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Derek Carr’s treatment of Ruggs and Gruden highlights his nuanced compassion | Las Vegas Raiders


Tragic is the only word to describe the downfall of Henry Ruggs III. The young wide receiver had dedicated his football career to Roderic Scott, his best friend who died in a car accident during high school. Ruggs honored his friend while announcing his college football commitment to Alabama in a heart-rending video partially filmed at Scott’s grave site.

For it all to end with the 22-year-old killing a young woman in an early morning car crash while driving at speeds of up to 156 mph under the influence of alcohol makes you want to scream. The NFL and his now former team, the Las Vegas Raiders, surely warned him about how easy it is to get sucked into just such a nightmare during their mandatory rookie orientation sessions.

But before the critics could pile on and spin Ruggs – who faces up to 46 years in jail –into yet another allegory of the perils of athletic entitlement, Derek Carr stepped into the firing line. Speaking to reporters at Las Vegas’ team facility, the Raiders quarterback choked up. He offered his condolences to the families involved, confessed the situation “broke my wife and I’s heart,” and blamed himself. (“I do sit back and think … did I not let him know that I’d be there for him at 3am?” he mused.) But no statement was quite as striking as Carr pledging his continued support for Ruggs. “He needs people to love him right now,” the quarterback said. “If no one else will do it, I’ll do it.”

To say the Raiders season has been star-crossed takes some spunk in a city where luck is famously fickle. Still: just days after the release of Ruggs, who was seemingly on the verge of a career breakout, a video of cornerback Damon Arnette making death threats while waving a firearm surfaced on social media, prompting the team to cut him. And of course all of this started in October after the team’s head coach, Jon Gruden, resigned after emails in which he used racist, misogynistic and homophobic language became public. (Late last week Gruden said he plans to sue the NFL over the release of the emails.)

It’s been a traumatic time for the other players on the team, the bulk of them innocent bystanders. Yet you can’t help but wonder how much worse for them it would be if the Raiders didn’t have Carr holding them together. And while his arm strength for that job remains beyond doubt – Carr rates among the NFL’s leaders in passing yards and completion percentage – it’s his character that stands out most.

Given the way the season has spiraled, many ultra-competitive athletes like Carr – an eighth-year pro who seems as if he’s been playing to keep his job for the past three seasons – would have felt bitter or even hostile toward anyone who hampered their sporting success.

But when the Gruden bombshell rocked him, Carr was quick to gather himself and say of the coach who openly flirted with the idea of drafting players to replace him in 2019, “I love the man [but] you hate the sin.”

And lest you think Carr is having it both ways or, worse, just saying what he thinks folks want to hear, it’s good bet he’s rooting for Gruden’s lawsuit, too. “If we just started opening up everybody’s private emails and texts, people will start sweating a bit,” said Carr, who was building a home next door to the coach and paid Gruden a visit shortly after news of his departure broke. “Hopefully not too many, but maybe that’s what they should do for all coaches and GMs and owners from now on. You got to open up everything and see what happens.”

After Ruggs threw his life away and with it a downfield connection that was just starting to develop between him and the QB, Carr was agonizing about the human toll of the crash rather than the sporting one. “I walked by and saw Henry’s locker today, and for whatever reason that got me,” Carr revealed. “Like, he’s not gonna be there. Not because he’s fast. Not because of what he could do for me. But because of the person that he is, and because I love him.”

Indeed, it’s easy to see Carr as NFL’s patron saint of nuanced compassion. What’s more, he doesn’t hesitate to credit his unwavering sense of empathy to profound Christian faith and takes seriously his standing as a role model for devotion in action. But unlike other athletes who are forceful about spreading the gospel and perform their Christianity in public, or alienating others who don’t believe or live as they do, Carr reveals the power in understatement.

And, unlike other athletes who have been hostile to the idea of sharing a locker room with a gay player, he dismissed anyone who might consider rejecting his Raiders teammate Carl Nassib, who earlier this year became the first active NFL player to come out. “We’re a family when we come in this building. We better treat him like such. And so, from my point of view, it’s been good,” said Carr.

Nor does Carr make a big production of Tebowing before kickoff or offering thoughts and prayers or otherwise exerting any misguided sense of moral superiority. No, Carr just concedes, straight up, that life is complicated but he still has love to give and is sincere about how that dissonance can be emotionally paralysing at times. For a guy who makes his reputation with one arm, it’s an especially nifty two-hander in the age of cancel culture.

Carr sets an enviable leadership standard. You might not agree with his religious beliefs or stomach his forgiveness for Ruggs and Gruden. But there’s a reason why his conviction is something to admire and, perhaps, even aspire to. And that’s because this pirate patron saint still somehow manages to come off as human no matter how minor or major the tragedy.



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