Photo by Dave Adamson.
In the wake of the tragic and violent death of Black father and community member George Floyd in Minneapolis, protests around the country—including here in the Bay Area—have led to major changes in racial justice and police policy, including the defunding and restructuring of local police departments, investment in Black-owned businesses and more. But now, Bay Area racial justice is entering a whole new arena: football. A group of Oakland business people have proposed bringing a new, exclusively Black-owned football team into Oakland to replace the Raiders.
The proposal, sent by the African American Sports and Entertainment Committee, is the first step in a long process to bring the NFL’s first Black-owned team to the city. The NFL has acknowledged the proposal but not yet responded; it would require bringing a 33rd team into the league since at present no owners are interested in selling their team. The group, led by East Oakland native Ray Bobbitt, hopes to remodel the Coliseum for the team and offer community and educational programs as well as football.
Bobbitt said the proposal would be “something historic in a historic city that has been a host city for 47 years. To occur in a community where people have fought for civil justice and social change for so long.”
Not everyone in the sports industry is sure the team is a viable reality. Andy Dolich, a sports consultant who has worked for various sports franchises including the Oakland A’s, the Warriors and the 49ers, is supportive of the proposal, but he isn’t sure it’s possible.
“This is a monopoly game played with incredible politics and unbelievable patience,” he said. “I have always looked at the process of purchasing a professional sports franchise as climbing Mount Everest, backwards, with no oxygen.”
The NFL requires that one person put up 30 percent of the cost of the team—likely over a billion dollars. In addition, the Coliseum is currently owned and operated by the Oakland A’s and the City of Oakland, and Bobbitt and his colleagues would have to get them on board. The global pandemic doesn’t make things any easier.
“The two situations we are dealing with every day, our social circumstance and our medical circumstance, are not a day from solution … football is a game where bodily fluids are exchanged on every play, so I don’t know how that would work,” Bobbitt said.
But as complicated as bringing a Black-owned team to a city with a barely-functioning stadium would be, Dolich doesn’t deny its symbolic power.
“I do think it is excellent in the focus of the social debate that we are having in our country,” he said.
If the coalition gets the NFL’s approval for a 33rd team and finds a way to fund it, Dolitch thinks Oakland will come out strong for a new hometown franchise.
“It’s been hard for many of us who have spent time working for Oakland teams, and the millions of fans, coming to grips with the fact that two of our franchises are gone,” he said.
DC Livers, a Black sportswriter who has covered and consulted on racial equity in athletics throughout her career, is confident that the team is possible—and necessary.
“The concept of a Black-owned team is just long overdue,” she said. “I have been talking to a lot of athletes, and over the past years I have come to the conclusion that most Black athletes have outgrown the NBA and they’ve outgrown the NFL … they rely heavily on African-American talent, and it’s a broken model.”
Livers is confident a Black-owned team would treat Black players better.
“Why does the owner matter?” she asked. “It really, really matters, especially with the NFL, because the ownership controls the team. They don’t even really consider them men, they call them pieces. It’s frustrating, it’s set up almost as modern-day slavery.”
Young Black athletes can get trapped in contracts that give them very little autonomy, she said. As Colin Kaepernick so famously demonstrated, players are often punished in the NFL for speaking out, especially on race. NFL players are 70 percent Black, while league CEOs and presidents are 100 percent white.
Livers doesn’t think money is an object.
“The money can be gotten,” she said. “There’s enough Black millionaires, Black billionaires, where they can pool their money together and buy a team.”
The racism in the NFL institution, Livers explained, is a much bigger barrier.
“Owners are terrified that there could be any owners other than white owners, that people of color could invest in teams,” she said. “But the NFL should make available the opportunity for a Black-owned team, and Oakland would be a great place for it.”
With a long history of racial justice, from the Black Panthers to the Black Lives Matter movement, Oakland has long been a site for Black liberation.
“The messaging, the timing, the group—it’s all powerful,” Dolich said.
Whether the proposal moves forward or not—and if it does, it will be a marathon proposal of epic proportions—the concept is an important one.
“Africa will never need the world, but the world will always need Africa,” Livers said. “Even if nobody ever gives African Americans reparations, even if everyone just said ‘we’re gonna leave you alone,’ we would still come back stronger, because the talent is there. If the NFL says they won’t give them a license, that’s the worst thing that they can do right now. It would be worse than Kaepernick.”