Al Davis died Saturday afternoon at the age of 82, and now everyone is on his side.
After years of being a national punchline and obvious column fodder for grasping columnists, the narrative of the (former) Oakland Raiders owner has now been exalted by the media to such a crude exaggerated caricature that it seems disingenuous at this point.
Before I get further into the intricacies of that seemingly insensitive and oblivious theory, a disclaimer.
I am not, and have never been, an Al Davis fan. For people to suddenly proclaim him as a “visionary” and a “brilliant football mind” seems almost absurd to me.
Maybe that is because I was a child of the 1990’s, and never had a chance to experience Davis when he was supposedly at his primal peak. But yeah, I have never been, and do not claim to be, an Al Davis fan.
I found his business tactics to be shrewd and unnecessary and hypocritical (for someone so against monopolies, he was always extremely eager to partake in them himself). I found him to be excessively autocratic and the head of a totalitarian organization.
People are decrying the end of the era where someone can hold so much power within an organization, the way Davis did. You want to know why it won’t happen again? Look at the Oakland Raiders and their 39-93 record since 2003.
But Davis also did a lot of good. In terms of hiring minorities and instituting industry standards for such, no one was further ahead of the curve then Davis. He had a desire to activate a “vertical game," in which passing was the forefront of an aggressive offensive strategy.
At a time where running was the supposed “key,” Davis made his counterparts look like strategic chumps. He forced the AFL-NFL into a merger, by taking away key NFL players as the commissioner of the AFL, forcing the NFL to take some sort of responsive action.
Sure, he opposed the merger in the official vote (the fact that he even took part in the vote is amazing, considering the decades of abstinence in normal league-wide votes soon to follow), but he was still key in getting that vote to even take place.
Al Davis, obviously, was not the perfect man. And he was not treated as such for the final, say, 20 years of his life. So why, all of a sudden, are people lionizing Davis into some sort of romanticized deity?
Where were his defenders when people considered him decrepit and senile, unfit to be alive, much less to run a professional sports franchise? Look at the flip-floppers from this weekend, compared to their previous statements from the past:
Bill Plaschke, Los Angeles Times:
Oct. 8, 2011: At the end of his lifetime pursuit of intimidation, Al Davis won, because he made us believe he would outlive all those who questioned his style or his sanity or the "greatness of the Raid-duz."
Jan. 26, 2003: It is Davis, who has lost much of his swash, and most of his buckle, but none of his mystique.
Michael Silver, Yahoo! Sports:
Oct. 9, 2011: Yet quietly, and perhaps fittingly, Davis made some organizational moves over the final two years of his life that left the Raiders on much more solid footing.
April 2, 2009 (On the Deadspin Podcast): Al Davis has been a ruinous owner.
Warren Sapp, Former NFL Player, Now Media Personality:
Oct. 3, 2008: "Nobody tells you how bad it is. Any person that calls me on the telephone, (I tell them) do not go anywhere near Oakland. I remember the first two weeks I was there, we played a preseason game," Sapp said. "Somebody came up one time and said, 'We're going deep right here, dog.' I said, 'how do you know?' He said, 'The phone just rang.' "
It is apparently appropriate to not only aggrandize the life of someone when they pass away, but to also tear them to shreds in the years before, because it all evidently evens out.
It doesn’t, and that is why I am really attempting to be careful eulogizing Al Davis. As previously stated, I didn’t really appreciate the things he did as an owner, so I’m not going to pretend I did, the way so many are doing.
I’ll admit I liked or at least am indifferent to other things he did, so I will point those out as well. But it isn’t right for me to sit here, and masquerade around like so many are. “Al was an awesome owner! What have you guys been talking about?”.
Liz Mullen from the Sports Business Journal had an interesting tweet the other day:
Anyone who insults a man or woman on the day they left this planet is a coward, in my opinion. Al Davis R.I.P.
Okay, but is it appropriate to tear down a man who obviously is in declining health for the last 10 years of his life? Which is what we did, and which is something I can be accused of doing.
Ray Ratto from CSN Bay Area had a great article last year, about Al Davis and his (then) current feelings. A sample quote:
“He is tired of losing.
And tired of being the butt of the joke.
And tired of the seven bad years trumping the 39 more-or-less good ones because the kids don’t remember their history.
And tired, most of all, of being a national afterthought in a sport where the owners you think of are Jerry Jones and Bob Kraft and Danny Snyder and Jim Irsay and, for the moment, Woody Johnson and Tom Benson and Bob McNair.”
Where were his legions of defenders and idolizers then?
Follow Brendan on Twitter @BrendanOHarePR.