Longtime Raiders owner Al Davis perfectly defines why a book shouldn’t be judged by its cover.
Whether the now-Las Vegas Raiders were playing in Oakland or Los Angeles, Davis fought everyone in his way. Fellow owners and league executives knew to avoid Davis when he went on the warpath.
Media members and history books might paint Davis as an eccentric owner who lost touch of reality before he died in 2011. But underneath all of that was a man who dedicated his life and platform to fighting for civil rights.
Al Davis was the Raiders’ longtime owner
If there was a role in the Raiders franchise, Al Davis likely filled it.
As of February 2021, Davis is the only person in professional football history who served as a head coach, a general manager, an owner, and a league commissioner.
That isn’t a mistake. Al Davis served as the American Football League‘s commissioner for several weeks in 1966 before the league announced its merger with the NFL.
The Raiders won three Super Bowl titles in Davis’ tenure with the franchise. Davis joined the Raiders as their head coach in 1963 and held that role through 1965.
After becoming the team’s part-owner and general manager in 1966, Davis became the principal owner in 1972. Davis remained the GM and owner until he died in October 2011.
Davis spent his life fighting for civil rights
Al Davis may have been controversial, but no one could ever deny that he believed in equality for all.
Davis, a Jewish man who grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y., during the 1930s and 1940s, understood being different. Throughout his nearly 60 years in professional football, Davis fought for civil rights and diversity.
According to FootballScoop, Davis — then the Raiders’ head coach — pulled his team out of a preseason game in Mobile, Ala., in 1963. Alabama’s laws protected segregation at the time, and Davis moved the game to Oakland.
After his Black players faced discrimination in New Orleans at the 1965 AFL All-Star Game, Davis implemented a policy where the Raiders wouldn’t play games in cities that enforced segregated hotels.
In trying to find the best possible candidates for jobs, Davis broke barriers along the way. Davis hired the first Black head coach in modern history (Art Shell) and the second Latino head coach (Tom Flores).
Flores totaled an 83-53 record and won two Super Bowls in nine campaigns leading the Raiders. Shell, a legendary offensive tackle for the Raiders, went 56-52 across seven seasons and two stints as the Raiders’ head coach.
Davis also named Amy Trask as the NFL’s first female front-office executive in 1997. Trask, who is now with CBS Sports, worked with the Raiders from 1987-2013.
Al Davis is one of the most important figures in NFL history
As professional sports leagues embrace social justice movements and diversity, everyone would be wise to look back at Al Davis.
Davis made the decisions he thought were best for his franchise and his players. Although moving the 1963 preseason game from Alabama to Oakland cost the Raiders money, Davis prioritized his players over profits.
When Davis died in October 2011, the Raiders hadn’t reached the postseason since losing Super Bowl 37 in January 2003. The failures of JaMarcus Russell and Randy Moss in Oakland made it easy to forget about all of the good that Davis did for the Raiders.
Davis spent years challenging the NFL on various subjects from relocation to rules. He even testified against the league during the NFL’s fight against Donald Trump and the USFL in the 1980s.
Time has been kind to Davis, though. Without Davis’ efforts in building a winner and promoting diversity, the modern NFL as we know it would almost certainly look much different.