Marshawn Lynch to keep pro football in Oakland, found indoor Panthers
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Marshawn Lynch’s playing career ended at the Oakland Coliseum, where he spent his final two seasons with the Raiders.
But his football career is hardly over — no, it’s only moving across the Champions Plaza in Oakland.
The Raiders are leaving for Las Vegas at the end of the season, but the unofficial mayor of Oakland is making sure that professional football stays The Town.
Lynch has co-founded and will co-own an indoor football team — the Oakland Panthers — which will begin play at the Oakland Arena (formerly Oracle Arena) this spring.
The Panthers — a nod to Oakland’s Black Panthers history of the 1960s — will be a member of the Indoor Football League. The team will formally announce its ownership group, name, and head coach, former Piedmont High head coach and A-11 offense co-creator Kurt Bryan, at a Tuesday press conference.
Lynch, 33, has kept a full schedule since he retired from the NFL for a second time at the end of last season. He’s acting — he’ll be in the upcoming season of HBO’s series Westworld — as well as maintaining his BeastMode clothing line and his philanthropic efforts.
He’s an entrepreneur, but the notion of him owning a pro football team, no matter what league it is in, seems ridiculous. This is the man of one-word answers, if he answers at all. He’s about sticking it to the man, not being the man.
Lynch thought the concept was ridiculous as well.
“I know man, that (stuff) sounds funny,” Lynch told me Monday.
But he views the Panthers as a chance to fulfill the legacy he was hoping to forge with the Raiders in their final years in Oakland.
“My whole intention was to come back and play with them until they left,” Lynch said. “[Arena football] wasn’t something I was looking at — not even a little bit. But when the opportunity presented itself — I’m a big dude on believing in timing and (stuff). This, at the time, really made sense.”
Lynch became involved with the Panthers when he met co-owner Roy Choi (not to be confused with the celebrity chef) and team president (and former Coliseum Authority member) Scott McKibben at an IFL game Arizona earlier this year. His younger brother, Davonte Sapp-Lynch, was playing in the game.
“Yeah, I went to go check my brother out and I kind of ran into them after the game,” Lynch said. “I had a good-ass time while I was at the game. When they said ‘We’re going to bring a team to Oakland’, I didn’t really believe that.”
Then he found out that Choi, who owns two other teams in the league, was committed to the idea. They set up a meeting.
Now they have a team.
“Oakland just made sense. You have so many things happening at the same time,” Choi said.
“This is a given. I’m in with this,” Lynch said. “The [Raiders] will be leaving, but the fans will be here. This is a good opportunity and a good timing to where you will still have those fans, that community, and the pride they bring.”
The Panthers will also give the Oakland Arena — which lost the Warriors to San Francisco at the end of last season — a necessary linchpin tenet, possibly saving it from a Cow Palace-like “Hemp Festival” future. The IFL season is expected to feature seven homes games. McKibben told me that the team is aiming for 6,000 to 8,000 fans per game, some of whom, he hopes, will be fans of the now-defunct San Jose Sabercats, who folded in 2015, but won four Arena Football League championships.
The Bay Area has seen plenty of upstart teams come and go, though.
That’s why Lynch’s goal is to make sure that the Panthers are 100 percent Town Bizness. The only hope for long-term viability is if local pride carries the team, much in the way it carried the Warriors when they were an NBA laughingstock and the Raiders, who haven’t won a playoff game since 2002.
“We can still have that feeling that’s still here,” he said. “Being a community-based organization. With all the things that I bring, where I think I’ll be the best fit is being the bridge between from the team to the actual community.
“The game will be grassroots to real Oakland.
“Not the new (stuff). The real Oakland (stuff).”