In the last years of his life, gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson wrote: "The massive Raider Nation is beyond doubt the sleaziest and rudest and most sinister mob of thugs and wackos ever assembled in such numbers under a single 'roof,' so to speak, anywhere in the English-speaking world."
Thompson was just one of the Black Hole haters and the Raider Nation naysayers who have been dishing out tongue lashings, put-downs, negative stereotypes and blame for just about everything that is wrong in society and the NFL.
Now the Black Hole Fan Club and its members are fighting back, attempting to show the world the other side of the whips and chains: charity works, community service and philanthropy.
"We have an image problem but most of it is due to misconceptions and wrong ideas," said Elias Trejo, the founder of RaiderNationTimes.com. "Raider fans are just like any other fans. A perfect example is my writing staff. I have a former coach, a police officer from England and a college professor from Texas that write for me.
"I also believe the games in Oakland are similar to almost every game in the league: tailgaters, kids playing football, music playing and opposing team fans there. Only difference is we don't wear cheese on our heads or wear dog masks. We like skulls and dark things because our team is silver and black."
It's true. Fanatical Black Hole fans do dress in chains and skeleton masks and paint their faces. Some won't even buy a car or a piece of clothing that isn't silver or black. They are pre-dawn partyers who travel across the county to watch the team, but they promise not to scare your children in the night or bring down property values if they move in next door.
"We are tired of being the whipping boy of the Bay Area and people thinking we are a bunch of criminals. We are not," said Black Hole Fan Club President Rob Rivera.
Over the past year, the club has upped its efforts to quash stereotypes and focus attention on good works and the positive message its members want to spread.
They hired a public relations man, Ken Sarna of High Point Sports and Entertainment, and set up a new website: www.blackholefans.com. They raised $1,000 for a reward fund to help catch the killer of Fruitvale restaurant owner Jesus "Chuy" Campos, recently donated about $600 to a struggling Hayward Christian preschool and hope to one day have the Black Hole Charities to raise and distribute money.
"We've been in the community for 36 years," said Marilyn Escoto, Elmhurst Learning Center pastor and director. "We are a Christian preschool and we had experienced a severe drop in enrollment over the last couple of years and I didn't know what would happen to the school.
"We had been praying for help and God used the Black Hole Fan Club to help us get out of the hole. We had not been able to purchase simple things like paint, pencils and glue because we were just so tight we had to cut back to keep the doors open."
On Sunday, the fan club will launch the "Solidarity Campaign to Black Out Violence," an anti-violence effort that it hopes will shed some of the negative Raider Nation stereotypes.
This effort, which encourages everyone to wear black to the Sunday game, is being done in honor of the Fred Biletnikoff Foundation and its efforts against violence. That foundation was started by Hall of Famer and Raiders legend Fred Biletnikoff and his wife, Angela, in memory of their daughter, Tracey, who was murdered in 1999 by someone she dated.
Rivera said the main goal is letting people know that the Black Hole is not just a group of wild and crazy football fans -- it's also a philanthropic organization.
"We want to be the most passionate, positively fanatical fans that help our team hopefully get a victory each and every Sunday. That is our main purpose, but there is a whole other side to (the club)."
The campaign to "black out the violence" comes on the heels of an August melee in San Francisco where one man was savagely beaten in a Candlestick Park bathroom during a Raiders-49ers exhibition game. Another man was shot several times after the game in the parking lot. Both had attended the game. No one died and police have not made arrests, but the incident had people blaming Raiders fans, Black Hole Fan Club members said.
"There is no sugarcoating here," Rivera said. "There is going to be an element of Raider fans that are going to do the wrong thing, but people need to realize that some of the most visible people in the Raider Nation are the ones who get labeled with this negative connotation. We do want people to know we are sick and tired of hearing the constant negative, almost like an insulting tone, whenever it has anything to do with the Raider Nation, and we are going to do everything we can to let people in and let them know that."
Fan club leaders said Raiders fans are really just like everybody else -- they have families, mortgages and jobs. Some lead their own small companies, work in law enforcement or are employed by major companies such as Kaiser Permanente and Chevron, Rivera said.
Ken Webb, otherwise known as "Afro Deesiac," is a systems administrator in the IT department of a leading health care provider in the Bay Area. The Antioch man became a season-ticket holder about a decade ago and is a member of the Black Hole Fan Club, but he doesn't sit in the Black Hole section. He does, however, help with community events and charity causes, including organizing costume-clad characters to cheer runners at the Oakland Running Festival. He also speaks to low-income children in East Oakland and distributes Raider Nation calendars to underprivileged children.
"People act prejudiced for a number of reasons, but at some point I have to try to stop trying to convince (people) that I'm not going to kidnap your kids or bring down property values if I move in next door," Webb said.
Self-described "soccer mom" Kat Anderson works for the state corrections department during the workweek and on Sundays transforms into "Skull Lady" after a one-hour makeover. Recently, she boarded an airplane wearing Raiders gear and quickly heard a crack from a fellow traveler: "Make sure you check your gun at security."
"They think that all these people who dress up are thugs," said the 45-year-old. "All these guys have great jobs; we're like mascots of Oakland."
Ken Shedd played for the Raiders from 1996 to 2000 and is now a San Leandro police officer and fan club member. He knows where the Raiders and their fans have been and is pleased about the direction they are heading.
"The things they've already done and the things they have planned for the future are on a whole other level," said Shedd, 40. "It's original ideas and it's going to help get the word out that it's OK to support your team, but you have to do it in a civil manner and any type of disruptive behavior will not be accepted."
D. Ross Cameron/Staff
Members of the Black Hole on Aug. 28 record a public-service announcement supporting sportsmanship and respect for opposing fans. Many of these hard-core fans say they're unfairly described as criminals and thugs.