The NFL took a knee when it really didn't need to.
It now appears to be a moot point, but for a few days last week the Internets, the 24-hour news cycle, talk radio, and sports journalism were converged upon one story - the possibility Rush Limbaugh could have an ownership stake in the Saint Louis Rams NFL franchise. Unsurprisingly, once word reached the public, almost immediately, camps for and against began cropping up. One of the most vocal was DeMaurice Smith, executive director of the NFL Players Association. As a representative of the players, Smith swiftly voiced his disapproval. Rumors circulated that a strong majority of black players in the league had expressed views stipulating they would not play on a Limbaugh owned team on principle. A strong stance to say the least, though I somehow doubt had Limbaugh remained part of the bid, players would have actually remained as committed in their stance.
Limbaugh is a polarizing figure who seems to goad the public into factions that either adore him or despise him. Anyone who might be ambivalent towards him seem practically non-existent. For a media superstar such as Limbaugh, that is exactly the type of passion he wants to sustain. His love/hate relationship with the media consuming audience means keeps him relevant regardless of the way you personally feel about him.
While I may not necessarily posses the passion of some when it comes to the way I feel about him, he definitely is not high on my list of personalities I adore. Limbaugh doesn't hesitate to stir the pot, and too many times his controversial remarks are connected not only to politics, but somehow seem to tie in race whether subtly or in a very obvious manner. One of his most memorable incidents took place in the fall of 2004 soon after he became an in-studio analyst for ESPN's Sunday Night Football telecasts. During the show discussion arose surrounding Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb. Limbaugh insisted that the league was desperate to have a successful black quarterback, there was a willingness to put up with his mediocrity that would not be afforded to a white quarterback. On another occasion, Limbaugh observed that the NFL "often looks like a game between the Bloods and the Crips without any weapons." He tried to explain that his comments were a reflection of his love of the game and what he called a "mind-set that is destructive ...not helpful."
Does this make Limbaugh ineligible to be an NFL team owner? On its face of course not. As some have voiced, it's a free country and someone such as Rush should be allowed to voice his opinion without being tarred and feathered so to speak by activists or the media. The same can be said of the NFL and it's right to decide who can and cannot own a franchise.
It's not that Limbaugh flat-out lies. But he does have a flair for manipulating the the truth in such a way that it appears to serve a specific agenda. Take the McNabb controversy. At the time McNabb was struggling and was a somewhat inconsistent performer and up until that time he definitely had failed to lead his Eagle team deep in the NFL playoffs. Limbaugh could have easily stopped right there and no one would have found his statements troublesome. However, Limbaugh appeared to cross a line when he added race to the equation. Was he serious? Did he really believe McNabb was being given a pass in terms of his ability to perform at the highest level simply because he was black? Similarly, when he made hyperbolic observations about the game comparing it to street gangs, it was easy to see how his words could be taken by some as code for something else.
Limbaugh has made a name for himself by making incendiary comments. However, there are times I find myself being somewhat skeptical of him. Though his show and public persona do reside in the political realm, we tend to forget that Limbaugh is foremost an entertainer. And if you can get past the hand-wringing, the so-called "Ditto-heads" and the pontification, Rush Limbaugh's show is unquestionably entertaining. If it weren't he wouldn't be the pillar of media that he is and he certainly wouldn't be in that stratosphere of stars who are identifiable by their first name alone. I am not necessarily granting him an excuse, I'm merely attempting to point out that Rush Limbaugh may be no more real a character than Ronald McDonald.
However, we are not privileged to know the real Limbaugh, so all we have are his words. Consequently, the NFL felt his rhetoric was something it wanted no part of and unlike the on-the-field talent which can easily be made to disappear, Limbaugh's star will continue to shine brightly for quite some time. Is it hypocritical, if one considers some of the league's more dubious on-the-field talent? Possibly. I am no "Ditto-Head" by any stretch, but I do feel the league caved-in way too soon. Would having Rush Limbaugh as an owner have been all that bad? As with most controversies I think eventually his presence would have become a non-issue. As for the NFL, it was an issue they were unwilling to wait out.
Well, I gotta scoot...