The Raiders are moving and leaving one of their ultimate fans, Dr. Death, behind.
Dr. Death began his last transmission at 1:30 p.m., Pacific Time. He coughs, he clears his throat, he takes a deep breath, then he addresses his viewers like a real doctor breaking real news of a failed life-saving procedure.
About a minute in he has to walk off screen to gather himself. He comes back and he begins.
“I first want to say, thank you for everyone who has helped at this time. This is probably one of the most difficult things I probably have ever had to do,” he says. “This is an emotional time for many of us. And I want to preface this, someone had given me a piece of advice five years ago, and he had told me: ‘If you don’t stand for anything—
“If you don’t stand for something, you will fall for anything.”
Dr. Death is Ray Perez, an Oakland Raiders super fan who became one of the more recognizable faces of the movement against the relocation of the team. A year and a half ago, we interviewed him for a story, and back then the Rams were the St. Louis Rams, the Chargers were the San Diego Chargers, and the Raiders seemed like the most likely team to stay put. Perez — Death — explained to me that Dr. Death had become him.
“Dr. Death is my complete identity, even amongst my friends,” Death says. “Even my co-workers who don’t follow football at all, they know that that’s part of my identity and that’s who — it’s my official merit badge wherever I go. What does that merit badge really mean when the company goes and leaves? It’s like wearing a badge for a company that just filed for bankruptcy and left.”
Death was prepared for this day, saying then that he would probably leave behind his Dr. Death identity if the Raiders moved to Los Angeles. If anything, he seemed more convinced of that after Monday’s vote to move the team to Las Vegas. Death went live on Periscope and confirmed that, yes, this was probably it for the identity he has assumed for the last eight or nine years. And thank you to his family, to the friends he made and lost, and the journey that the battle had been.
“I think I can speak for many, that this isn’t just a football team that is leaving is, but this is our culture and our identity,” Death says. “I ask that you be respectful to many of us who are grieving.”
Tears strew down his face in the video. There’s a lump in his throat. A couple hours later, he complains about a bad headache. Death wants you to know he’s real.
“And I come to you unfiltered,” he says. “If I don’t cry if I don’t show any emotions, that means I’m fake, and I don’t want to be that.”
Within the plea is the idea that a team can legitimize a person. Dr. Death is fake in the sense that Perez created him out of facepaint, shoulder pads, and daggers on a helmet. Dr. Death is real in that he mattered — to Perez at the very least, but assuredly to many others, as well. Death has more than 7,000 followers on Twitter. He’s a podcaster, and was a regular presence at city council meetings, often in complete Dr. Death garb.
A friend of his told him five years ago that he should go to a meeting on the economic feasibility of a new stadium. Death declined at first because he had class and work the next day, but after a sleepless night he decided to go, and was embedded with the fight to keep the Raiders in Oakland ever since. He spent real time, money, and energy to the cause — much more, by his count, than Raiders owner Mark Davis ever did.
“I cannot with good conscience follow a football team that took its local community and its season ticket holders for granted,” Death says, “and not spending a dime for us, while we took time off our school and work to go to city council meetings to pass a piece of legislature, while Mark Davis never showed up.”
Maybe Davis was too lazy to join the conversation, but everything he did makes sense as the actions of someone who knew that cold distance would make transition as easy as possible. Fan-team relationships are awfully one-sided. Teams spend money, but fans sometimes mortgage their lives, willingly ceding the balance of power in favor of owners. And when those owners want to break the relationship, the swiftest way is to convince fans that they never mattered, to make them glad that they can now stop caring.
Those teams make their fans feel like dupes, like their identities were on loan, and that organizations have the right to repossess something that once felt real. Then the team goes, and it hopes nothing is left behind, not even the feeling that its presence meant anything.
Conviction is the best defense against the gaslight. Money, time, energy, and effort all mean something, even if you can’t physically see or feel their cumulative toll, and even if they tally up to failure. Death won’t be duped, he seems to say — though he’s pretty much just “Ray” now, wearing an untucked white shirt in an empty hotel room — because he stood for something.
“Because right now the Raiders are pretty much saying that we are all replaceable,” Death says, in his final seconds. “And I am not replaceable.”