The Raiders Lift Us Up

'If you know that the good guys aren't so good, you're a Raiders fan. If you know you've been jacked and are waiting for revenge, you're a Raiders fan. If you know your boss isn't any better than you are, you're a Raiders fan," write Jim Miller and Kelly Mayhew in their new book, Better to Reign in Hell: Inside the Raiders Fan Empire. On Friday, September 9, Miller and Mayhew will be discussing their book at D.G. Wills Books in La Jolla. Miller, who was born in San Diego and grew up in Los Angeles, has always been a fan of the Raiders football team that began in Oakland, traveled to L.A., and returned to its home city. "During the [2003] season we immersed ourselves even more than we had been before," says Miller's wife and coauthor, Mayhew. "We had season tickets and we sat in the 'Black Hole,' the most notorious section in the Oakland Coliseum."

Mayhew, who was pregnant at the time of her research, remembers the close-knit group that shared the Black Hole. "The people who sat behind us would pat my growing belly. It was like a big family, which is kind of counter to the image of the Raiders fan."

In their book the duo writes, "Real or imagined, the Raider Nation is an affirmation of blue-collar toughness, rebellion, and solidarity during a time that valorizes the lifestyles of the rich and famous. In an era that craves order and safety, Raider Nation offers chaos and fun. In the face of the new Puritanism, 'Just say no,' and 'Watch what you say,' the Raider Nation says, 'Fuck you.'

The book continues, "As homeless Oakland resident Ben Ducksworth put it while collecting empty beer cans on East 12th Street, 'The Raiders lift us all up...I may be homeless and broke, but I'm a winner. That's because my blood runs silver and black.'"

"The Chargers are more a sort of suburban team in a lot of ways," says Miller. "I think when people think about the Raiders coming in, people feel like, 'Oh, it's a gang invasion of San Diego.'

"The most notorious example of violence was at a game in San Diego where a Raiders fan stabbed a Chargers fan. [The Raiders fan] is still in jail." Unable to reach the convicted man for comment, Miller and Mayhew interviewed one of his neighbors. "He was just this regular guy that lost it. It was a pathetic tale, really; there was no gang association with it. The fear of Raiders fans is the fear of the urban, fear of working class, fear of black and brown," says Miller, who is Caucasian.

What about the die-hard, war-painted individuals? "They are not representative fans," answers Miller. "The cameras love them because they're colorful, but we interviewed a number of people [with painted faces] who don't even have tickets; they just go to get their pictures taken in the parking lot. There's a minor industry made out of celebrity fans."

Aggressive fans, stresses Mayhew, are not limited to one team. "Whenever you wear an opposing team's colors on another turf, you are kind of holding yourself up to getting hazed," she says. "At a Chargers game last year a group of Chargers fans got arrested for beating up an opposing team's fan. It wasn't a Raiders game."

Mayhew writes one chapter about women as sports fans. "Women are a growing market and they make up a large percentage of football viewers." Mayhew attributes this growing trend to the fact that "more and more women have the same kinds of work and life pressures as men have traditionally had," and that watching sports offers the proper outlet.

"You get in the stands and you cheer your team on, you curse them out when they flub a play, you high-five the people in the stands next to you. There were a significant number of women in the Black Hole." The chapter Mayhew wrote is titled "Real Women Wear Black."

Miller and Mayhew took their newborn son to the last game of the year at the Oakland Coliseum. "It was pouring down rain in buckets and we were wearing ponchos because you can't bring an umbrella in," remembers Mayhew. "One of the guys who sits in front of us [swapped seats] so that we could sit under the overhang to protect our kid. We only see this guy at games, but he stood in the rain [for us]." -- Barbarella

Better to Reign in Hell: Inside the Raiders Fan Empire Discussion and book signing Friday, September 9 7 p.m. D.G. Wills Books 7461 Girard Avenue La Jolla Cost: Free Info: 858-456-1800 or www.dgwillsbooks.com

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