Oakland Raiders: McKenzie Must Continue To Safeguard Culture Of The Team

Nov 12, 2016; Norman, OK, USA; Oklahoma Sooners running back Joe Mixon (25) is seen on the field before action against the Baylor Bears prior to the game at Gaylord Family - Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 12, 2016; Norman, OK, USA; Oklahoma Sooners running back Joe Mixon (25) is seen on the field before action against the Baylor Bears prior to the game at Gaylord Family - Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports /

The Oakland Raiders are in the midst of a culture change that’s seen them become a relevant team again – but now, they must continue to safeguard the culture they’re building.

When Oakland Raiders GM Reggie McKenzie stepped into his current role, he spoke about the need to establish a new culture within the organization. And that was true. He also spoke about the need to do things the right way, to bring in high character, good locker room guys to help build that new culture.

And over the last couple of years now, we’ve seen that new culture taking root. The team is definitely filled with high character guys who are the glue that holds that locker room together. That change in culture, as much as anything, has taken the Raiders from laughingstock to being spoken of as legitimate title contenders – words that haven’t been spoken as anything but a punchline in more than a decade.

It’s a culture that is still in its infancy and one that not just the team, but McKenzie himself must continue to foster, nurture, and encourage to grow. And yet, McKenzie is making a few moves this offseason that seem to contradict – and possibly even threaten – that burgeoning culture within the organization.

Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon is about as toxic a player as you can get. He’s the Ray Rice of today. And yet, plenty of teams are still meeting with him about potential employment. McKenzie and the Raiders are shockingly enough, one of those teams.

One would think that given owner Mark Davis’ very clear, unequivocal stance on violence against women, Mixon wouldn’t have even gotten a meeting. And yet, he did.

Now, Mixon apologists have one thousand and one excuses for why Mixon should be given a second chance. Many of those excuses involve demonizing or blaming the woman who had bones in her face broken after being punched by the much larger, far stronger Mixon.

To many of us, it’s unbelievable that people will continue to defend Mixon, despite the videotape showing the unbelievably violent scene. But then, to some, it seems that somebody’s ability to play football at a high level trumps any sort of common decency.

Oakland Raiders
Sep 26, 2015; Waco, TX, USA; Rice Owls linebacker Nick Uretsky (21) tries to tackle Baylor Bears wide receiver Ishmael Zamora (8) during the game at McLane Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports /

The other meeting the Raiders took was with Baylor wide receiver Ishmael Zamora. Like Mixon, Zamora was caught on videotape committing a crime. Only, his crime involved him beating a dog – an offense many undoubtedly believe doesn’t rise to the level of heinousness of Mixon’s transgression.

Perhaps. But it says a lot about the character of a person – or lack therof – if they’re comfortable beating and kicking a defenseless, and much smaller, animal. While perhaps not on the same level as Mixon, it’s still a disgusting and reprehensible act that shows just what kind of person Zamora is.

Now, understandably, McKenzie has to do his due diligence in his capacity as a GM. However, it sends incredibly mixed – and disturbing – signals to meet with two men who have committed the sort of loathesome and disgusting acts as Mixon and Zamora have.

Cue the howls of outrage about second chances and kids making mistakes. Yeah, okay.

What many people seem to forget, or just willingly overlook is the fact that playing in the NFL is a privilege. It’s not a right. Nobody is entitled to play professional football. Second chances don’t require teams to draft a guy who commits a reprehensible act like breaking the bones in the face of a smaller woman, or whipping and kicking a defenseless dog.

Sure, they deserve a second chance. But it’s not a law or any sort of moral requirement that their second chance comes in the NFL. The second chance they deserve is to be productive members of society and decent human beings.

So many people talk about the entitlement of NFL players. About the morally repugnant behavior of some and the criminal element that seems to permeate the league. Ever stop to think about why the NFL might have that sort of image problem?

It’s because people continue to make excuses for guys like Mixon and Zamora. And more than that, it’s because teams continue to give them jobs simply because they can play football pretty well.

In fact, the only time teams seem to take a “tough” stand on crimes some players commit, it’s because they’re no longer as productive and can’t play at a high level anymore – see Ray Rice. Also see Greg Hardy after his experiment in Dallas – funny how his intransigent behavior only became and issue when he wasn’t racking up the sacks.

Until teams actually draw a hard line in the sand and until they stop making excuses for a guy because he can play at a very high level, you will continue to have the kind of guys people like to complain about infesting the league.

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Many of us believed McKenzie when he talked about high character guys. Many of us believed that he was drawing that hard line in the sand as he worked to change the culture within the organization. Which makes it all the more disappointing that he’d even meet with Mixon and Zamora.

Now, meetings in and of themselves mean little. More times than not, these meetings don’t amount to much. In the days before the Draft, teams are throwing up smokescreens and doing their best to hide their true intentions.

But there were a million other things McKenzie could have done besides meet with two guys who are as entirely toxic as Mixon and Zamora.

We have to sit back and hope that their ability on the field doesn’t trump McKenzie’s stated desire to do things the “right way” by filling the locker room with nothing but high character guys. Yeah, they can play football pretty well, but that doesn’t change what they did.

The Raiders are finally becoming one of the league’s prominent teams again. McKenzie needs to be careful to continue tending to and nurturing that fledgling culture. And adding guys like Mixon and Zamora into the sort of culture the Raiders are building can be toxic.

Some team out there will undoubtedly give Mixon and Zamora a shot — it shouldn’t be the Raiders.