Al Davis, the revered and reviled Jewish owner of the Oakland Raiders, passed away on Saturday. Since traditional Judaism doesn't believe in coincidences, his death, which occurred on Yom Kippur, gives us pause to consider why Davis was returned to his maker on that auspicious day.
Davis is remembered around the NFL as a tough, stubborn and devious owner/coach, but those who knew him well describe him as a loyal and caring man, one who always pushed the envelope in the workplace by hiring minorities as executives and head coaches that were never considered for those positions at those times. They all agree that there was more to Al Davis than the "silver and black" aura he personified.
More than anything else, though, Davis is lovingly remembered for some of the most famous quotes in sports: "commitment to excellence," "pride and poise" and, of course, "just win, baby."
"Just win, baby" in particular, is a phrase that has angered teachers and educators alike. To stress winning, at all costs, and to shun the necessary process of growth, of learning and of collaboration, is unsportsmanlike and anathema that continues to plague our culture, which raises individual successes to a pedestal higher than a collective achievement. At first glance, this oft quoted phrase does not reflect positively in the way we wish to raise and educate our youth. That every young man and woman must do whatever it takes to get to the top, is extremely selfish and detrimental to our moral character.
However, after greater reflection, I believe that "just win, baby" has a different, and more valuable meaning. It's an idea that teaches us how to approach life, and how to deal with its stresses and frustrations.
True, "Just win, baby" can be interpreted to mean win at all costs, but it also reminds us not to focus on our mistakes or errors; that we shouldn't dwell on our lapsed judgments and failed assignments. It urges us to get back up, dust ourselves off, and keep our eyes on the prize. We need to remember that the road to glory is full of twists and turns, but fear not: it doesn't matter how many times we fail, as long as we reach our goal.
Davis used this quote to inspire his team. He wanted his players to be fearless and focused. To say it in simpler terms, he taught them to stop worrying and start playing.
This, in essence, is the message of Yom Kippur. Our goal as Jews, and as human beings, is to embrace our creator and continue to cultivate and build a healthy relationship with Him. Knowing that we have made our fair share of mistakes over the past year, may cause us to despair and lack the motivation necessary to improve our standing. We beseech God and pray that He gives us another opportunity to serve Him with greater vigor and dedication than ever before. Yom Kippur reminds us that last year, with all its mistakes and failures, is gone and that we must stop worrying about it. Instead, our focus and goal for the new year is, "just win, baby."
Perhaps, then, it is fitting that the legendary man, Al Davis, met his creator on Yom Kippur. On a day when God grants us atonement for our mistakes and encourages us to make the necessary changes to succeed in the future, God brought home one of his emissaries who taught this lesson to the thousands of fans in Raider Nation, and millions of sports fans around the world.
As the camera crew panned to the Raiders luxury box in Houston on Sunday, it wasn't the same without seeing Al Davis looking down at the field from his seat up above. I am sure, though, that he will continue to look down on his Oakland Raider football team from his new seat from way up above. He will be sorely missed.