Re-raided Oakland is no better off, and politicians should say so

June 28, 1995|By JOHN STEADMAN

Instead of the mayor of Oakland making a hearts-and-lowers speech about the return of an itinerant football team, which was politically predictable, he could have earned the ultimate of personal respect by simply saying:

"Stay where you are; don't come back."

All of America, except for Oakland, would have cheered.

Had that scenario evolved, an elected official in such a jurisdiction would have for the first time attempted to put professional sports in proper perspective.

Don't dare confuse a pro team with a business or an industry arriving in a city, although the promoters will try to tell you they are essential to the financial health and welfare of a community. Nonsense.

Forget it . . . unless you want to believe in fairy tales. Is Oakland going to be a better city now that the Raiders are moving there? And will Los Angeles be any worse off following desertion by the Rams and Raiders? No, a sports team doesn't deliver that kind of social or economic influence despite the propaganda that's propagated.

Sports is entertainment. Being included in a major league may make a city temporarily feel better about itself, but that's all psychological, a form of self-gratification.

A football team, playing a mere eight home games, hardly qualifies as a significant source of revenue. Pure boosterism is what it is; nothing else.

But when is a public official going to say no to the insatiable and intolerable demands placed on cities by the unscrupulous owners of sports franchises? Mayors should stand up to be counted, but they find it easier to take the popular route and say what others of their ilk have said in the past.

Al Davis walked out on Oakland 13 years ago and, when he tired of Los Angeles as a home for the Raiders, decided to become the first owner of a major-league team to retrace his steps and move back into his old house, otherwise known as the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum.

The NFL, most emphatically, is becoming a league of nomads. The Raiders left Oakland for Los Angeles; the Colts left Baltimore for Indianapolis; the Cardinals left St. Louis for Phoenix; the Rams left Los Angeles for St. Louis; and the Raiders are leaving Los Angeles for Oakland.

Franchises are caught in a revolving door. The Canadian Football League, making an honest struggle to get ahead and scorned by some, was never like this despite all of its problems in trying to remain solvent.

Incidentally, the Baltimore CFL team would like to call itself the Stallions -- a name copyrighted by the NFL but which was offered to owner Jim Speros as a gesture to keep him from trying to use the name Colts last year but which Speros ignored, bringing on a lawsuit.

The question also comes up about how much the San Francisco 49ers will receive for Oakland invading its territory. The 49ers were paid once, at the merger of the American Football League and National Football League. Can they expect to be indemnified again? Of course not.

The teams are separated by only 21 miles, but they play to different audiences. If the Raiders and 49ers co-exist in the same market then arguments that Baltimore and Washington are one-and-the-same also are defeated. This, of course, is an illusion Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke tries to invent and perpetuate.

Baltimore also paid a fee to the Redskins in 1950 and then completed the agreement when it returned to the NFL after a two-year absence.

Would Cooke be able to stop another team from coming to Baltimore? He would have the same opportunity as the 49ers in keeping the Raiders out of Oakland. No chance, it says here. So, from that aspect, the situation is clearly defined.

Commissioner Paul Tagliabue needs to hurry up whatever it is he can do to regain stability within the league. If not, the NFL will take a pounding in loss of credibility. The game of musical franchises has a way of demeaning the entire operation. At no time in its 75-year history has the NFL been in such a state of flux. Having Los Angeles devoid of football is a mark against the entire league.

This will bring up once again, long before the NFL planned, the subject of expansion. The Los Angeles situation must be addressed. It would be appropriate, at the same time, to deal with Baltimore for an expansion club.

Incidentally, a man with strong ownership ties to an NFL club believes Tagliabue will eventually put a franchise in Baltimore. Argue the point if you want, but that's what he said. The league has to take up the Los Angeles predicament, which means it's going ta have to enter another phase of the expansion process before it originally intended.

Circumstances, brought on by Davis' departure from Los

Angeles, are forcing Tagliabue's hand. Baltimore should be interested in expansion rather than trying to get a team to transfer from some other city because of the traumatic void it creates among a segment of the citizenry.

Baltimore, Oakland, St. Louis and now Los Angeles, not once but twice, can identify with that. They know the feeling.

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