Editor’s Note: In the fall of 2013, journalist Anthony C. LoBaido was given season tickets to attend the Oakland Raiders NFL home games. This is his season-long summation of some of the most infamous and maverick fans of any sports franchise in America – or the world, for that matter. The notorious “Black Hole” and renegade atmosphere are preeminent features of the games, while more normalized, family oriented behavior is also to be found if one looks hard enough. For 2013, the team had a record of 4-12, but that’s just a number and numbers can’t begin to define the Raider experience.
OAKLAND – There was a woman falling from the upper deck at the O.co Coliseum. And so it should come as no surprise that considering the recent luck of the NFL Raiders, this woman, who was attempting to commit suicide, should have been caught by a kind, brave and even heroic fan waiting below. You know you're having a bad day when your suicide jump from the upper deck ends in "failure" because of some random Good Samaritan.
As I watched her tumble downward like a stunt dummy, or the parachuting gang of bank robbers in the film, "Point Break," my mind raced back in time to the earliest days of my youth, when Sunday afternoons were often dominated by the Raiders "silver and black." Indeed, the Oakland Raiders were a winning machine coached by John Madden and led by great players like Kenny Stabler, Ray Guy, Dave Casper, Jack Tatum, Jim Plunkett and many other stars. They were renegades who seemingly found a way to win, no matter what the obstacles were. The team was always in control, never got rattled and seemed to be at its best during the most crucial moments. They were the epitome of excellence. Led by owner Al Davis, their slogan was simply, "Just win, baby!"
'The Land of the Oaks'
There's something special about Oakland and its contrast to San Francisco. The area was first claimed by Spanish Conquistadors in the name of their king in 1772. Luis Maria Peralta and his sons set up the original farming ethos around the Oakland environs. When Spain handed off the area to Mexico, the Peralta lineage continued their intrepid development of Alameda County. When you hear the song, "Alameda Girl," by Lionel Ritchie, think of the Peralta family.
Now known more for Jack London Square and 250 days of sunshine on average each year, Oakland was in the very beginning, merely the land of the oak trees. The operational word in Spanish is "Encinal." Oakland was incorporated in 1852, just after the '49 gold rush. Whispers of the Donner Party can be heard in the eastern approaches to this part of Northern California. The city began the western portal of the transcontinental railroad (linking East and West, so as to heal the rift of North and South after the Civil War). The redwood and oak of Oakland was used to build San Francisco.
Contra Costa and other East Bay areas were solidified through the hiring of a private army of 200 men not unlike postmodern mercenaries forces such as Sandline International and Executive Outcomes. This private army, raised up after the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, acted as muscle for the formation of a small enclave on the Peralta Ranch. They were indeed heady times.
Horace Carpentier, who recruited and paid for the aforementioned private army, was elected as the first mayor of Oakland, proving once again that mercenaries – from the Hessian depicted in Washington Irving's classic, "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow," to the Rhodesian and South African soldiers depicted in the hit Hollywood film, "Blood Diamond," often write history. (Read WND's true story behind "Blood Diamond.")
After the horrible 1906 earthquake that destroyed San Francisco, many residents of that city moved to Oakland and this, along with the docks and shipping industry – not to mention World War II – made Oakland boom. This part of the nation did fairly well during the Great Depression as local bankers were less speculative and more conservative in the financial sense throughout the Roaring 1920s. One of the darkest hours for the city came during the 1918 outbreak of the Spanish Flu, which killed 1,400 of the city's residents in a cruel fashion.
By 1926, Dr. William Watts, a black doctor, implemented his own form of affirmative-action and opened the doors of a black hospital dedicated to care for African-Americans, whom other caregivers would otherwise have shunned. The new hospital also trained black nurses wishing to devote their lives to the service of the sick and needy.
It should be noted that Oakland did not feature Jim Crow laws, and blacks were free to live just about anywhere they wished. When the Japanese were sent off to live in camps during World War II, Oakland's black population increased from a very low 3 percent to the higher level we see today. By 1935, Amelia Earhart had become the first woman, and the first person for that matter, to fly from Hawaii to California when she safely landed in Oakland. Thus, the face of progressivism was unleashed, and the notion that the races can get along in harmony was given a boost, as one might see at times in a city like St. Louis, Mo. (See "The 21st century 'Spirit of St. Louis.'")
Oakland is best described as a blue-collar city. There are railroad tracks in the lower part of town, and one can readily hear the haunting yet pleasant – if not downright comforting – sounds of trains passing by through the odd hours of the night. San Francisco, on the other hand, is supposed to be more sophisticated – wine, cocktail parties, the de Young Museum and, of course, the newly reopened Bay Bridge built with steel imported from Mainland China. The weather in both cities is capricious at best, and the micro-climates around the Bay Area remind one of the constant atmospheric changes in states like Kansas and Missouri.
Change is something that Raiders fans have gotten used to in recent years, as the dynasty decades of winning have turned into a terrible mess of both losing and demoralization. Those old enough to remember will fondly recall the success of the Oakland Raiders of almost two generations past. Just how did they manage to win at a higher percentage rate than any other NFL team between 1963 and 1974? What was the secret of their success?
They did it through shrewd scouting. They found talent, evaluated talent and motivated talent. Young coaches like former New York Jets head coach Walt Michaels, an ex-All-Pro linebacker with the Cleveland Browns during the 1950s, cut their coaching teeth with the Oakland Raiders. The team nurtured black talent and Hispanic talent, including a player-turned-head-coach by the name of Tom Flores, who won a Super Bowl while roaming the sidelines and directing his coaching staff. Flores did a great deal for Hispanic players, coaches and fans through his many successes and calm, kind leadership. Raiders games are also broadcast in Spanish, as the team has engaged in a special marketing campaign aimed at Hispanic fans who have long loved the team. Hispanics, in the broad sense, tend to be socially conservative, family oriented, somewhat Catholic, Evangelical and religious and seek to foster strong and loyal ties. These traits fit well inside the big tent that is Raider Nation.
The grind-it-out, blue-collar nature of the city was once embodied in the way their beloved Raiders played on the gridiron. The team featured a plethora of talented, white running backs that seemingly grew on trees. For example, there was the shifty Pete Banaszak, who scored two touchdowns against the Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl XI. Mark van Eegen (who ran for more than 1,000 yards three seasons in a row and made the Pro Bowl in 1977) and Marv Hubbard also come to mind. (Both van Eegen and Hubbard attended Colgate University.) Van Eegen's daughter, Amber, became an NFL cheerleader with the New England Patriots. Why she eschewed the Oakland Raiders "Raiderette" squad (established in 1961) might have something to do with a recent article appearing in the New York Post, which stated the Raiderettes have filed a lawsuit against the team over wage issues.
The Oakland Raiders played in some of the greatest games in NFL history, and one of the most notable was a contest with the then-Baltimore Colts. The game was played on Christmas Eve of 1977. The game featured 76 minutes including overtime, 68 points, and no less than nine lead changes.
One of my favorite Raiders is the well-known African-American, Christian pastor Napoleon Kaufman. He is fourth all-time on the Raider's career rushing list. He also has the highest yards per carry ratio (4.9) of any Raider running back, ever. His radio ministry in the San Francisco Bay Area has been a source of light, truth and goodness for his listeners. Kaufman has always spoken with humility. After two years of tuning in, I still had no idea of who he had been as a football player – in college or the NFL. He also talked about former Denver Bronco quarterback Tim Tebow and how Tebow's broken ribs and collapsed lung in a playoff loss to New England a few years ago showed very strong character. Sometimes there is great honor to be found in defeat, and we can show our highest and best attributes while we endure suffering. One might call to mind the biblical story of Samson. Other preachers like Kaufman have unequivocally stated on air that our political leaders don't have the interests of ordinary Americans in mind when they meet behind closed doors.
At the games
It's been said (by this writer) that for those living in Northern California, if you don't like the beach, there's Yosemite. If you don't like the malls, try the redwoods. And if you don't like football, there's always the Raiders. Basically, an Oakland Raiders game is like the DMV with beer.
One of the more memorable games I attended this season was a heart-breaker against the Tennessee Titans – formerly known as the Houston Oilers. (This was the game when the woman jumped from the top deck.) That game began much like any other. While walking into the stadium, the men around me could not help but tap into the reptilian part of their brain as they collectively noticed the scantily clad women.
"Very impressive," said one admirer.
What was strange was how the women would cut and alter their tops to show off their cleavage just enough to make them enticing, as if they had it down to an exact science. You have to wonder what happened to modesty, but considering the siege of pornography in society, the thirst for modesty has been all but quenched. There was a sea of silver and black. You've never seen such devoted and passionate fans. The first thing I said when walking into my very first Raiders home game was, "How could have the late Al Davis have moved the team to Los Angeles?" Hence their nickname – "The Traders."
I've seen passionate fans before – South Africa's national rugby team, the St. Louis Cardinals Major League Baseball team and football games while a student and a lecturer at Texas A&M University. I even stood on the mound and pitched on the movie set of the "Field of Dreams" in Dyersville, Iowa, but I've never seen anything quite like Raider Nation.
There was certainly amazing pageantry. Before the Tennessee game, the United States Armed Forces were on hand to award the Medal of Honor to a brave soldier who had fought off the enemy in Afghanistan. Even former Raider and MLB great Bo Jackson was present to meet this incredible soldier, who goes by the name of Ty Michael Carter. As we listened to Carter's story about fighting off the Taliban against great odds, I couldn't help empathize with him. How alone he must have felt. How brave he was and is.
I didn't tell the people sitting around me that back in May of 2013, U.S. defense contractor Raytheon had offered me a position of senior training and development director working with the new National Armed Forces of Afghanistan. We couldn't agree on the money. I wanted $345,000 per year to put my life on the line. Carter put his life on the line for less than the minimum wage. This made me think of my father, who had been drafted to fight during the Korean War, my uncles who fought at D-Day, liberated Dachau, survived the Battle of the Bulge, Iwo Jima and helped build the Burma Road. They didn't do it only for our treasured national flag. They did it for their fellow soldiers as well as for future generations, whom they could not have imagined would go to Woodstock and turn into Paris Hilton, Lindsey Lohan and Justin Bieber.
People were chanting "USA!" even though both Iraq and Afghanistan have long since been lost, military suicides have climbed to more than 20 per day and egregious criminality from Abu Ghraib to Robert Bales have unraveled before our eyes. Yet it was good to see the American spirit was still alive, and it made me proud to be on hand, and proud to be an American. The giant American flag spread across the football field was almost awe inspiring. That said, one could not avoid the feeling that we were cheering for both an American mystique and an Oakland Raiders mystique that have evaporated like the morning fog, as the prestige, influence, financial might, morality, prosperity and standing of our nation steadily declines.
The bathrooms at the stadium were often really packed like sardine cans. It was like being in prison. There was solid human waste in the toilets, which would not flush. There was colorful language. "This sh-t is f---ed up," was not an uncommon expression. A white policeman and a black policewoman detained a man who was very drunk, and that man promptly threw up everywhere. The alcohol (beer and shots) and the tattoos were most prominent. There were lots of Latina gals who reminded me of the singers in the Jenn Cuneta "Come Rain Come Shine" video on YouTube. The man sitting directly in front of us during the game became so drunk that eventually he sat there with his hands in his face. His girlfriend took him home early. I felt so sorry for him. One minute he was hugging total strangers and handing out high fives, and the next minute he had completely crumbled, again showing that enough alcohol can, and does, bring out the very worst in every social situation.
There were, to be sure, normal people on hand. I met Tiffany, a cute little 2-year-old black girl who was eating nachos. She had seven white ribbons in her hair. Her parents told me they loved her so much and would not leave her behind with a babysitter. She offered me one of her cheesy nacho chips. Her parents debated the merits of the father feeding Tiffany chocolate chip cookies and tamales for breakfast. It's a "guy thing," we decided, as most fathers are prone to feed their daughters such foods when no one is looking.
There was a pretty Hispanic woman who looked like the actress Terry Hatcher, and she had a 5-year-old daughter who in turn looked exactly like her "Mini-Me." There was a burly Hispanic man, who looked like a motorcycle gang leader, carrying around a tiny little baby boy. He was very kind and friendly. It turned out he was a Hispanic studies teacher at a local junior college.
The Tennessee team was led by a unique quarterback named Ryan Fitzpatrick. He went to high school in a tiny town in Arizona, earned a full scholarship to Harvard and then became the first NFL quarterback from the prestigious institution. He played for, and was given up on, by the St. Louis Rams, Cincinnati Bengals and Buffalo Bills before earning a $59 million contract with Tennessee. On this day, Nov. 24, 2013, Fitzpatrick threw the winning touchdown pass with only a few seconds left in the game. He was incredibly cool under pressure and earned the respect of the hostile fans. The final score was 23-19. I don't think I will forget how calm Fitzpatrick was in the final minutes of the game while the whole stadium seemed as if it would explode. Not even the AC/DC music from the Australian hard-rock band distracted this young man. And that's another thing – if you like AC/DC, then you'll certainly love attending the Raiders games.
It should be noted that Fitzpatrick was not the only Rams quarterback unearthed from an unorthodox background. Kurt Warner once worked at a supermarket and lived off food stamps. Yet Warner, a born-again Christian, took the Rams to two Super Bowls, was MVP of the NFL and later took the Phoenix Cardinals of all teams to yet another Super Bowl. And who owned the Rams? Why none other than the late Georgia Frontiere (who died in 2008), after moving the team from Los Angeles to her native St. Louis. Take that, boys! Fitzpatrick was drafted by the Rams in 2005. In the history of pro football, no team owned by a woman has found even one such quarterbacking jewel, let alone two. Harvard and the supermarket – so much for the draft experts.
Kansas City and Denver
The Kansas City Chiefs game on Sunday, Dec. 15, 2013, was a total blowout, which wound up 56-31. One of the things that struck me most was how one of the fans from Kansas City, a black man who was no wimp, told me he didn't wear his Chiefs jersey to the game for fear of any animosity. There are plenty of slogans on the giant scoreboard calling for comradeship, but we've all read the stories about assaults and worse at stadiums in Los Angeles and San Francisco. People have become scary at a level not seen in previous generations.
As the Kansas City game devolved, the fans became very upset at all of the interceptions thrown by the Raiders quarterback, Matt McLoin. He walked on to Penn State (meaning he did not have a scholarship) and was undrafted by an NFL team. I told the people sitting around me that McLoin was a good example of what it takes to succeed in life. You have to keep getting up after being knocked down. Trash-talking with the people around you is one of the best things about attending the Raiders games. There is a good mix of white, Hispanic and African-Americans. It's not often that you can talk to so many people from so many different backgrounds at once. Many of those people brought along various ethnic foods, such as ribs from places like "Uncle Boy's" that taste "So good you wanna slap yo' mamma." (At least that's what the signs around the Bay Area say). The fans continued to grumble about McLoin. One man said, "He's still walking on …" Yet others cursed this poor kid with vicious profanity that would have made a Russian sailor on shore leave blush. Other fans simply fell asleep.
At one point of this blowout, a very nice older black woman, who was dressed like she had just come from her Sunday church service, turned around to me and said, "Young man, this sh-t's mother f---in' appalling." She had on her church hat and gloves. And she looked like someone's grandma. But you know what, it was appalling. The 56 points were the most the Raiders had ever given up in a single game in the storied history of the franchise.
The Denver Broncos-Raider home game was the last one of the season. This was Week 17 on the NFL schedule, and we were now well into the month of December. Many of the season-ticket holders showed up, along with other diehards. There was less drinking at this game, but still a brutal fight unfolded, and it took a great troop of police to break up. (The police were dressed like they were ready to invade Poland). We again sat with a nice family whose granddaughter, Tracey (not her real name), had been a Raiderette for the past several seasons. The family was very kind and polite. The granddaughter was blonde, pretty and had a close bond with both her mother and her grandmother. The three of them all had the same cute, turned-up nose.
There were assorted white trash-talkers at the Denver game, and when they showed up, the black church lady sitting in front of me said, "The Klan's here …" After too many beers they got increasingly vulgar. They weren't a part of the Klan, of course, but their lack of manners and grace made them stand out. There are always the "look-at-me" antics both on and off the field that have to be stomached by the decent. As we all know, Americans are often shallow and superficial. There's nothing inside, so they hide behind technology or music or people or events rather than explore ideas.
They do have ideas, to be sure, and Oakland residents will be sure to tell you about them at the O.com Coliseum or any other locations around town: how they evolved from apes, why you should kill your baby, why it's OK to experiment on the remaining flesh, why we should legalize drugs, why they don't need God, inner growth or a spiritual life, why we should keep printing up trillions of dollars in fake Monopoly money while Mainland China says such printing is a de facto "default" and the leader of Russia calls America a "parasite" on the global economy. People here feel strongly about such things.
Meanwhile, I was told by her grandfather that Tracey, the Raiderette, is working at a health club and can't find a decent guy. Is it because men have no interest in their own personal success, their culture, nation, religion, race and other pillars of human identity, while they instead project and assume the "success" of their favorite professional or college sports team as if it were their own?
A few fans wore Broncos jerseys, and some of the Raiders fans nearest to me gave them a hard time with many foul-mouthed sexual remarks that were unkind and inappropriate, if not shocking. The Broncos, led by super All-Pro quarterback Peyton Manning, cruised to an easy win. Manning only played the first half. Denver looked smooth and confident, while the Raiders seemed confused. To be kind, the Raiders in this game looked like a bad high-school team. The final score was 34-14, but it wasn't that close. The Broncos could have scored 70 points if they wanted to. The Raiders only scored late. Denver was vicious on defense and made "pancakes" of the players they tackled, meaning they flattened them into the ground.
One of the best things about the Denver game was seeing how Archie Manning's son, Peyton, was able to live out the father's legacy of greatness. Archie played for the New Orleans Saints in the 1970s. They had a very weak team, and although he was a great quarterback who was mobile and had a strong arm, he never achieved the greatness that was expected of him once he left college. However, his sons Eli and Peyton have won more than a few Super Bowls, and showed that Archie was not only a good quarterback, but that he could teach his sons the position as well. Generational blessings take time to unfold.
During these unsightly blowouts, those sitting around me began to openly wonder how hard it would be for the Raiders to find talented players if they really tried. For example, I told them, I have been a student at Arizona State, Baylor and Texas A&M. How hard would it have been to have found good players just from those three schools? Why do the Raiders always fail to draft the right players? Why don't they find castoffs like Ryan Fitzpatrick? The other fans seemed to agree. The Raiders used to be a home for renegades and reclamation projects reborn. And now?
The fans had been calling all season long for a more mobile quarterback to play instead of McCloin. When they did put in such a player (Terrell Pryor of Ohio State), the results were not very good. No one seems to have the answers – not the gurus in the front office or the pundits in the stands. This is troubling for such a great NFL franchise, which in the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, even into the early 2000s, seemed like a team you could bank on. What's gone wrong in recent years? What happened to that Raider magic of yesteryear? How could everything that was so good for so long turn so horribly upside down?
Things got so bad that the crowd actually cheered when it was announced over the PA system that one of the Raiders was voted to the Pro Bowl in Hawaii. Of course, it was a Raiders cheerleader named Tori, but beggars can't be choosers.
Some of the fans started saying things like, "The cheerleader? OK … will the guy who cleans the bathrooms be voted to the Pro Bowl? What about the undercover police or the hot dog vendor – will they go to the Pro Bowl, too?"
Still another said, "Who cares about the Pro Bowl? Usually the seventh alternates wind up playing. Teams have to sign free agents just to play in the Pro Bowl, and many of the players don't even start for their own teams." That was hyperbolic, but it sure was funny.
Some of my strongest memories of this past season included the introduction of the Raiders 30th anniversary Super Bowl win in 1983. Raiders quarterback Jim Plunkett was on hand. He's from San Jose, went to Stanford, was drafted by New England yet did poorly back East and finally found his calling with the Raiders.
My late mother, Viola, once told me both of Plunkett's parents were blind and he took care of them. The truth is, his father had progressive blindness and his mother was blind. Plunkett is the only Hispanic to ever have been taken with the very first pick of the first round of the NFL draft. Plunkett could have come out of school after his junior year at Stanford and gotten a large bonus that would have helped him care for his parents, but he wanted to be a role model for Hispanic youth. So he returned for his senior year and won the Rose Bowl in 1970. Not bad for a former gas station attendant who, like Kurt Warner, was also a grocery clerk. Of all the beautiful things in Northern California – the redwoods, sequoias, elephant seals, migrating whales and their calves, the wine country, Point Reyes and Yosemite, is there anything more beautiful that the life of Jim Plunkett, his success in college, failure at first as a pro, then his Super Bowl triumphs and, most of all, his care for not one but two blind parents?
It should come as no surprise that Plunkett was my mother's favorite NFL player (along with linebacker Stan Blinka of the New York Jets). Plunkett spoke to the crowd during halftime of the final game. During his talk, I went to the bathroom, where I saw a man wearing a "Plunkett" jersey who was busy throwing up in a garbage can. It seemed befitting. I thought of King Solomon's words about drunkenness: "It bites like a viper … I will seek it again … stay away from those who are heroes at mixing drinks … drunkards are headed for the world of the dead." What would the real Jim Plunkett have said to the man in the Raiders bathroom sporting his jersey, his number and his name? Would he tell him drunkenness will make you'll feel as if you've been beaten, and that you will utter perverse things?"
After Plunkett addressed the crowd, a plethora of silver and black balloons was released. I watched them fly off, like UFOs in reverse – inspiring wonder and joy. Some day in the future, that pretty Terry Hatcher woman will tell her daughter about Jim Plunkett, and how maybe she might go to Stanford if she studies very hard, and why it brings God glory when we care for our parents and treat them with honor, love and respect.
Examples were set by certain players who prayed before the games, such as Rod Streater of the Raiders, and several Denver Broncos, one of whom offered an Islamic prayer in the end zone before the game. (Did you know there's a "Muslims for Tebow" movement?) Streater is my favorite Raider. He was born in New Jersey, went to Temple and went undrafted by the NFL. The experts overlooked this young man, and in 2013 Streater showed them what he could do as he caught 60 passes for 888 yards and four touchdowns. His signing and success is encouraging.
Another memory that I can't seem to shake is that of all the security at the games. When I was walking in to the stadium for the final game of the season against Denver, one of the security guards told me, "Christians are dangerous." He was actually checking me for a knife.
He said, "We don't want you stabbing anybody." You know, as if …
I said reflexively, "I'm just a boring, Christian guy." I mean, I used to work at a grocery store when I was a teenager. I used to work at a gas station, too. Just like Jim Plunkett.
The security guard then said, "We all know Christians are dangerous, too." (Like Kurt Warner?) Then he laughed loudly and in such a strange way for a long time. He was an African-American man, just an ordinary person, but it was the way that he said it that troubled me. I've heard rich, successful white people in the San Francisco Bay Area say, "Christians should be put in camps," but his is meant as a joke for the Evangelicals (like myself) who offered support for George Bush Jr's. two terms in office. You can hardly blame these critics after the lost wars, Wall Street meltdown and even acts of God like Hurricane Katrina that were pinned on our poor ex-president. But this security guard was really serious, and for a moment I felt like I was back in Cuba or even in North Korea. It was really a wake-up call, a seminal moment and a crossing of the Rubicon for me.
During the blowouts, I would wander around the stadium, visit the "Black Hole," which was filled with the most outrageous characters and take photos. I couldn't help but think of that Mel Gibson film, "The Road Warrior," and wonder how close – or how far, for that matter – that we are to driving around the Outback in Australia in a dune buggy after an atomic war rips apart Western civilization. There was something about the crowd that chilled me at times, like I was back in Ancient Rome. Indeed, while driving to and from the stadium in Oakland through "The Flatlands," you couldn't help but think of the townships in South Africa. I wondered how Oakland, like St. Louis, might hold up, let's say, after the next great earthquake. On that note, take a look at how at the Raiders Games there are signs posted around the stadium telling the fans exactly how to text and report bad behavior:
Other images were equally haunting and gave me great pause: the solitary "Jesus Saves" man holding up a sign as we entered the long walkway leading to the stadium. The homeless man down on his luck. Then there's the triangulation of violence, sex and alcohol, with a touch of military recruitment and nostalgia mixed in. Of the latter, in centuries past the whole idea of nostalgia was punishable with summary execution in certain European armies. The notion being, it was not in the interest of morale to claim the past was better than the present. Can we be blamed for looking back at the Raiders, and at our nation, with a hint of nostalgia?
For right or wrong, this is our world. It is a world obsessed with popularity, trading up, sex, threesomes, open marriage, MMA, WWF, NFL, NSA, TSA, social media, alcohol, shopping for "things," makeup, TV, movies, a Christ-less Christmas, multiculturalism, a crusade against innocence and purity, abortion, eugenics, fetal tissue research, evolution, condoms, alternative lifestyles, lesbianism, gossip, legal drugs, illegal drugs, steroids, suicide, nonstop drama, crisis and catastrophe (personal, family, friends and as a nation), illegal aliens, often worthless education and "degrees," Joel Osteen, plastic surgery, psychology, psychiatry, pharmacology, political correctness, shallowness, bimbos, Hooters, McDonald's, Halloween, the New Age, Harry Potter, the occult, dieting, pornography, guns, wars, high technology, Wal-Mart, Wall Street, paper fiat money, casinos, Lotto, Powerball, "being No. 1," tattoos, trendiness and notions of precious "self-esteem." This is what's considered "normal." These things effect all of us – as the rain falls on the just and the unjust. And while these things may divide us, the NFL often unites us, if for a short time.
And these things mentioned above are the dominant themes in Oakland, St. Louis, New York, New Orleans and even Wichita. From the Bible Belt to Washington, D.C., we are the nation of the "self-involved," because the death of community and the rise of the Internet both ensure and allow the "self" to be preeminent. If you tell people they evolved from apes, then chances are they'll behave like apes – even in "sophisticated" Northern California.
Along those lines, we hear from celebrities like Alec Baldwin about the superiority of the coasts, and how "fly over" and "Red State" America should be eschewed. But having lived on both coasts (New York, San Francisco, Florida), and in the heart of the Bible-Belt (Wichita, St. Louis, Mississippi), I can't say the people on the coasts are smarter and better, or that the people in the Bible Belt are more righteous. As goes California, so goes the nation. And that's very true. In the end, how many of us can be like Jim Plunkett in even the most remote way? Yet wouldn't it be better to be famous for being a son or daughter who brought their parents joy and pride, rather than disgrace, shame, vulgar words and disrespect?
Raider fan Terry Doolittle, an African-American supermarket cashier who was named after the Whoopi Goldberg Good Samaritan character in the 1987 film, "Jumpin' Jack Flash," said the collapse of America's leading institutions – from the leader of the CIA conquering his female biographer rather than foreign armies to the Secret Service running wild in Colombia with prostitutes to issues arising in the Catholic Church – were "God's way of letting us know He's all we have left." Maybe that's true, as many black people seem to have a certain type of quiet, understated wisdom from God and the Bible that you can't find at Stanford or Cal-Berkeley. What I do know for sure is that every time I returned home from a Raiders game, I immediately cleaned my bathroom from top to bottom, starting with the toilet. I'll never forget those bathrooms at O.co as long as I live. They were that disgusting.
(Did you know former New York Jets owner Leon Hess of the Hess Oil fortune moved the Jets out of Shea Stadium because they would not raise their cleanliness level to that of his own gas stations?)
Perhaps some will say that these thoughts deserve additional introspection. How does the NFL, with its violence, showmanship, antics, drinking and criminality, reflect postmodern America, if at all? There were the shootings at Sandy Hook in Connecticut and the storm we came to know as "Sandy." Is our society, and our world, coming apart? Yet while we may indeed live in a society where is seems that nothing is sacred, we can at least hold onto the fact that for many Americans, football is still sacred. That, in and of itself, offers at least a modicum of comfort.
Distractions like the NFL will have to be enough to keep us from slipping into the "Black Hole," as we live in a world where China has launched a new fleet of stealthy submarines loaded with intercontinental ballistic missiles bought and paid for at Wal-Mart, and a constant flood of immensely powerful gamma ray bursts threaten life on Earth.
Yet for now we can only think of that poor woman who jumped from the upper deck at the end of the Tennessee Titans game and wonder if we, as Raider Nation and as Americans, have also taken a great national and social leap – only this time without an angel or Good Samaritan awaiting down in the abyss to catch us.
Anthony C. LoBaido is a journalist and teacher who has lectured at Baylor, Texas A&M and the University of California at Berkeley. He has published 349 articles from 48 nations for WND.