Frank Hawkins has always been someone looked upon to pick up the tough yardage. After graduating from Western High School in 1977, Hawkins played football at the University of Nevada, Reno, where he remains the school’s all-time leading rusher with 5,333 yards. He was selected in the 1981 NFL Draft by the Oakland Raiders, with whom he played seven seasons and won a Super Bowl ring in 1984. After retiring from the NFL, Hawkins ran for the Las Vegas City Council in 1991 and became the first African-American to be elected to public office in city history. However, he was defeated in his bid for re-election in 1995 after violating ethics laws regarding a for-profit golf tournament he’d organized. Hawkins, 51, now directs the nonprofit Community Development Programs Center of Nevada and is president of the local chapter of the NAACP, which hosted the first debate between this year’s mayoral candidates.
Is the NAACP backing either Chris Giunchigliani or Carolyn Goodman?
No. Even though we are politically involved, the NAACP itself doesn’t endorse individual candidates.
What does the black community need more than anything else?
We need to be treated fairly—equal representation regardless of who’s elected. We see it too often, be it with the county, with project labor agreements or the state of Nevada. They propose legislation that they claim helps all of the people, but really all it does is help some of the people and it hurts the majority of the people. And the NAACP represents those folks who typically can’t or don’t have a voice. Therefore, our goal is always to ensure that no discrimination in the laws are passed and to make sure that we can level the playing field so that, in the case of politicians, they understand the unintended consequences of laws or ordinances that are passed, and that they protect all of the people.
How would you rate race relations in Southern Nevada now?
One of the largest concerns is the discrimination in the school system. Black and brown kids are failing in the Clark County School District at a higher rate than any other ethnic groups. That’s invisible racism, whereby folks know it’s happening but they ignore it or don’t acknowledge it. The second part of the invisible racism is when the government forces the educational system to take the kinds of cuts that the governor is talking about. We don’t support the cuts. It’s a proven fact that education can and will improve the amount of pay that one will make over their lifetime, and that pay increases the quality of life. We are becoming more and more divided between rich and poor and phasing out the middle class. So we understand the importance of education and fight for that every day.
In looking back on your City Council career and the way it ended, what did you learn?
I was young and I was an optimist, and I learned a few things. One is that with age comes wisdom. And probably most important is that in order to make permanent, long-term change you really need to do it with the people. But I learned more in four years about government and politics and policy than I’ve learned in all of my life in business.
Do you have any more political ambitions?
Without question. My goal is always to get the best people in office. That is my political ambition. I don’t want to serve as an elected official; I’ve had that experience. I think everyone should have to serve, because I think if they saw the process, they would appreciate the need for the people to be involved in the process. Because if you’re not involved in the process, the government is going to hurt you. They may not be hurting you intentionally, but they’re hurting you because all of the people who pay others to look out for their interests, their interests are not the people’s interests.
What do you think are the chances of the NFL lockout ending in time to play this season?
When I was playing, we went through two strikes [1982 and ’87]. It’s a nasty, ugly situation and there is no good that’s going to come out of it. I’ve always found that the best way to settle any arbitration or strike is to lock the people in a room and not let them out until they agree on something. By the time they come out of there, they would have a deal that neither one likes—which means it’s the best deal for everybody. I can see them playing some kind of season because here’s the reality: It’s all about the money; they all stand to lose too much.
What question do you get asked most about your years with the Raiders?
“What was it like when you got your Super Bowl ring?” I remember when I got the ring, I couldn’t sleep that night. I made sure all my doors were locked, and then I got up and put a chair behind the door, and then I got back up and slid the dresser behind the door. Then I was sleeping with the ring on, but I didn’t want the cotton from the sheets or the blanket to get in the ring, so I took the ring off and put it on the nightstand, but I kept the light on. Thinking back on it, all I can do is smile and laugh.