Pro sports commissioners have the power to prevent owners from damaging their own teams and/or the sport itself. The best precedent is in baseball, starting with another renegade Oakland owner, Charlie Finley.
In 1976, Finley was in trouble. He had lost one A’s star, Catfish Hunter, because he had not fulfilled Hunter’s contract. When free agency was declared by a three-man arbitration panel as Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally challenged the reserve clause, Finley knew he could no longer compete. So, he sold Joe Rudi and Rollie Fingers to the Boston Red Sox and Vida Blue to the New York Yankees.
Baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn voided both deals, declaring they were not in the best interests of baseball. Finley and his attorney Neil Papiano filed a $10 million lawsuit against Kuhn and baseball, but they lost the case as a federal court judge in 1978 ruled that a commissioner had a right to take action to protect the best interests of his sport.
With that precedent, Major League Baseball twice suspended controversial Cincinnati Reds owner Marge Schott in the 1990s. Schott had been accused in a lawsuit brought by a former Reds marketing director as referring to black employees with a derogatory term, of having a swastika in her home and of saying that Adolf Hitler was good for the German people at the start of his reign. (Davis also expressed admiration for Hitler in a magazine piece a few years back.)
A more recent — and perhaps more relevant — example came last year, when New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, realizing he could no longer make the day-to-day decisions for the team, relinquished control to his two sons, with Hank Steinbrenner as the primary decision-maker.
Davis will not voluntarily relinquish power. Increasingly, his primary motive has been to maintain control, not to win. Employees know he doesn’t want to hear anything contradicting his own opinion. One told me that, when called into Davis’ office, he said, “Do you really want to know what I think, Al, or do you just want me to tell you what you want to hear?” Davis snarled at him, “Get out of here,” which answered that question.
Goodell should step in and put Davis’ son, Mark, in control, and then give him the name of a competent football man who could help him make decisions.
That’s a move that would certainly be supported by other owners, as Kuhn’s moves against Finley were supported by other baseball owners. NFL owners know that, though they’re competitive, they also have to work together for the common good. That’s a concept that has never been accepted by Davis, who testified for the USFL in its antitrust suit against theNFL.
It’s also a move that would be supported by most Raiders fans, who have realized that Davis’ actions, especially the latest, the attempt to force out Lane Kiffin, have become increasingly irrational. A recent blog featured a mock trial between the Raider Nation and Davis — with the Raider Nation winning.
So, the ball is in your court, commissioner. Step in and save the Raiders.