On July 4, 1776 the Continental Congress adopted a resolution that declared their independence from a British Monarchy giving birth to a Republic of free states. While there have been other republics in the past perhaps none have gone so far as to state “All men are created equal” as a founding tenet of their democracy.
Though this country has come a long way, even today we have not yet reached those lofty ideals set forth 241 years ago.
Some 88 years ago, July 4 was marked by another birth — that of Al Davis.
Born in Brockton, Massachusetts but growing up in Brooklyn, Davis witnessed both the Yankees and Dodgers first hand. It was the power of the Yankees and speed of the Dodgers that would shape his view on how to build a team.
Davis took over as owner of the Raiders in 1972 and implemented his vision of getting the ‘biggest’ and ‘fastest’ players. He didn’t put a lot of stock in much outside of his players’ football playing abilities. Performance was all that mattered.
If you could play the position, you were on the roster. Al took this same view when hiring for front office jobs as well. If you were the best person for the job, it was yours.
Every offseason as coaches are hired and fired the “Rooney Rule” is enforced. The rule states that a minority candidate must be interviewed before a head coaching or front office role can be filled. Some believe the rule should bear Al Davis’s name because he hired the first minority head coach (Tom Flores) as well as the first black head coach in the modern era (Art Shell).
Davis did not set out to hire ‘the first black coach’. He simply hired Art Shell.
"I'm thinking about making a switch," Davis told Shell during a phone conversation before he was hired. "I'm thinking about making you head coach of the Raiders."
"You understand the Raider way," Davis continued. "You're a leader. You're smart. You work hard. Everyone respects you, so you're the perfect choice. Think about it and get some sleep."
Al Davis did not give a moment’s notice to anything other than the fact that Shell was “the perfect choice.” Likewise when he hired Tom Flores as Head Coach and Amy Trask as the CEO. He wasn’t hiring a “Latino” or a “woman” he hired the person he felt was the best at what they did. This is part of the legacy Al Davis leaves, even if he never intended for it to be. And it’s an important legacy.
My daughter was born a year after Al Davis passed away yet this legacy has had a profound impact on her life. She has grown up in a house full of Raiders paraphernalia though she never showed much interest in it. It wasn’t until during a game last season that she became a huge Raiders fan.
I invited her to come watch the game with me to which she informed me “I can’t because girls don’t watch football”. I told her about how Amy Trask used to be the CEO of the Raiders and that “Amy said girls can watch football or do anything else that they want to.” I showed her pictures of Mrs. Trask at the games and in front of “The Black Hole.”
She has watched every game since.
A week ago at the park, when an older boy told her “girls can’t play basketball”, she responded “girls can do anything they want.” It is astonishing the effect Davis hiring a woman to do a ‘man’s job’ can have on people he will never meet. While Mr. Davis will never know the full impact that he has had, I was fortunate enough to get to share it with Amy Trask in a very brief exchange on Twitter.
So, while you are celebrating the birth of our country this week, take a second to celebrate the life of a man who more often lived up to the ideals of its founding, even as sports, our government and our society still struggle to do so. A man who didn’t care about about a person’s past transgressions, race, or gender. A man who’s only interest was if that person could help him do the one thing he did care about....