The Bay Area Sports Press and the Raiders: Where Ethics Go To Die

Jeff McMasterCorrespondent IJuly 23, 2008

First and foremost, I’m not an Al Davis apologist. I respect the man for the positives he’s brought to the NFL.

The late Bill Walsh counted Al Davis among his closest friends. They rank as two great football minds that would have you wishing you were a fly on the wall when they discussed the game.

While the press painted one as a god in the NFL, the other has been vilified as a pariah. It’s been widely reported in the local press in northern California’s Bay Area that Al Davis is teetering on the brink of insanity.

Of course, if they were talking about the ownership of the 49ers or Walsh, the press would be more inclined to print that they were what I like to call, “synaptically disengaged.”

But this is the Bay Area press we're talking about today, kiddies. A group that, when Al Davis and the Raiders are their target, shoot straight from the hip and aren’t too concerned with collateral damage. They’re akin to the modern-day version of the Keystone Cops.

First, let me offer my sincerest apologies to those writers whose ethics continue to be beyond reproach. Lumping them together with anti-Raiders crowd does them a deep disservice.

So to Jerry McDonald, Jason Jones, Phil Barber, and the rest, I offer my condolences for the quagmire of muddy reporting that you wade through on a daily basis to get yourselves heard.

I grew up reading Jim Murray in Los Angeles. Mr. Murray was the Michelangelo of American sports writers. He created masterpieces with his words, and above all else, he did so with dignity and journalistic ethics.

These days, the best you could say about Ostler, Gay, Dickey, Cohen, et al, is that they are the Monets of sports writers. They look good from afar, but up close, they‘re a mess. Their adolescent glee in writing their tall tales is comparable to painting with crayons.

They’ve been entrusted by the public to inform, entertain, and opine. The catch is the word "trust," indicates that they do so with at least a modicum of integrity.

But where Al Davis and the Raiders are concerned, they’ve willfully bypassed the key ingredient necessary to bake this particular cake. Unfortunately, there are plenty of people out there who are so busy washing down their slice with Kool Aid that they don’t taste the bitterness.

To quote Scott “Scooter“ Oslter, “What I hear from a lot of fans sounds like disgust and outrage. They can't believe the way Davis is jacking around his kid coach, courting catastrophe.”

Um, Scooter, the "disgust and outrage" was a direct result of the reckless reporting by you and your mediots. Some people are willing to believe anything they hear. Hey, Bush got elected twice didn’t he?

Kiffin said, “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire," and there is no doubt that there was some dissension in Oakland at the end of the season. The fact that the Raiders aren’t a team to air their dirty laundry in public has apparently given the hacks out there the green light to embellish things to their little heart's content, forever citing “a source close to the Raiders.”

Scooter likes to begin his column with the line, “Deep thoughts and cheap shots...” that way he‘s always sure to get it half right. Like the others, he reported the imminent firing of Kiffin, then wrote that Kiffin had no idea that the Raiders had hired receivers coach James Lofton, despite it being publicly reported that Kiffin interviewed Lofton.

Then again Scooter, with your infinite football knowledge, you predicted the Raiders would win two, possibly three, games next year. Scooter, the Raiders have a weaker schedule, additions of Gibril Wilson, DeAngelo Hall, Michael Bush, Darren McFadden, etc, and the increased experience of last year's rookies, and you came up with two wins?

Either you're drinking more than Kool Aid, or you're just a tad unwilling to admit that the “synaptically disengaged” fella in the jump suit just has had a hell of an offseason. Despite your recent article, Al Davis doesn’t actually appear to be “daffy as the Mad Hatter.”

As for Nancy Gay, she is to the Raiders what Alanis Morrisette is to men. Let us not forget that Nancy scooped the entire world and reported last year that Kiffin was going to cut Warren Sapp because they were too close to the same age.

Dear Nancy, don’t you know that Kiffin can’t cut anyone? Only Al makes those decisions. Well, at least that’s what you reported.

Nancy opined that Al was furious in hindsight over Kiffin’s moving of Randy Moss on draft day. Perhaps Nancy should have read what the real reporters were writing. Moss had already regressed into his team-destroying, "me first" attitude when Kiffin first spoke to him after being named head coach.

McDonald reported, “Moss told him (Kiffin) in pointed, profane terms he wasn’t interested in talking.” Basically, Moss had tied the Raiders' hands. Knowing that Moss was most likely going to undermine Kiffin and poison the locker room, it made sense to move him and free up the enormous cap space he would have eaten up.

Not to mention the detrimental effect he may have had on impressionable rookie QB JaMarcus Russell.

Then there’s the venerable Mr. Glenn Dickey. You’d think that, as long as he’s been around, he would have bonded with Al over Geritol shots with Ensure chasers. Not Glenn, apparently he‘s not happy sharing the Bay Area's geriatric sports stage.

On Jan. 28, 2008, Dickey wrote an article that actually called for the NFL commissioner to remove Al Davis from decision-making power. Dickey wrote, “Goodell should step in and put Davis’ son, Mark, in control, and then give him the name of a competent football man who could help him make decisions.”

Please Glenn, this is football, not international politics. Leave the coup d’etat for the real ruthless dictators. Ironically, Ostler did compare Al Davis to Fidel Castro. Not that Ostler in prone to hyperbole....

If the writers mentioned above are true village idiots, then Lowell Cohen is their king. Cohen actually makes the others look competent. Although he whips out his crayons for the Santa Rosa Press- Democrat, a small, local paper, in the age of the Internet, his words are heard loud and clear, as if he’s actually on the main stage.

Here are some of Cohen’s finest examples of “journalistic ethics.” I don‘t have to render an opinion about King Cohen, his words speak for themselves.

“I have a preconception about the Raiders—and I admit it. I expect them to fail. I expect them to embarrass themselves, and then I expect them to invent wacko excuses. I expect to write negative things about them. I expect Raiders executives to give me the cold eye as if I made the team bad.

Then you think of the Raiders. A smile crosses your lips. The Raiders give you the giggle you require because they are the NFL’s joke franchise. They are the team that keeps on giving. What do the Raiders give? Comic relief.

We know Al Davis tried to dump Lane Kiffin. There was that letter of resignation Al tried to jam down the kid coach’s throat. Kiffin regurgitated the letter. We assume Al is working on a buyout. In the weird, funny world of the Raiders, where no normal logic applies, this would be logical.”

Wow Lowell, do you get paid to write this stuff? If so, I’ve got to hand it to you buddy, you are definitely an overachiever.

The Raiders rarely speak to the press about the inner goings-on in Oakland, but in the case of the Kiffin rumors, they did speak out.

"The whole story is a flat-out lie and a total fabrication," said Raiders senior executive John Herrera. "We deny the entire story. No authority has been stripped. That's unabashedly false."

Then from Raiders CEO Amy Trask, "His authority remains unchanged," and, "That's simply not true. He has all the authority he had when he was hired. The authority he has or had under his original contract remains unchanged."

But why believe actual living breathing Raiders executives? For all we now know, the mystery “source close to the Raiders” was the cleaning lady, but more likely it was the bitter ex-Raiders personnel guy Mike Lombardi.

The Raiders fired Lombardi, the one-time heir apparent to Al Davis himself, after he feuded with Art Shell and reportedly undermined Shell and the organization by leaking information to the press; that’s a big no-no in Raider land.

Lombardi hasn’t been all that covert in his Raider bashing since being granted a microphone and camera on the set of the NFL network, after a short stint in Denver as a personnel assistant.

The Raiders are panned almost daily on a national scale, in addition to being smeared by the local prognosticators. Chris Mortensen was duped into taking the Kiffin story national in January, reporting that Kiffin’s firing was “imminent within the week.” That dreaded “source close to the Raiders” failed him once again.

But it didn’t fail to upset the peace of the fans who didn’t read the words and hear the rumors with skepticism. While the pro and anti-Al fans bickered, the merry band of village idiots snickered. If this were a political campaign, we’d be talking about Al Davis being “swift-boated.”

Fine by me, let them squawk. While the poison pens are furiously scribbling out the latest unfounded rumors, the Raiders have, not so quietly, been building quite an impressive roster.

Lane Kiffin and his staff, and nearly every player, worked hard through the offseason to build on the success of last season, and hopefully the entire football world will underestimate what the Raiders have done.

Let them mock the man whose bust is permanently affixed in the NFL Hall of Fame in Canton. Al Davis simply wants to win. In the end, the Raiders have only one place to prove themselves, and that’s on the football field.

As a Raiders fan that stays close to the goings on in Oakland, I see a bright future ahead. As for the haters? Let them eat cake.