When I was doing my book tour for Bad Sports: How Owners Are Ruining the Games We Love, I always had a joke in my back pocket about Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis that never failed to generate a laugh. I said that kids in Oakland wake up screaming in the middle of the night saying, "Al Davis is coming to get me!" It was a play on Davis’s intimidating all-black wardrobe, his craggy visage, and the futility of the Oakland franchise. “I said he looked like the crypt-keeper.” I would then use the joke as a bridge to comment that Davis should make parents scream as well because the Oakland Raiders soak Alameda County to the tune of $20 million of taxpayer money a year. I quoted stadium expert Neil DeMause at fieldofschemes.com, who wrote, "the total public cost of bringing back the Raiders (as of 2003 was) $201 million, plus the mutilation of a once-attractive baseball stadium."
I pointed out that Davis also sued the city for hundreds of millions of dollars for mismanaging the property and was awarded another $34 million. Lastly, I raised the way Davis really wrote the blueprint for other owners in how to play one city off another when he moved the Oakland Raiders to Los Angeles and then back to Oakland, in a search for public cash. After I made the joke on the Rachel Maddow show, I received the following email:
"As a teen, I spent several years at Al‘s house, as his son Mark and I have been close friends for thirty plus years. His door was always open to us kids, and no matter how rowdy or obnoxious, he kept a watchful eye on us. Look, I know the guy is controversial to those who don’t know him, but I have seen first hand how much he can be just a dad, and a good guy…not the monster the press always portrays. I’d appreciate it if you kept your comments to his actions, and didn’t mock his personal appearance (due to obviously ailing health) to make a point. He seems fair game, but I can tell you this sort of thing can get to people, even when they are Al Davis the icon."
Needless to say, I felt awful and apologized to the person that I used a cheap joke at the expense of an ailing man to make my point. I also had to admit that my accounting of Davis wasn’t by any means a fair and full portrait. As has been written extensively since Davis’s death last week, the man was undoubtedly a trailblazer. He was the first owner in the NFL to hire an African American head coach, Art Shell, and the first owner to hire a Latino coach in Tom Flores. He also hired a woman, Amy Trask as the first-ever female CEO of an NFL team. Davis hounded the suits at NFL inc. earning all the right enemies among his ownership peers.