The NFL overlords put forth the word that there shall be public hearings on an issue troubling the kingdom. Vassals in charge of three legions are stuck with stadiums where profits can’t be maximized. They eye new territories in the south of California, in the villages of Carson and Inglewood. Industrial suburb and impoverished bedroom community, so they might seem, but in the financial leverage game of the NFL, they are known as Canaan.
On a pleasant night in lively, livable and increasingly lovely downtown Oakland, the serfs played their role to perfection. Hundreds gathered at the Paramount Theatre, along a Broadway now rife with hot restaurants and coffee houses that charge $3.50 for a small cup of dark roast. Some of the masses painted themselves silver and black and wore spiked shoulder pads. The armament could come in handy Sunday for Rodney Hudson and the boys on the offensive line, when the Raiders play the New York Jets and the league’s second-best defense.
As for the commoners, they cheered and cried during recitation of “The Autumn Wind,” a musical poem penned not by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, but by NFL Films co-founder Steve Sabol. It begins with intonation of wind as pirate, “blustering in from the sea,” and gathers to conclusion, where wind as raider is “pillaging just for fun,” to “knock you ’round and upside down and laugh when he’s conquered and won.” The crowd roared, and the NFL suits on the Paramount stage looked a little unnerved.
League scribes gathered the testimony via livestream. Now they will summarize the sentiment gained from the hearing in Oakland and other sessions the NFL rulers kindly granted to subjects in St. Louis and San Diego. The documentation will be presented to a committee engaged in study of the Raiders, Rams and Chargers franchises looking to relocate to Los Angeles.
Each of these mini-empires under the NFL throne is worth about a billion dollars, giveth or taketh a hundred million or so. But the money men know they could be worth many millions more if only they could have stadiums like the 49ers’ Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara. Over there, elites pay big money to sit in corporate privacy, if they choose, away from folk who mostly gather in communal harmony in places like Oakland’s O.co Coliseum. One percenter, truck driver, meth smoker, song writer – the barriers break down in Oakland. Once Derek Carr gets the ball to Amari Cooper and everybody’s holding their breath.
Four NFL executives sat on stools and listened respectively and attentively as the masses told stories of their Raiders heritage. They grew up to the voice of Bill King wafting on sunny Sunday afternoons through their working-class neighborhoods, and they described the many plays burned into their football memories. They told how their tribe extends worldwide, where they have met up with each other from the capitals of Europe to the peaks of Machu Picchu. They remembered elders baptizing them into the rituals of the Silver and Black, how they spent more Sundays in the Coliseum than they did in church. They spoke of a present Oakland economic renaissance, where young people are swarming to live downtown, of how Uber is moving in, which makes them wonder why the Raiders might be moving out.
Some in the mob rebuked the chieftains. They accused the league of playing them as pawns in a stadium relocation money game. They spoke of greed and they wanted answers about TV money – $4 billion to $5 billion a year, to be divided among the 32 NFL teams, they were told. They wanted to know why a portion of Oakland’s cut couldn’t be used to finance a new stadium. Some said Oakland doesn’t need a new stadium. They noted how the city and county are still on the hook for tens of millions – until reportedly 2026 – from the 1995 stadium reconfiguration deal.
If the night was set aside to give voice to the voiceless, the presence of the Raiders managing general partner, Mark Davis, and of the mayor of the populace, Libby Schaaf, may have given hope to the hopeless. Davis promised “that we will be listening,” and he did exactly that during the hearing, by staying for all four quarters and nodding to and laughing with his customers. He told them he is one of them, and they liked that. Schaaf, the former high school cheerleader, also offered the assurance. “We will find the best way to keep the Raiders here in Oakland where they belong,” and they liked that, too.
Comparable officials of their stature did not attend the hearings in St. Louis and San Diego, NFL executive vice president Eric Grubman reported. By coming out and listening, Davis and Schaaf “changed the dynamic,” Grubman said.
Who’s to know what it means to change a dynamic, especially when there has been no dynamic to speak of in the production of a stadium plan in Oakland. The only plan the Raiders talk about is one that appears to have emerged from the office of the court jester, to share a stadium with the Chargers in Carson, which would destroy a 55-year-old rivalry by forcing one of the teams out of the AFC West.
Fans swarmed Mark Davis when it was over, to implore him to stop the Carson plan from happening, and to take selfies with him.
“As God as my judge, I’m with you all,” Davis told them.