*This is part of our “Leaders We Love” series. Learn more about it.
There is only one team in professional sports known by its colors alone: the Silver and Black that is the Oakland Raiders of the National Football League.
Al Davis, the team’s owner until 2011, was passionate about the people that made up his team and his organization. He rewarded respect with loyalty, and felt that “once a Raider, always a Raider.” His journey through life, through football, was filled with reward and controversy, but he was a principled man who lived by the definitions of his philosophies which came down to one mantra for everything that he did, which was “Commitment to excellence.”
When it came to picking up players in free agency to better his team, he diligently stuck to his own philosophies. “We may take a player in who has been a failure somewhere else, and they have done great here” (with the Raiders). He enjoyed creating opportunities for overlooked players. “It’s predicated on bringing them into an environment that can inspire them to do great.” He lived by a simple rule, “When leading, you don’t do unto others as they would do unto you; you do unto them as they would want to be done. You have to treat them the way they want to be treated.”
After his father’s death, which was especially difficult for him, he regretted not thanking his father for all he did and therefore made a promise to himself that he “would not hold back to the people that I loved and let them know while they are living about my respect and approach to them.” This idea is what held him in the deepest respect of many, and all told, nine players asked for him to induct them into the Hall of Fame, making Al Davis by far the most frequent presenter.
In the 1960s and 70s, minority players and caucasian players weren’t always treated equally. In 1968 Al Davis selected Eldridge Dickey, who became the first African-American quarterback drafted in the first round. There was much against both of them for that, but Al saw the bigger picture. Eldridge himself let other owners know what was going on. “Al was looking at the league and saying let it go, you’re stifling the growth of the game.” In 1979 Al became the first owner to hire a minority coach in the NFL by hiring Tom Flores, the first Hispanic head coach.
Then in 1989, Al hired a former Raider and Hall of fame player Art Shell to be his new head coach. Art became the first African-American head coach hired in the NFL. When asked by the media if he hired him because he was black, Al responded with “I didn’t hire Art Shell because he was black, I hired Art Shell because he is silver and black.” He told Art that he was the best person for the job at that time, plain and simple.
In 1997 he became the first and only owner to hire a woman into an executive position, hiring attorney Amy Trask as his Chief Operating Officer. Football was most important to Al Davis, and he wasn’t interested in following what other owners in the league were doing. “It’s not important to be consistent, it’s important to be right.” This is how Al lived his life, by doing what was best for the team, the league, the organization, and most of all, the players.
His legacy lit the way for the franchise he made great. Al Davis is the only man to be an Assistant Coach, a Head Coach, a General Manager, a Commissioner, and an Owner. But perhaps the title that matters most is this; Al Davis was and always will be, a Raider.
If you’re interested in learning more about Al Davis’ fascinating life along with his rise and fall in the world of football, the great history of the Oakland Raiders, or just become a fan you can visit Al Davis, History of the Oakland Raiders or Raiders.com.
Darren O., General Manager, Corte Madera Store