The Oakland Raiders are arguably the most iconic franchise in the NFL, filled with a rich history of breaking barriers, setting trends, accomplishing firsts, innovating the game and pushing boundaries.
Since the beginning, the Oakland Raiders have been a team that have not only challenged the status quo, but have changed it. They have long dared to be different, and being different is what transcended the franchise above all others. Raising the bar and going where no other team has gone is what makes the Raiders, the Raiders.
When Al Davis took over as Head Coach in 1963, he would soon set the team on a path that would change not only the course of the Raiders, but it would also change the course of football. Davis cared about one thing above all else – Just Win, Baby. And to accomplish this, he would do what other teams would not.
With other NFL teams following suit of the traditions established in the early days of football, Davis – who quickly elevated himself to General Manager and part Owner – turned his attention to where the crowd was not. Davis began drafting players from historically black colleges instead of the traditional powerhouses of the time.
From Art Shell to Willie Brown, Eldridge Dickey and many more, the Raiders were at the forefront of the Civil Rights movement as it pertained to football. From here, the Raiders would continue this tradition in other facets of equality, breaking barriers along the way.
Jim Plunkett was the first minority quarterback to win a Super Bowl, and the only latino to win Super Bowl MVP. Tom Flores became the first minority head coach to win a Super Bowl, and Art Shell was the first African-American head coach in league history. And then there was Amy Trask, the first female CEO in NFL history.
Each of these individuals made history in the NFL, and they all did it in Silver and Black.
With the game as advanced as it now, there hasn’t been much by way of breaking barriers in modern day football. But Colin Kaepernick’s protest during the National Anthem has sparked another opportunity, and the Raiders once again have a chance to do what they’ve always done – lead the charge.
Bruce Irvin and Malcolm Smith raised their fists during the anthem shortly following Kaepernick becoming a ‘round the clock story but not much else happened after that. Not until the first preseason game with Marshawn Lynch on the sideline.
In his first game suited up in Silver and Black, Lynch remained seated on the bench while the anthem played, joining in Kaepernick ‘s message for racial equality in the United States. This method of protest has become divisive and the message has become lost among the masses, but that didn’t stop Lynch from participating.
Following the game, Jack Del Rio explained to the media that Lynch told him he hadn’t stood for the anthem in 11 years, somehow escaping media attention all the while.
Lynch spoke to the media but when asked about the anthem, he instead gave a completely off-kilter response that had nothing to do with the question – which anthem protest or not is standard for a Marshawn Lynch press conference. But the thing is, Lynch doesn’t have to explain why he decided to sit for the anthem.
At the end of the day, there is a very simple question that needs to be answered for those who have criticized Kaepernick, and those who have now criticized Lynch – if equality for all is their goal, why is that such a bad thing? Why can’t everyone be treated with the same respect, and why can’t everyone be afforded the same opportunities?
Yes, Lynch and Kaepernick have been blessed to make millions playing a game they love, but their protest isn’t about them as individuals. It’s about affecting change for the greater good.
Since news of Lynch’s protest broke, many have called for the Raiders to immediately cut ties with him. Despite being the best selling jersey in the NFL and arguably the most popular player on the team without even playing a game yet, the status quo was now flipped.
One week after Lynch’s protest, two other players entered the mix. Not to the same extent that Lynch had, but they also joined in on the message. The two players were Derek Carr and Khalil Mack.
Like Chris Long did with Malcolm Jenkins during the National Anthem, Carr followed suit with Mack. He placed his hand on Mack’s shoulder while the anthem played, and as he explained after the game, the message was clear – equality for all.
Carr was asked specifically if this was a protest of the anthem:
Carr was honest and eloquent in his explanation, finding a perfect balance of respect for the flag and what it represents while also acknowledging current events and social issues that are larger than the game of football
So will those same people calling for Kaepernick to remain unemployed and for Lynch to be cut do the same for Derek Carr? How about for Khalil Mack? For many, there is a stigma that the quality of the player in the sport affects who should or should not speak out – which is patently absurd, by the way.
With superstars of this magnitude taking an outward step, what happens next will speak volumes about the current state of society. What exactly that is remains to be seen.
For starters, how will Lynch, Carr, and Mack be perceived in the media in the coming weeks? How will fans react? What other players – on the Raiders or across the NFL – will join in now that these three have the spotlight on them?
In 2017, just like in (art shell year), (tom flores year), the spotlight is once again on the Raiders. Even all these years later, the fight remains the same. And all these years later, the Raiders are again on the frontline.
As Al Davis would often say, it’s a great day to be a Raider.