less of a damn about the football for years, and never less than now. If you changed the name to Network Of Entertainment Inventory League, you’d be closer to the mark.

The Park Avenue boys have already ravaged the schedule and are clearly reluctant to do it any more than they have to. Their response to the Raiders’ latest self-created crisis, which began with a reminder that the games are only important insofar as they represent three more hours of billable programming, is now supposed to include a much larger fine given Las Vegas’s position as repeat-repeat-repeat offenders.

Then again, the NFL hasn’t actually been comfortable playing the mean sheriff in years now, and restrict their sentences to money seizures. They have yet to/don’t intend to deal with Tennessee’s rogue practices, or a more recent incident involving the New York Giants. The Raiders, though, are trying to flaunt their role as league gadflies with only team and opponent health concerns on the line, and doing it with the same artlessness and whingeing that has marked the vast majority of their last quarter-century.

But give them credit for trying, anyway. The old Raiders always tried to punch up against an oppressive league operation that didn’t like the Al Davis–level bully-miscreant. Since the rules have changed and the best thing to possess is not a cunning mind but a vast financial portfolio, the Raiders have lived on the thin edge of the wedge, and trying to make their new stand as America’s sporting outlaws has been far superseded by the Houston Astros, the entirety of college sports, and the recently deceased New England Patriots. The Raiders just sound, well, petulant.

They do have the cool s’mores bonfire at the stadium, though. Maybe if they don’t get satisfaction on the offensive line thing, they’ll use it to burn an effigy of Roger Goodell, or whatever ambitious underling handles the Raiders’ cases now.