Conservative Lightning Rod Buying Into the Rams?
If one were to Google “lightning rod” a picture of conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh might appear. In 2003, Limbaugh may have made himself millions of enemies in the African American community by stating on ESPN that Philadelphia Eagles’ quarterback Donovan McNabb was overrated and playing largely because the media wanted to see a Black quarterback succeed. He was forced to resign his post as an NFL commentator on that network. Now, he may become the employer to dozens of Black football players if he follows through on a stated interest to purchase the St. Louis Rams.
Limbaugh, 58, has made a handsome living by issuing polarizing political statements from his perch as a conservative commentator and radio talk show host. He has a longstanding interest in sports, starting during his days as a Pittsburgh radio personality and Steelers fan in the 1970s, to his several years of employment in the early 1980s as promotions director for the Kansas City Royals baseball team. Now, he is said to be considering investing some of his wealth into the purchase of an NFL franchise.
In a statement released Oct. 8, Limbaugh said he’s partnering with St. Louis Blues owner Dave Checketts in a bid to buy the Rams. Limbaugh didn’t go into details, but said he and Checketts “have made a bid to buy the Rams and are continuing the process.”
It’s unclear whether Limbaugh and Checketts will try to buy the team outright or purchase a majority or minority stake in it. Georgia Frontiere‘s children own a 60 percent stake in the team, and billionaire Stan Kroenke owns a 40 percent stake.
Some Black football players find this alarming. Mathias Kiwanuka of the New York Giants has said that he would never play for a team owned by Limbaugh, even the Rams who are coached by Kiwanuka’s former defensive coordinator Steve Spagnulolo.
The New York Jets Bart Scott told the New York Daily News that he agrees with Kiwanuka. Scott says Black football players remember what Limbaugh said, and adds that the NFL would be wise not to allow the nationally syndicated host into the league. “It’s an oxymoron that he criticized Donovan McNabb,” Scott said. “A lot of us took it as more of a racial-type thing. I can only imagine how his players would feel. I know I wouldn’t want to play for him. He’s a jerk. He’s an —. What he said (about McNabb) was inappropriate and insensitive, totally off-base. He could offer me whatever he wanted, I wouldn’t play for him. … I wouldn’t play for Rush Limbaugh. My principles are greater and I can’t be bought.”
The anti-Limbaugh movement extends beyond Kiwanuka and Scott. The NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith, who is Black, has spoken to NFL commissioner in opposition to Limbaugh’s bid to buy the Rams. In an email to the union’s executive committee Smith wrote, “I’ve spoken to the Commissioner [Roger Goodell] and I understand that this ownership consideration is in the early stages. But sport in America is at its best when it unifies, gives all of us reason to cheer, and when it transcends. Our sport does exactly that when it overcomes division and rejects discrimination and hatred.” Later, Smith expanded on his feelings to ESPN’s Chris Mortensen. This communication is more about what we stand for than the reality of our role in any franchise sale. While it’s true the subject matter was related [to Limbaugh’s bid], I do understand that the NFL does not present ownership bids to me or the NFLPA. I encourage our players to express their views.”
According to Mortensen, at least seven NFL players have spoken out against Limbaugh’s proposed purchase of the Rams. Concerns of Black football players aside, American principles of free speech and capitalism (basically the ability to buy what you can afford) are also in play here. It will be interesting to see how Goodell and the NFL owners walk this public relations and possibly legal tightrope. Three quarters of the leagues 32 owners would have to approve the sale.
Hirsch is a contributing writer for Regal Black Men’s Magazine.