March 4, 2015


Opinion: An Angelino Struggles With the NFL's Return to L.A.

Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

No matter how hard we try to stabilize it, identity's a fluid thing. We're constantly re-contextualizing and being re-contextualized. And whether we like it or not, our environment shapes a big part of how we see ourselves. I’m a Los Angeles native; my city sometimes feels like everyone grew up everywhere but here. It’s the proverbial melting pot, full of transplants and migrants from every point on earth.

My parents were transplants, too. My mom came from a small town called Opelousas, Louisiana. Dad grew up on Manhattan's Upper West Side in the '50s and '60s before coming to L.A. to work in TV. He and mom set up shop for the next three decades, making a life and raising a pair of kids. In 2004, they bailed on the west coast and the curse of having to drive a car everywhere, relocating to America's new gentrification capital, Williamsburg, Brooklyn. I’m the only one in my family who’s never left my city.

When you grow up in L.A., you’re used to seeing people come and go, riding the endless carousel. Even our sports franchises are transplants. The Dodgers moved from Brooklyn in 1958, the Lakers from Minneapolis in 1960.

Before any of that, the Rams hopped over from Cleveland to play football in L.A. in 1946. In 1980 they slid down the I-5 to Anaheim. A couple years later, the Raiders moved from Oakland to L.A. Both teams ditched SoCal in 1994, with the Raiders heading back to Oakland and the Rams flying to St. Louis. Like musical chairs, but with NFL teams.

Now the Raiders and Rams are threatening to leave their current markets again. If they don’t get new deals for new stadiums, they’ll move to L.A. One possible outcome would include the Raiders and the San Diego Chargers, division rivals, moving to Carson to share one shiny new facility. The Rams would build their own stadium at Hollywood Park in Inglewood. Any of the projected moves requires a 75 percent approval from the league owners, so it's unlikely that all three teams will be allowed to move to L.A.

Like zillions of American kids, I grew up a sports fan almost entirely thanks to my dad. He spend his youth cheering for Joe Namath’s Jets and Mickey Mantle’s Yankees. After moving to L.A., he bypassed former allegiances in favor of the local squads—the Lakers, the Kings, the Dodgers, the Rams. After the Rams left for Orange County and the Raiders arrived in L.A., he started cheering for the silver and black. 

Los Angeles very quickly absorbed the Raiders into the fabric of the city, and vice versa. N.W.A.Ice CubeEazy EDr. Dre, and co.—wore Raiders gear in virtually all their photos and videos. Gangsta rap’s popularity was booming, so the entire city followed suit. The NHL's L.A. Kings adopted the silver and black color scheme. The Raiders and Los Angeles just clicked.

Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic
Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic

I was born in '85 and grew up a Raiders fan. I remember going to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in '93 with my dad to watch Jeff Hostetler absolutely dominate the Denver Broncos in the wildcard playoff game. I’ve forgotten a lot of details from my childhood, but I won’t ever forget that. 

The following year, the Raiders left for Oakland. It crushed me. The team had become such a giant part of the city’s identity, and they suddenly packed up and left without warning. I was only nine, and it felt pretty damned personal. I swore I’d never be a Raiders fan again.

Sports fandom can seem really f*cking stupid if you think about it. Sometimes a commitment to a team lasts longer than a commitment to a friend or partner. We obsess over what are essentially big business entities. "You're actually rooting for the clothes," goes the classic Seinfeld bit. "You are standing and cheering and yelling for your clothes to beat the clothes from another city." We pledge our undying devotion and dole out our disposable income. And what's in it for us? Dudes making millions of dollars trying to get the ball into the thing.

But it does go further than that. A lot further. We share these bonds not just with random local fans, but with our closest kin, our best buddies. The simple art of fanning out strengthens—sometimes builds—communities. I was hugging complete strangers when I got to see the Kings win the Stanley Cup last year. That kind of sh*t brings people together, even if for a brief moment.

Sports are a staple my dad and I have shared our entire lives. And despite his move to New York, dad still ties his horse to the L.A. stables. He and I have a sweeping cache of shared memories, of wins and losses, heartbreaks and triumphs. Sports is the crux of how we bond.

So we still have this L.A. sports love going, and we'd both rather see the Rams return to the city instead of the Raiders. After all, I did swear off the silver and black an eternity ago, and time has only strengthened the oath. A few days ago, my dad texted me about what an awful idea the Raiders/Chargers shared stadium idea is:

“The Rams in Inglewood is a much better plan."

Oh yeah?

“The idea of division rivals sharing a stadium sucks, plus you are now transplanting two teams and putting them in the same location, which is totally arbitrary."

I argued that the Lakers and Clippers, division rivals in the NBA, share a stadium. He texted back:

“Much different dynamic. Rams are an L.A. team. Much better for L.A.”

Why should he care? He's back to being a New Yorker after a 30-year hiatus. He's no Angelino, but he's still passionate about what's “better" for the city, and for the city's sports fans. Ultimately, it boils down to all those shared memories we’ve built together in this, er, arena. A few of 'em involve the Raiders, but most boil down to the agnostic common denominator of "L.A. teams." And the Rams are an L.A. team.

I suppose the Rams suggest something more stable, something more inherently L.A., than a Raiders-Chargers clusterf*ck in Carson. This town bled silver and black in the early '90s, but the Rams belong here. The Raiders made the city theirs once, especially with what essentially amounted to a cross-marketing partnership with N.W.A. The crew wore the Raiders colors almost exclusively, which helped popularize the team's merch locally and nationally. (Ice Cube also went on to direct Straight Outta L.A., an ESPN 30 for 30 film about the Raiders and the city.) 

We attach ourselves, our sense of identity, to location. Los Angeles is one huge identity crisis, constantly at odds with itself. Gentrification is rapidly reshaping old neighborhoods. Beach communities feel alien to anyone traveling from east of Western Ave. People come and go. Teams do, too. This city adopts fashion trends and bands almost as fast as it sheds them. L.A. can never decide if it's staying promiscuous or looking to settle down.

I'm no Rams fan, and I never was. But it feels right for them to come back to my city. The Raiders were just a blip on our radar. We're ready for the Rams.