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A Commitment to Black Excellence

By Levi Edwards | Digital Team Reporter

"A man who stands for nothing will fall for anything."

Those words, emphatically stated by visionary and civil rights activist Malcolm X in 1963, are figuratively tattooed on my heart. I wear black-rimmed brow line glasses in his honor.

And while it's a quote that's near and dear to many, including myself, it's easy in today's society to fall instead of stand, to conform instead of evolve.

Many would maintain that the quality of life is better for African Americans than it was when Malcolm X said those words. But I can personally attest that there's much that could – and should – be better for all people of color.

The Raiders organization historically has been on the right side of Black history. Or, one could say, history in general.

I say "history in general" because I'm a firm believer Black history can't be confined to just one month of the year for the sake of commercialism, hashtags and a mere 28 days of factoids. Black history should be seen as American history — and the Raiders' culture and tradition of prioritizing diversity and social justice within the NFL should be prided just as much as anything the football team has accomplished on the field.

The year 1963 was critical in U.S. history. The assassination of President John F. Kennedy and the dream Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. proclaimed during the March on Washington punctuated an extremely intense year, as Jim Crow laws were pervasive in the South.

In August of that year, the Oakland Raiders were scheduled to play a preseason game against the New York Jets at Ladd Peebles Stadium in Mobile, Alabama – the long-standing location of the Senior Bowl.

Mobile – 260 miles south of my hometown of Birmingham – was steeped in segregation. Despite their status as world-class professional athletes, the Oakland Raiders' African American players were mandated to sleep and eat at lower-quality establishments than their white teammates – and then play in front of thousands of fans separated solely because of the pigmentation of their skin.

That didn't sit right with them.

Running back Clem Daniels, wide receivers Art Powell and Bo Roberson, and defensive back Fred Williamson initially protested the game and were soon joined by teammates tackle Proverb Jacobs and halfback Eugene White.

"The situation down there is pretty tight now, and we do not intend to play football in an area where a Negro can't eat or sleep in a place of his own choosing," Williamson told the San Francisco Examiner prior to the game.

The game was eventually relocated back to Oakland with Raiders Head Coach and General Manager Al Davis backing his African American players' protest. Davis, even in 1963, knew where to stand – with his players, fighting to compete on a level playing field.

"That's how Davis was," Tom Flores told Flores— who would go on to be named Raiders' head coach by Davis and become the first minority head coach to win a Super Bowl—was the starting quarterback of the Raiders at the time. "He seemed to look right through it — it didn't matter what color you were or what kind of shoes you wore or how long you wore your hair. As long as you worked within the rules of the Raiders, worked hard, played hard, you were good with him."

Less than two years later, Daniels and Powell found themselves in another situation where they had to make a stand. After being named AFL All-Stars, the game was scheduled to be played at Tulane Stadium in New Orleans, Louisiana, on January 16, 1965.

Upon arrival in New Orleans, Daniels and other Black AFL All-Stars were treated as second class citizens. The lack of service the Black All-Stars encountered ranged from being denied cab service from the airport, being called racial disparaging terms by patrons in their hotel elevators and being denied access to certain restaurants and nightclubs in the French Quarter.

The Black AFL All-Stars conjoined in Room 990 of the Roosevelt Hotel to seek a resolution. San Diego Chargers tackle Ron Mix noticed that none of his African American teammates were at that day's practice for the game, and sought them out to join their meeting as an ally.

"I said, 'What about staying here and calling national attention to this?'" said Mix, a fellow 1965 AFL All-Star and a former Raider. "It was interesting. Clem Daniels spoke up and said, 'Ron, it's not like America isn't aware of what's going on.'"

Daniels then told his fellow AFL All-Stars that for him, the choice was simple.

"I don't know what y'all going to do," Daniels said. "But I'm going home."

Daniels, Powell, Mix and others including Raiders defensive back Dave Grayson walked out, and took the AFL All-Star game with them. It was relocated to Houston, Texas where Daniels and the Western division defeated the Eastern division 38-14.

"Al Davis didn't give a damn if I was Black."

1989 – the number, another summer.

Coming off a Pro Football Hall of Fame induction, Art Shell was selected as the Los Angeles Raiders' new head coach. Shell, after playing under Davis and the Raiders for 15 seasons, received the promotion of a lifetime, moving from the team's offensive line coach to head coach and becoming the first African American head coach in the modern era of the NFL.

It was a decision Davis made not for the allure or headlines of making a groundbreaking diversity hire; he was hiring the most qualified candidate.

"Al Davis didn't give a damn if I was Black," Shell said. "He said, 'I'm not hiring you because you're Black, I'm hiring you because you're a Raider. And I know you, and I know what you're capable of doing.'

"That's why he hired me. Not because I was Black; I just happened to be Black."

Shell made the most of his opportunity, tallying three postseason appearances and earning the 1990 NFL Coach of the Year award. His hiring paved the way for more Black coaches to lead teams — including Super Bowl champions Tony Dungy and Mike Tomlin.

I can fully understand Art Shell's and Clem Daniels' determination to stand up and succeed, not just for African Americans, but for humankind. My Alabama-born parents raised me from an early age to never let racial boundaries and invisible glass ceilings dictate my future. I had to always strive to be the best out of all my peers, without race ever being considered an asterisk.

As a young Black journalist – in a country that needs more young Black journalists – I'm happy to have an opportunity to report and editorialize for an organization that won't fall for anything.

The Raiders embody a standard that myself and many try to uphold: A Commitment to Excellence.

And the beautiful thing is that anyone on God's green earth has the ability within themselves to be excellent. It isn't something limited to a group of people because of their race or socioeconomic background. If one can reach excellence within his or her craft, society can attempt to dispute it – but it becomes virtually impossible to deny it.

Excellence has no boundaries; excellence has no barriers.

Excellence doesn't discriminate.

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