(LVSportsBiz.com Founder’s note: We will post occasional essays from fans who have a gift for explaining how we grow emotionally attached to sports and what that means for our lives. Enjoy this essay from a Raiders fan in Las Vegas with a different take on his favorite NFL team leaving Oakland for his hometown.)
By STEVEN SLIVKA
Sports possess this implausible capability of connecting us to our teams in a way we can’t explain.
While we don’t physically play for our favorite team, we refer to them as “we” in casual conversation, as if we collect a paycheck from them and take the field every week.
We obviously don’t, of course, but the sense of “belonging” we feel to our favorite team makes us feel as if their outcome affects us directly.
Sort of like a family.
I should’ve prefaced this essay by mentioning that I’ve been an Oakland Raider fan since I was a young kid.
The Raiders are the central focus of this piece, though I also have loyalties to other professional teams.
My earliest memories of the Raiders resonate shortly after they relocated to Oakland after spending more than 10 years in Los Angeles.
Al Davis, the patriarchal megalomaniac who crafted the Raiders into his own brash image, was ready to head back to the city that birthed the Raiders in the early 1960’s.
My contemporary memories revolve around the Oakland Raiders, though a healthy portion of the team’s history (including the Super Bowl XVIII victory), is centered in Los Angeles.
There are several factors that contributed to my early Raider fandom: My dad, who spent the first 30 years of his life in L.A., has been a Raider fan since he was a teenager, and I was incredibly close with him growing up; I also fell in love with the silver and black uniforms, two colors that combined to give off that “don’t fuck with us” vibe that spoke to me directly as a very shy and self-conscious kid.
The city of Oakland, a rough and gritty industrialized place has played little brother to San Francisco for so long. Make no mistake, it is the ideal home for the Raiders. The Raiders’ dangerous reputation and penchant for hard-nosed “old school football” are perfect fits for Oakland, the country’s third-most dangerous city.
This is why the Raiders upcoming move to Las Vegas is so ridiculous. For the second time in the last 35 years, the Davis family will demolish the morale of the city that helped cultivate the historic franchise.
I moved to Las Vegas when I was four years old and have proudly called it home ever since. Las Vegas is a great city! But I don’t want the Raiders to come here. There are three main reasons that trigger my vitriol for the Raiders’ relocation:
- I’ve always known them as the Oakland Raiders.
While they will still be the Raiders in name, the city of Oakland and the Raider image will forever be inextricably linked to one another.
Oakland’s reputation as a rough and dangerous town was the perfect fit for the Raider image Al Davis so marvelously crafted. To take that away from both the city and the team is just wrong. Las Vegas, a city that was put on the map thanks to the mob’s influence, is a party town; a place to gamble all of your money away without caring at all if you win it back or not. People want to come to Las Vegas; nobody wants to go to Oakland.
- The shitty business of sports has overshadowed the product on the field.
The Raiders, that is, the 53-man team that takes the field every Sunday, is mutually exclusive from the ownership that stewarded this move to Las Vegas. While the players have nothing to do with the decision making of the front office, I can’t help but be angry at everyone involved with the Raiders. This isn’t fair. Derek Carr didn’t swindle the city of Las Vegas for three-quarters of a billion dollars to finance a stadium, but he’s still connected to the greedy Mark Davis, albeit in an indirect way. The older I’ve gotten, the more I’ve come to realize how shitty 99% of sports owners are, and how they couldn’t care less about their fans’ loyalty if it interferes with the bottom line.
As a consumer, I don’t give two shits about how much money the team makes. It does not affect me at all. I just want to see them win! The problem with this is that the more attached you become to a team, the more you feel that the feelings are mutual. So, after an owner spits in the face of a fan base that’s already been decimated by relocation, it reassures me that when it comes to the consumer, capitalism will always be the mortal enemy.
- THEY’RE FINALLY GOOD! AND NOW THEY’RE LEAVING!
When the L.A. Kings won the Stanley Cup in 2012, I was ecstatic. Like the Raiders, I’ve followed the Kings ever since I was a kid. I endured a near decade-long playoff drought, so watching the Kings win it all was one of the best feelings I’ve ever experienced. I was proud that I had suffered with my team for so long, only to finally prevail and hoist the Stanley Cup. Then, out of nowhere, I noticed more and more Kings fans coming out of the woodwork. The Kings are the closest hockey team to Las Vegas geographically, so it was now “cool” to like the Kings. That pissed me off! Here I was, a lifelong Kings fan who had endured some of the worst hockey in franchise history before finally watching them win a Stanley Cup, and all these people, (who I’ve always assumed never knew anything about hockey), were all of a sudden Kings fans.
And now the Raiders, after missing the playoffs every goddamn season since they were throttled by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Super Bowl XXXVII, are finally good again! All through high school, college, and the early portion of my professional career, my football team sucked. The longstanding suffering the city of Oakland endured during some of the Raiders’ absolute worst football was tough to swallow.
Now, just as the team is reclaiming the glory days of old, they’re shipping off to a new city that’s never had to deal with a losing team. Assuming Derek Carr doesn’t break another leg between now and 2019, the Raiders will always be playoff contenders. Las Vegas won’t have to have suffered through the misery of watching the JaMarcus Russell-led Raiders. Nope. They’ll immediately have a Super Bowl contender, and that sucks for Oakland.
Having an allegiance to a sports team shouldn’t be this emotional.
Teams are composed of complete strangers who offer nothing of significance or value to our own lives.
They don’t pay our bills or provide us with shelter or sustenance. They only play a sport!
Despite that, we still feel a sense of belonging when we associate ourselves with them. There is something about them that speaks to us, the perfect microcosm of our tribal society.
When a team leaves, it takes a part of “us” with it.
But the teams have never cared about us, though we’ve always cared about them. It hurts when you finally realize that.