Funk Season 2011: Violence at Niner vs. Raider game mirrors mayhem on Bay streets

by Kevin Weston

Oakland – The Battle of the Bay, the annual pre-season game between the Raiders and the Forty Niners, is something most football fans look forward to every summer. It just so happens that this year’s game took place in one of the worst Funk Seasons in recent memory.

Funk Season is the slang moniker for the Bay’s summer months when the weather gets (relatively) warm and the streets get hot. This year, Oakland and Richmond especially have seen acts of senseless violence impacting innocent babies, bystanders and pregnant women. The murder rate in both East Bay towns has spiked in 2011.

The Bay is on one right now.

So when fans of the NFL crosstown rivals met on the field last weekend, the violence in the stands and the parking lot of Candlestick Park eclipsed the violence on the gridiron – and it was no surprise.

The surprise was in the absence of mass violence at the typical places this kind of funk would be expected. On the same weekend as the Raider-Niner match-up, local radio station 106.1 KMEL threw its annual Summer Jam at Oracle Arena in Oakland. Big “urban-hip hop” concerts in Oakland, and specifically at the arena, have been cursed by violence since RUN-DMC headlined Fresh Fest in ‘85.

Oakland also played host that weekend to the annual Art and Soul Music Festival, which saw tens of thousands gather peacefully to party in the same downtown that was boarded up months before in anticipation of the Mehserle verdict – the controversial case involving a white transit officer killing unarmed African American Oscar Grant. Art and Soul has struggled with violence in the past.

At neither of these events, which drew crowds of young people, was there a significant violent incident.

It’s as if the old false construct, “hip hop brings violence,” has given way to “sports brings violence.” Reference the recent dustup on the basketball court between a Chinese Army club team and the Georgetown Hoyas.

Niners vs. Raiders games are always larger than life, bigger than football and filled with pain, ambiguity and fierce – bordering on fanatical – fan loyalty.

I have family I can’t talk to about football because they are Niners fans – and who needs that at a Thanksgiving dinner table.

A conversation about the rivalry between a diehard East Bay Pirate (Raiders) fan and someone that bleeds Niners’ red and gold can quickly go from football to below the belt – almost personal attacks on the cities themselves and the people in them. That’s true for families and even more so between complete strangers.

The Bay Area’s football rivalry can be traced to the long stretch of futility the Niners went through in the ‘70s, while the Raiders were competing for championships. Bill Walsh, Joe Montana and the West Coast offense put San Francisco on the football map at the same time the Raiders blew town for LA in ‘82.

Many Raider fans switched jerseys at the time and went to the other side of the water, so there is a percentage of Niner fans out there who I consider turncoats.

I remember how empty the town felt when we realized the Raiders, the symbol – along with the Black Panthers – of a distinctly Oakland movement in culture, had suddenly vanished. During playoff years, preachers would have to end services early so praising Jesus wouldn’t compete with the 1:00 p.m. Houston game. We are that serious about the Raiders.

The 2011 Bay battle took on all the negative psychic energy of the communities that those fans represented at Candlestick that Saturday afternoon.

The Raiders are known for their blue collar, down to earth, colorful and crazy fans, mirroring the team archetype that emerged in the ‘70s and early ‘80s. The Raiders were castoffs. Unruly, hard-hitting, rule-skirting bruisers who punked lesser teams and destroyed similarly talented squads through sheer underdog-attitude-driven determination.

Just like the other little city by the Bay that had to force the country to respect it, the Raiders came to embody Oakland and when they moved back home in ’95, I was beyond happy.

Many African Americans moved to Oakland from San Francisco after being ejected by gentrification out of the Fillmore and, like the Japanese before us, we watched other people move into Harlem West. My family left San Francisco in 1975 for East Oakland, the year before the Raiders taught the Bay how to win Super Bowls by pummeling the Minnesota Vikings.

Oakland accepted you, embraced you like a new lover after a bad breakup. San Francisco was the harlot that stepped on your heart while laughing.

Niner fans are typically seen as bandwagon riding, sushi eating, wine-drinking snobs living alternative lifestyles – and corporate-like in their winning dominance through the ‘80s to the latter part of ‘90s. In Raiders fans’ minds, Niner fans take on the arrogance of a hedge fund manger or Silicon Valley engineer. We worked at UPS and they owned startups.

Both teams have gone through a long period of decline and many of their fans are going through a similarly bad time – shaky, at best, employment, foreclosures, rising prices for food and gas, limited access to quality education on every level due to budget cuts and the ever increasing freakish level of gun violence.

Oakland accepted you, embraced you like a new lover after a bad breakup. San Francisco was the harlot that stepped on your heart while laughing.

Add this current reality to the history of Raider-Niner animosity and it’s easy to see how Candlestick became the vortex for all the negative energy happening on our streets in 2011. Someone getting shot that day at that game was inevitable.

Kevin Weston, longtime contributor to the Bay View in the ‘90s, is a writer at New America Media, where this story first appeared. Contact him at, Facebook or Twitter.