Legendary Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis passed away October 9.
For many football fans, especially under 30-year-old fans, long-time Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis’ legacy is maligned drafting decisions, (i.e. Darrius Heyward-Bay), mortgaging the future for the present, trading draft picks away like they carry the plague, deserting Oakland for Los Angeles and then turning his back on L.A. after being anointed L.A.’s team and only seven winning seasons since 1986.
And it is.
After well-known figures in society die, many times people only speak of the good things about the person. It is as though they are without flaws. Al Davis had many.
Al Davis made questionable decisions for many years and had many Raiders fans clamoring for him to step down from his position as self-appointed General Manager. And, in my opinion, it would have helped the franchise if there was another person making the football-based decisions in the Raiders organization.
But Davis would not give up control of the franchise and while he was alive, he was criticized mercilessly for being stubborn. After his death, he was characterized as someone that knew what they wanted and was praised for being focused on his goal. It is all about perception.
I have to admit though I was one of the many that saw Davis as a broken down old man that had no place in the game anymore. Yeah, he had some good years in the 70’s but I never understood why he was regarded as a legend for a long time.
Now I do. And now I think that the NFL would not be what it is today without Davis.
We all know about “Just Win, Baby” and his undying love for fast players.
We know that he was able to lead the Raiders to a mini-dynasty in the late 70’s and early 80’s. We know he was the AFL commissioner for a period of time.
But there is plenty we do not know about Davis. At least, I did not know.
As the commissioner of the AFL, he led an aggressive campaign against the NFL by targeting top players in the NFL and signing them to contracts to play for the AFL.
The campaign, in part, contributed to the NFL recognizing the AFL as a true competition to the league therefore leading to the AFL-NFL merger in 1970.
But the most underrated piece of Al Davis’ legacy is what he meant to Civil Rights in sports. He was pioneer in the hiring of minority candidates for high positions within the Raiders organization.
In 1979, Davis hired Tom Flores as the head coach of the Raiders. At the time, Flores was only the second Hispanic head coach in history of the league. In 1988, Davis hired Art Shell, the first black head coach in the NFL in the modern era.
Davis also broke the gender barrier as he hired Amy Trask to be CEO of the Raiders in 1997. Trask was the first and only female CEO in the NFL.
In addition, Davis protested several games in the name of civil rights. In 1963, the Raiders were scheduled to play a pre-season game in Mobile, AL but Davis refused to play in protest of the segregation laws in Mobile.
In 1965, the AFL was supposed to hold the All-Star game in New Orleans, LA but Davis once again refused because of the racial inequalities prevalent in the city.
Davis’ legacy is complicated and his football-based decisions, especially later ones, have every right to be questioned; but, the strides he made for the game of football, civil rights or otherwise, have led the league to be a better sport today. He will be missed.