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Raiders’ Al Davis went the extra yard for social justice

Editor’s note: This is part of an occasional series acquainting fans with the Raiders’ illustrious 60-year history as the team moves to Las Vegas for the 2020 season.

During Al Davis’ reign as Raiders coach, general manager and principal owner, “taking a knee” usually meant downing a football in the end zone and assuming possession on the 20-yard line.

It’s a different story today.

But when it came to social justice and providing opportunities for minorities, he was eons ahead of his time.

Here are just five examples:

1. Twice during the 1960s Davis refused to let the Raiders travel to Southern cities for exhibition and all-star games where the Raiders’ Black and white players were not permitted to stay in the same hotel. “So you understand?” Davis reportedly was asked when told of the segregation policy. “I understand,” he said. “(And) we’re not coming.”

2. Davis was first to draft a Black quarterback in the first round. Tennessee State’s Eldridge Dickey never played a down at quarterback for the Raiders; he was switched to wide receiver during training camp in 1968 (the Raiders had picked Ken Stabler in the second round that year). Still, as Dickey said before his death in 2000: “Looking back now, gosh, that was a huge step for Al Davis. I could see he was seeing beyond complexion.”

3. Tom Flores and Mike Ditka are the only men to win the Super Bowl as a player, assistant coach and head coach. Flores is the only Latino to do it, thanks mostly to Davis: “He always thought that 10 years was the max that you should be in the job,” Flores told the Palm Springs (California) Desert Sun in 2019. “Well, I finished nine.”

4. Davis hired the NFL’s first Black head coach in 1989. Art Shell coached the Raiders twice. After the second time, he and Davis had a falling out that was never resolved. But as Shell said after his former boss’ death in 2012: “I could not have gotten to where I got without him. He gave me an opportunity to be a player; he gave me an opportunity to be an assistant coach, head football coach, and to coach that football team twice.”

5. Davis also was first in the NFL to hire a female chief executive. “He wasn’t doing it for style points or political correctness points,” Amy Trask, Raiders’ CEO from 1997 to 2013, told the New York Times. “When rules were put in place about hiring, those of us who work for the Raiders would look at each other and smile. He hired the way we hope everybody would hire. He didn’t understand or care about the significance of what he was doing. He did it because it was the right thing to do.”

Contact Ron Kantowski at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352. Follow @ronkantowski on Twitter.

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