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The Oakland Raiders: Rebels, Misfits, & Progressives

Guest Blogger • Aug 27, 2009

by James Johnson

“Are you ready for some football?”  -Hank Williams, Jr.

This is my first blog and I feel it is important to be upfront from the beginning of our relationship. I confess I am an Oakland Raiders fan. Joel Ebert’s blog the ‘Proximity Effected” Fan, talks about people who are fans because of proximity, that is not me. I live in Denver, Colorado home of a divisional rival.

People ask how can I be a Raider fan and live in Denver. I ask how can any forward thinking progressive not be a Raider fan?

When people think Raiders their image is of people painted Silver and Black with spiked hair, spiked shoulder pads, the Black Hole, out and out fanatical fans.

They think of Jack ‘the assassin’ Tatum, Lester ‘the molester’ Hayes, and the other red meat eating, hard-hitting characters who played for the Raiders. Known for stepping on a man after knocking them down as opposed to giving them a hand up. A team of rebels and misfits.

And nowadays ‘Crazy Uncle Al’ Davis managing general partner. A man who some say the game has passed by. Responsible for practically giving away Randy Moss to the New England Patriots, where all he does there is set records. The man who has had five head coaches in the last six years.

The Raiders are more that. Al Davis’ Raiders have been at the forefront of Civil Rights. They’ve been more progressive than nearly any other sports team or any other entertainment company.

According to Jerry McDonald’s article, T.O. With a Conscience, Al Davis brought Art Powell to the team in 1963. Powell had been known as a troublemaker in both Philadelphia and New York.

When with Philadelphia, Powell refused to play a preseason game in Norfolk Virginia. “We were told colored ballplayers would not be allowed stayed with the rest of the team in the hotel,” Powell said. “I chose not to play. The other African-American ballplayers said that they weren’t going to played either. But they did play. … It cost me my job.”

Another McDonald article Defiance Led to Tolerance, talks about Al Davis’ commitment to doing the right thing even if it costs him money.

The Raiders were scheduled to play the New York Jets and Ladd stadium in Mobile, Alabama in 1963. African-American players learned they would not be staying with the rest of the team. Also the stadium was segregated – a section was roped off for coloreds and the colored fans were not allowed to use the bathrooms.

After talking with the African-American players on his team, Al Davis had the game moved to Youell Field in Oakland, where the gate receipts were considerably less than in Mobile.

Before the Rooney Rule (an affirmative action program within the NFL, a separate blog in the future) the Raiders were breaking color barriers in coaching. In 1979, Al Davis hired former Raider quarterback Tom Flores as head coach making him the first Latino head coach in NFL history. Tom Flores went on to two Super Bowl victories in 1980 and 1983.

In 1990, Al Davis hired former Raider offensive tackle Art Shell as head coach – the second African-American head coach in NFL history. Shell was named the AFC head coach of the year in 1990, won the AFC West and took his team to the AFC championship game.

In 1997 Al Davis hired Amy Trask as the first and, up ‘til now, only woman CEO in the NFL. The Raiders’ website is in 6 different languages English, Chinese, German, Japanese, Spanish and Tagalog (Raider Nation is truly universal), no other team’s site is in more than 2 languages.

Sometimes moving the chains forward in history takes rebels and misfits.

Taking all this into consideration how can any forward thinking progressive not be a fan of the Oakland Raiders?

And for me, read paragraph four.

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