Oakland: The City That Can’t Stop Hurting

This is the city that can’t stop hurting. The city that can’t stop weeping.

Once, Oakland was known as the home of the Raiders, the Athletics, the Golden State Warriors. Once the questions were about Al Davis’ disconnect or Billy Beane’s “Moneylessball.’’

Now they’re about death, about the killing of four policemen by a parolee who should never have been let free. Now the area which proudly labeled itself “City of Champions,’’ is a chump, an embarrassment.

This is my city, Oakland, where I live, where I’ve worked, where I’ve watched the sporting heroes come and go, where I saw Reggie Jackson and Jim Plunkett and Rick Barry lead franchises to titles.

This is where Catfish Hunter pitched a perfect game, Art Shell, Gene Upshaw and Bob Brown blocked their way to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Sleepy Floyd scored a record 29 points in the fourth quarter, 51 overall, in the NBA playoffs against the Lakers.

This is the town to which sports gave an identity, the town that no longer needed a postscript to note it was across the Bay from San Francisco.

Now it’s the town that has lost its way and its soul, a town infamous for a crime instead of famous for any team.

So shocking. So disturbing. So jarring.

Here we were wondering if the A’s would have pitching, or if the San Francisco Giants would have any hitting. Whether JeMarcus Russell would take his role as Raiders quarterback seriously enough to stay in shape. Whether Warriors management was interested in anything except the large crowds, which persistently supported a perennially losing team.

The city turned out en masse for the funeral Friday. Law enforcement officers from throughout the land came to services held at Oracle Arena, where the Warriors play. What a strange linkage, a reflection of grief in a building designed for enjoyment.

You may have read: two of the murdered policemen spent time assisting the local teams at Oracle or the McAfee Coliseum next door. They were known by the athletes, appreciated by management. By all counts they were good guys.

By all counts Oakland is a good city. Or was. Now its already tarnished reputation is stained even more. Now rather than debate whether Al Davis ought to sell the Raiders – he won’t – or if Lew Wolff’s intent in buying the A’s was to move them to San Jose, people will talk about lawlessness and pain. Talk of terror rather than elation. Of residents saying they no longer can tolerate living here.

Cities struggle to get on the front pages. But not this way. They want tourists, new businesses, and satisfied citizens. They want teams that bring spectators to the arenas or stadiums. Not situations that bring disgrace.

It’s going to be a difficult road back. This isn’t like a few toughs throwing flashlight batteries at a leftfielder at the Coliseum, or members of the Black Hole harassing a spectator at a Raiders game. This is virtually beyond comprehension, but it is all too real.

Plaques in the so-called Court of Champions, the concourse between Oracle and the Coliseum, call attention to winners, the A’s World Series titles, the Raiders Super Bowl victories, the Warriors 1975 NBA crown. In another part of town, the names of the four slain policemen already have been etched onto a granite wall. Who dared imagine we would be compelled to remember this tragedy the way we do the triumphs.

Oakland is forever tainted. There is no escape. Journalists do not forget, even when writing about sports. Oakland, a story about the A’s will remind us, is the city where four policemen were shot and killed. It’s unavoidable. It’s understandable.

The A’s, Warriors and Raiders sent their condolences, showed their support. The teams that shared in the elation of better times properly shared in the sadness of this terrible time.

Oakland, on the landfall the Spanish settlers originally called the Contra Costa, or the other shore, the one on the east side of the water, has suffered in comparison to San Francisco.

In one of the most misunderstood of observations, Gertrude Stein, returning to her razed childhood home in Oakland, said, “There is no there, there.’’ The line became a mantra. Kicked around, razzed, chided, Oakland battled image and the derision to gain its sense of self through sports. To those who never knew where the city was located, the success of its teams figuratively put Oakland on the map.

It’s still there, under an ocean of teardrops.

As a reporter since 1960, Art Spander is a recipient of the Dick McCann Memorial Award -- given for his long and distinguished career covering professional football -- and a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He's also honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award by the PGA of America. His columns appear in RealClearSports on Wednesdays and Fridays.

Author Archive