The Raiders Leave Oakland, and To Hell With Your Feelings

Raiders fans tailgate for the final Raiders home game at the Oakland Coliseum. (Amir Aziz)

I’ve got some strong words for Mark Davis’ haircut and the thinking that goes on under it.

Of course, I'm more concerned about his thinking than I am the haircut. (I've already read about him driving his minivan hundreds of miles to a barber in Palm Springs so he can get... whatever he calls that thing on his head.)

I get that moving the Raiders to Las Vegas is a money move. Nevada offered a stadium that'll be paid for by tax revenue. The City of Oakland didn't, and rightfully so. With thousands of people sleeping on the streets, paying to build a sports franchise's new stadium would've been the ultimate example of helping the rich get richer. Plus, the City of Oakland is still in debt after enticing the Raiders to move back from Los Angeles in 1995.

So now that the final Raiders game has been played at the Coliseum, it's become a reality: they’re throwing a hail mary across the state line. And I can't be mad, because at the end of the day, it’s a business. And you know how we do business in America—with an all-encompassing phrase that I'm surprised isn't a Fortune 500 company’s slogan:

To hell with your feelings.

Raiders fans tailgate for the final Raiders home game at the Oakland Coliseum.
Raiders fans tailgate for the final Raiders home game at the Oakland Coliseum. (Amir Aziz)

But football, the most brutal of major American sports, is a game largely built on feelings. The players emote like thespians. The coaches yell like drunk stepfathers. And the owners are often shown in their box seats, hands folded over their mouths, like a member of the choir praying during the sermon.

But the greatest feelings come from the fans. They show up on Sundays and paint their faces, get inebriated and scream their hearts out. It’s like going to church, the bar and to war at the same time.

Every stadium is a bit different, from what I hear. I’ve only been to Raiders games. But I can guarantee you that Oakland’s tailgate scene is unlike any other.

On Sunday, I saw social media updates of folks there at daybreak, with lit barbecue grills and liquor bottles bigger than the Lombardi trophy. As they rang in the final Raiders game in Oakland, many of the posts were emotional personal connections: the worker who's losing their longtime job at the stadium, the story of the guy who went to the first game in Oakland and scored a last-minute ticket to this one, stories of friendships and connections made.

I wasn’t there on Sunday. Instead, I was down in Nickerson Gardens in Watts, where I gave a head-nod to a brother in a Los Angeles Raiders cap. That emotional connection reverberates throughout Raider Nation, and reaches all places the sun shines.

Raiders fans tailgate for the final Raiders home game at the Oakland Coliseum.
Raiders fans tailgate for the final Raiders home game at the Oakland Coliseum. (Amir Aziz)

Returning from my trip, I watched the game via livestream on my phone in the back of a Flixbus during a 10-hour ride. I don’t even like the NFL, but I watched.

I used to love football. I was a diehard Raiders fan. But then so many things happened that made me realize just how much of a business football is: Michael Vick’s treatment (to this day he’s still catching flak for his involvement in dog fighting, a crime he served time for). The fact that there are confirmed domestic abusers in the league, and Colin Kaepernick isn’t (and that the tryout a few weeks ago was a sham). Worst of all, the cover-up of concussions and other health issues players face during and after their time in the league.

A few weeks ago, former Raiders offensive lineman Kelechi Osemele was cut by the Jets after opting to have shoulder surgery in the middle of the season instead of taking painkillers and playing with a torn labrum. Before the surgery, as reported by the New York Times, the Pro Bowl player told the team he was in intense pain, and they docked his pay for the time that he sat on the bench.

How can you support a league that notoriously doesn't support its players?

Raiders fans tailgate for the final Raiders home game at the Oakland Coliseum.
Raiders fans tailgate for the final Raiders home game at the Oakland Coliseum. (Amir Aziz)

Plus, it’s too much of an emotional investment. I spent chunks of my life yelling at the TV. If I told you how many times the Raiders let me down over the years, you'd either offer me a hug or a shot of tequila out of pity. Maybe both.

The list of instances would include the Antonio Brown saga from this summer. Trading superstar Khalil Mack last year. Remember the Tuck Rule game? I don't, only because I've successfully erased it from my memory.

There was, of course, the loss to Tampa Bay (coached by Jon Gruden the year after he left the Raiders) in Super Bowl XXXVII, and the backstory that Pro Bowl lineman Barret Robbins suffered a manic episode on the eve of the big game.

Derek Carr breaking his leg right before the playoffs in 2016. Numerous draft busts, like Robert Gallery and JaMarcus Russell—I still laugh at the story of Russell studying blank tapes.

And on a smaller, more game-to-game letdown, there's the penalties. So many penalties. Oh, and Mark Davis’ haircut. Man, there are so many ways the Raiders have let us down over the years.

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But there had to be some highlight moments. Otherwise, people including myself wouldn’t care this much.

I loved seeing Rod Woodson, Randy Moss and Warren Sapp play in Oakland. Marshawn went dumb on the sidelines. Napoleon Kaufman, my favorite player, had a career full of highlights, and now is a pastor in Livermore.

And although he left for a few years to play with the Packers, Charles Woodson eventually came back to the town to work with the team; he was there to light the Davis torch on this final Sunday in Oakland.

There’s a reason people tossed litter on the field, started fights and booed as Sunday's game ultimately ended in a 20-16 loss to the bottom-feeding Jacksonville Jaguars. The reason: people care.

Raiders fans tailgate for the final Raiders home game at the Oakland Coliseum.
Raiders fans tailgate for the final Raiders home game at the Oakland Coliseum. (Amir Aziz)

The last game I went to was the one that Marshawn got kicked out of, against Kansas City. That’s how I’ll remember the Raiders. Fun. Exciting. Underdogs. But man, there's a nation of people who love them with all of their hearts, and many of those are my loved ones. Be it Rita Cecaci, one of the first Raiderettes, or Malcolm Turner, who works at Blunts & Moore across the street, they're family.

Malcolm recently told me, "If you moved to Las Vegas, I'd still love you." But I know Sunday hurt him, as it did so many others. Even as one who doesn't care about the NFL, it hurt me too, if only for knowing what the Raiders mean to this city.

So when I see an interview like this one with Mark Davis and his Moe-from-The-Three-Stooges haircut, and his lack of any real feelings for Oakland, I don’t think about the Raiderettes or the championships. I don't think of Eldridge Dickey, the first African American to be drafted in the first round as a quarterback, or Fritz Pollard, the first African American coach in league history.

Raiders fans tailgate for the final Raiders home game at the Oakland Coliseum.
Raiders fans tailgate for the final Raiders home game at the Oakland Coliseum. (Amir Aziz)

No, what I think about is the fact that Al Davis once acquired a 25% ownership of Oakland’s failing Eastmont Mall for $5,000, and he used it as a million-dollar tax haven, according to a 1983 Chicago Tribune article. The deal was a part of a partnership with Allen Glick, a businessman who the Justice Department said was a frontman for an organized crime family—and of course, he owned casinos and hotels in Las Vegas, according to the New York Times.

Fitting. Forty years later, and Davis’ son is still making money by sucking resources out of Oakland, and working with Vegas to do it.

They should change their slogan from 'Just Win Baby', to 'Just Biz, Baby.'

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