If it seems like I’ve written this column before, it’s because I have — twice. When the St. Louis Rams moved to Los Angeles last year, I said it was a bad idea. When the San Diego Chargers also relocated to the City of Angels earlier this year, I said the same.
I’m going to write it a third time — and don’t worry, it’ll be different. It’ll be different because it’s one of my teams.
Earlier this week, the Oakland Raiders received the go-ahead to relocate to Las Vegas as soon as 2019, with all but one of the 32 NFL owners voting for the move.
And I’ll cut right to it: This is a decision based on money, greed and profit. A franchise moving from the blue-collar town of Oakland with not-the-best reputation to the glitz and glamour of Vegas reeks of a cash grab. If you walked into the room of the owners meeting in Phoenix on Monday, you might have smelled the distinct scent of dollar bills wafting through the air.
You know what else you could have sensed? The sound of the jaws of every Raiders fan — including me — dropping to the floor with the realization that their beloved team was deserting them for a city with the actual nickname of “Sin City.”
I don’t have one of those, “My first football game was a Raiders game when I was four years old and my room is decked out in silver and black” kind of stories. Growing up in the Bay Area, I probably have rooted more heavily and been willing to admit my support for the San Francisco 49ers more than the team across the bay. I have a 49ers sweater and beanie, but no Raiders apparel. I’ve been to more games at Candlestick Park and Levi’s Stadium than the Coliseum.
But that doesn’t mean I wasn’t hurt by the news. The Raiders are as integral a part of the Bay Area as Philz Coffee and the word “hella.” They are a recognizable trademark of where I grew up, and now they’re just packing their bags and leaving.
I feel for the fans, the loyal supporters, the season-ticket holders who have endured losing season after losing season for nothing. And boy, those were some dark days.
This is a franchise that — prior to making the playoffs last season — had missed the postseason each of the last 13 years. The highlight before that period was probably being robbed of a playoff win in 2001 by the Patriots and a young Tom Brady — who somehow still has a perfect life and is still frustratingly winning Super Bowls in 2017 — in the infamous Tuck Rule Game. That was my first tangible sports memory, and it was an awful one.
Oh, and they also drafted the biggest bust of all-time in JaMarcus Russell and made one of the worst coaching hires of all-time in Lane Kiffin, who USC fans know very well. The subhead on the Raiders’ Wikipedia page from 2004-2014 literally reads “Coaching carousel and mediocrity.”
And yet, despite the Raiders being bad for the majority of my youth, there was still something about them that garnered my respect, that made me root for them. Perhaps it was that they represented Oakland, a city where shootings and robberies regularly dominate the news cycle. For Oakland, the Raiders are more than just a football team, more than just a sports thing. They bring the community together, to unite and cheer for one common goal, not to mention invaluable assets such as the economic boon on Sundays or the inspiration the team can provide for kids to play sports instead of head to the streets.
But to think owner Mark Davis and his hilarious bowl cut care about any of the above would be naïve. He wanted more money than he could possibly spend, and he got it. He wanted a shiny new stadium in a metropolis, and he got it. And if it came at the expense of uprooting an organization that had been the hallmark of its community for decades on end, so be it.
So I hope he enjoys himself in Las Vegas, a city that committed $750 million of taxpayer money to fund the new stadium to be constructed by 2020. Vegas is in the midst of a water shortage with Lake Mead drying up, but yeah, go ahead and spend close to a billion dollars on a football stadium. Great idea.
I have no problem if the Raiders relocated because they had to, because they weren’t drawing enough fans or unable to support themselves financially. I do have a problem, though, when the franchise has a fiercely loyal fanbase, a true connection to the community and is a major player in the city of Oakland. I have a problem when the city they move to is Las Vegas, which neither deserves nor needs a sports team. I have a problem when 31 of 32 owners wittingly agree to rip away a franchise from its roots just so they can have a little extra cash in their pockets.
In the sports world, loyalty means nothing and money means everything. It happened to St. Louis with the Rams, to San Diego with the Chargers and now to Oakland with the Raiders.
Even within the Bay Area, the Golden State Warriors — whose arena is next door to the Raiders and also has a faithful East Bay fanbase — will move to San Francisco in 2019, a move also criticized by many as profit-driven. And in 2014, the San Francisco 49ers tore down Candlestick Park and trekked an hour south of The City to play in a stadium in heart of Silicon Valley, a place meant for tech companies and Teslas — not football stadiums and tailgates.
It is the clear favoritism of large markets over smaller ones, a middle finger to fans and greedy decisions based on profits over what is right for the community that teams have such a large impact on.
The awkward thing is, the Raiders will play at least two more seasons in Oakland before their stadium is ready in Las Vegas, which is like divorcing your wife but still living with her for two more years. Perhaps I’ll buy a ticket before they leave and check out the Silver and Black one final time. On second thought, I probably won’t — funneling money into the pockets of a disloyal owner is a bad idea.
Eric He is a sophomore studying print and digital journalism. He is also an associate managing editor of the Daily Trojan. His column, “Grinding Gears,” runs on Fridays.