Was it not just two weeks ago when Raiders owner Mark Davis, surrounded by a face-painted badass named Dr. Death and a spiked-shoulder-padded beast named Maniac and other similarly costumed fans, vowed to keep the team in Oakland?
Was it not just two weeks ago when we all were sitting in the Paramount Theatre, including a man in a wheelchair and another fan whose wife was nine months’ pregnant with a child “named Davis,” listening intently as Son of Al insisted that he’s working every day to find an East Bay stadium solution? “It can be done in Oakland if everyone pulls together,” Davis told the 450 ralliers. “We’re trying to get something done.”
He was trying to get something done, all right.
With Bob Iger, the King of Hollywood, in Los Angeles.
Davis may as well call the moving vans now. Because once the acrid taste of disingenuousness enters the collective bloodstream of Northern California-based Raiders fans, they won’t believe another word he says about relocation. They didn’t realize Davis, in a scheme that his sneaky father would have tried, was aligning these last few weeks with the Disney mogul whose wide-ranging clout in show business, sports and media now adds substantial heft to Davis’ stadium project with the San Diego Chargers. Now, with at least one NFL owner (Carolina’s Jerry Richardson) already voicing public support for the proposed $1.7 billion stadium in the dusty freeway suburb of Carson, the momentum for another Silver and Black exodus from Oakland never has been more vigorous.
And, yes, that was Davis chirping after joining business hands with Iger, whose stature as chairman and CEO of the Walt Disney Company — owner of ESPN — allows him sizable influence with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and the team owners who could vote on the L.A. stadium issue as early as January.
“Adding someone the caliber of Bob Iger is a significant piece of the Los Angeles puzzle,” said Davis, per the Los Angeles Daily News. “The Raiders and Chargers are excited and thrilled to have him on board. L.A. is a big puzzle that we want to get right.
“The goal is to get it right in L.A. There is a lot to offer and connect into, and Bob Iger helps tap into those opportunities.”
Yep, that’s what Davis said: “The goal is to get it right in L.A.” Which sounds diametrically different from: “It can be done in Oakland if everyone pulls together. We’re trying to get something done.” Which one is it, Son of Al?
I think we know. I think we’ve known for a while, and if we didn’t, we should have that night at the Paramount when Davis heard a fan ripping L.A. and grew defensive. “We had a great 12 years there,” he said. “And part of the Raider Nation down there is some pretty damn good people.”
Bob Iger being one of them now.
This entire love triangle between Iger, Davis and Chargers owner Dean Spanos — waiting to be married in the church of Carson, down the street from the Ikea store and Sizzler — is kind of weird to begin with. Iger and wife Willow Bay are socialites, seen and pictured everywhere, the king and queen of the Hollywood prom. Davis drives a souped-up 1997 Dodge Caravan around the East Bay and likes to eat at the P.F. Chang’s bar, making him an outlier — I’m being polite — in NFL ownership circles. Spanos, part of the family that has owned the Chargers forever, is extremely popular among his league brethren. Clearly, Spanos invited Davis into his project to share costs, not because they have anything in common except a long, heated, on-field rivalry that will be forgotten with so much money at stake.
Before this week, Carson looked a bit dubious. Now, with Iger capable of gathering a consensus and moving dirt, it looks like a perfect escape destination for two California teams with horrible stadiums who will have significant fan bases within a drive of the new joint. The other L.A. contender, St. Louis Rams owner Stan Kroenke, will have difficulty gaining voting approval when St. Louis has a stadium plan and naming-rights sponsor in place and is home base to many cherished advertisers — think hops and barley — that the NFL doesn’t want to upset. Leaving Oakland and San Diego for L.A. would be a clean getaway. And they have Mr. Clean, Iger, to serve as escort.
Let me guess: The stadium will be called The Magic Kingdom.
Of course, it all reeks of betrayal on any number of levels. In Davis’ case, it’s understandable why someone who isn’t the most-heeled of NFL owners would want a new stadium deal in Southern California when the Oakland mayor, Libby Schaaf, won’t commit a cent of public money for a new Raiders stadium. But it’s appalling that Davis actually showed up at the Paramount, in what was the last gasp for the Black Hole, and pretended like he cared about Dr. Death, Maniac and the man in the wheelchair … when he knew the Iger courtship was happening all along. Davis would have been better off staying away. He wouldn’t look like a hypocrite today.
As for Iger, he’ll continue to run Disney — and, by extension, ESPN — while diving headfirst into bed with ownership groups of two NFL franchises. Ethically speaking — assuming ethics matter anymore — he has entered into a conflict of interest atop a media behemoth that has lost its identity and should end the pretense/folly that it’s trying to practice real journalism. As it is, there has been considerable evidence in recent years that ESPN will protect its business bedfellows in potentially damaging news scenarios — have you seen any breakthrough investigative work about a college football program, for instance, since the network began to own and operate the sport with a 12-year, $7.3 billion deal for the College Football Playoff? Iger, via ESPN president/fixer John Skipper, has no interest in anything but smooth relations with the NFL, NBA, Major League Baseball and the numerous college conferences with which it makes sick profits.
Oh, sure, ESPN will be all over the story when an athlete — an employee, a servant, a number — finds trouble. But when NFL owners Jim Irsay and Jimmy Haslam found serious trouble with the law, where were ESPN’s flock of investigative reporters, the mountains of commentaries assigned when athletes are in the news for the wrong reasons? If you haven’t noticed, that’s where ESPN draws the line on so-called sports journalism: Don’t touch the money men, the partners.
And now Iger is the direct partner of Davis, with a chance to cash in with a future ownership stake of the Raiders or Chargers. In a sentence that should have been edited out of the ESPN.com story but wasn’t — the editor wants to keep his job — the Carson appointment “won’t affect Iger’s job as chairman and CEO of Disney, and the contract between the two allows Iger to recuse himself in situations of conflict.”
Then recuse yourself, Bob.
For that is a lie, as is everything else we’ve been hearing lately. Dr. Death and Maniac hereby have my permission to gang-tackle these frauds, spikes high.
Jay Mariotti is sports director and lead sports columnist at the San Francisco Examiner. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his website at jaymariotti.com.