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A commitment to Black excellence: How the Raiders altered history 

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The Las Vegas Raiders made history this year by becoming the first NFL team to have an all-Black front office. The group includes numerous Black executives, including Interim Head Coach Antonio Pierce, General Manager Champ Kelly and Team President Sandra Douglass Morgan.

“I don’t take it lightly,” Pierce said in an interview early November 2023. “There are not many people from my background, grew up from where I grew up, to be in front of this stage, to have this kind of responsibility.”  

All-Black leadership and steps toward a more diverse staff in the NFL are rare, with the NFL having no current Black principal owners, according to the organization’s official website. However, employing Black executives is not uncommon for the Raiders.   

Former Raiders team owner Al Davis was a pioneer in promoting diversity and inclusion in the NFL. During his tenure as owner, he made countless groundbreaking hires, breaking racial barriers and paving the avenues for future generations of Black coaches, executives and players.  

In 1963, Davis became the first NFL owner to draft a Black quarterback in the first round, drafting Eldridge Dickey from the historically Black college and university (HBCU) Tennessee State University. This move marked a paradigm shift in NFL history, as Black quarterbacks were primarily overlooked at the time. 

“Looking back now, that was a huge step for Al Davis. I could see he saw beyond complexion,” Dickey said in an interview – before his passing in 2000 – regarding Davis’ then unprecedented move in the draft. 

Davis also hired Art Shell as the Raiders’ head coach in 1989, making him the first Black head coach in the modern NFL era.

A sign that includes the Raiders shield and logo and their slogan, "A commitment to excellence."
An Oakland Raiders player runs during NFL football training camp in Napa, Calif., Friday, July 31, 2009. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma)

In a 2014 Bleacher Report interview, Shell recalled a recruitment phone call with Davis: “You understand the Raider way,” Davis reportedly said. “You’re a leader. You’re smart. You work hard. Everyone respects you, so you’re the perfect choice. Think about it.” 

Shell’s appointment was a watershed moment, breaking down a long-standing racial barrier and setting a precedent for other teams. 

Indianapolis native Chris Karimu, a lifelong Raiders fan and nephew of Hall of Fame Raiders cornerback Willie Brown, spoke on the impact of the Raiders’ commitment to diversity and equity in a league with few Black and minority stakeholders.  

“Diversity in the NFL is very important to me not just as a fan, but as a Black man,” Karimu said. “We have a league that is overwhelmingly African American, but at the same time, I can only think of three or four Black head coaches. That’s out of 32 teams! We see in Las Vegas what happens when you put a coach with the same cultural background as their players in the top position … They have created a culture that will attract talented players in the future. This is only the beginning.”

A photo of Raiders team president Sandra Douglass Morgan blowing kisses to those in attendance.
Las Vegas Raiders president Sandra Douglass Morgan before an NFL football game against the Los Angeles Chargers in Inglewood, Calif., Sunday, Sept. 11, 2022. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

Off the field, the Raiders have also continued to employ Black leaders: Senior Vice President and Chief Sales Officer of the Las Vegas Raiders Qiava Martinez, a Black woman, has been with the organization for more than 15 years; Government and Community Relations Personnel Piper Overstreet-White has been with the Raiders for over a year; Champ Kelly is currently the acting general manager of the Raiders; In 2022, the Raiders hired Sandra Douglass Morgan, becoming the first team to hire a Black female team president.

“To deliver wins off the field, there needs to be extraordinary talent leading to our institution and culture of collaboration and accountability at all levels,” Morgan said. “That starts with a world-class leadership team that is both committed to our mission and reflects our fan base and communities touched by our organization.”

The Raiders’ commitment to diversity and inclusion is further reflected by their community engagement efforts. The team’s philanthropic arm, the Raiders Foundation, has partnered with various organizations, such as Intermountain Healthcare, Valley High School, Canyon Springs High School and Southern Nevada State Veterans Home, to support educational initiatives, promote youth sports and empower underserved communities. 

Inside the Raiders’ locker room, the team slogan, “A commitment to excellence,” is visible to all who enter. The Raiders’ history and the current trajectory of the team’s leadership demonstrate a notable commitment to Black excellence.

A photo of interim head coach of the Las Vegas Raiders Antonio Pierce.
Las Vegas Raiders interim head coach Antonio Pierce during the first half of an NFL football game against the New York Giants, Sunday, Nov. 6, 2023, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

“Raider Nation is truly a nation because no matter where you are in the world, you are bound to see someone wearing the Raiders shield,” Karimu said. “That’s why the front office going through this change has made so many people happy. Raider Nation finally sees someone who looks like them, acts like them and loves the team like them. This is a new saga for the Raiders and the NFL as a whole.”

Contact multimedia staff writer Noral Parham III at (317)-762-7846 or via email at noralp@indyrecorder.com. Follow him on Twitter @3Noral. For more news courtesy of the Indianapolis Recorder, click here. You can also check out the Indiana Minority Business Magazine by clicking here.

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