Today's well-dressed gang member can often be found wearing silver and black -- as in a Los Angeles Raiders hat, jacket and sweat shirt. It's one fashion statement, however, the club and NFL can do without.
To that end, the league is preparing an advertising and promotion campaign designed to distance itself from gangs. The focal point of the campaign, named "NFL Chill" at this point, will be a music video starring a well-known rap star that links the league with a strong anti-violence, anti-gang theme.
The Raiders, who are involved in various educational and civic projects, including a citywide anti-graffiti campaign, realized their apparel was a staple of gangs last season when they began getting calls and letters from fans.
"I got a lot of calls from parents, saying they bought their child a Raider hat and the school said they couldn't wear it because it's identified with gangs," Raiders executive assistant Al LoCasale said. "We share their concern. There was a need to find an answer to the problem that's not as simplistic as just taking the hat or jacket off."
It isn't just the Raiders. The league has noticed the same gang fashion trend with two other teams -- New Orleans and Atlanta -- that use now-fashionable black as their primary color.
"We look upon our material with a source of pride," said John Flood, executive vice president of NFL Properties, the league's merchandising arm. "Somehow, the whole thing has gotten twisted. These kids are using the merchandise in a way to project an image we think reflects poorly on the NFL.
"We want to get a message across to teen-agers in a genre they understand and can relate to. That message will be that it's not cool to be in gangs, to take drugs, to hurt people. Just wearing a certain jacket or color doesn't make you cool."
The league has yet to negotiate with any rap stars, but has a list that includes the current No. 1 rap star, M.C. Hammer, as well as funky rapper Tone Loc. The Hammer is a logical choice. His music has an upbeat, clean image and often features anti-drug and anti-violence messages. He is also a football fan -- he walked the sidelines at the Raiders-Cincinnati playoff game -- and has a sports background from his days as a batboy with the Oakland A's.
The league will make the video available to MTV and the numerous network and syndicated video shows now airing, and will also send the track out to radio stations nationwide. The video may be made available to schools and played at stadiums during NFL games.
Flood said a line of merchandise to go with the advertising campaign also is being considered. "We want kids to wear Raiders merchandise, but in the right spirit," he said, "for the good things the Raiders stand for. We want to get that message out to the kids."