Friday, October 16, 2009


The Right Man's Burden

With all due respect to my friends (and corporate colleagues) at The Wall Street Journal, but they are off-base in today's editorial decrying the NFL's deep-sixing Rush Limbaugh's ownership bid:

Earlier this year, the NFLPA's Mr. Smith and several player reps visited our offices and made clear their determination to win the negotiation with the league's owners. Fair enough. The group made a strong and businesslike case for their position. Mr. Smith was wrong, though, to send an email to the league's players earlier in the week, urging them to speak out on the Limbaugh bid, arguing that football "rejects discrimination and hatred."

After this, opposition to Mr. Limbaugh emerged from Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay and, most disappointing of all, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. Mr. Goodell implied in a statement that Mr. Limbaugh's off-the-cuff comment in 2003 about quarterback Donovan McNabb (that the media wanted a black quarterback to do well) violated the league's "high standard."

We suspect Mr. Limbaugh would be happy to withdraw the 2003 remark, but to elevate it to racism, hatred and disqualification from doing business with the saintly NFL beggars belief. On the evidence, the NFL is the most forgiving league in sports. New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick, just for starters, must be thankful Mr. Goodell's "high standard" doesn't mean a lifetime ban from the NFL.

The Journal is undoubtedly correct that the collective bargaining agreement between the league and the union played a role in the

However, the paper is wrong on the chronology of player reaction and Executive Director DeMaurice Smith's further encouragement. Smith's e-mail came out after several black players -- including players on the New York Giants and Jets declared that if Limbaugh became a part owner of the Rams, they would be unlikely to sign with the team.

Last week's Daily News noted that it was less the McNabb stuff and actually more recent statements by Limbaugh that created the player reaction:

"All I know is from the last comment I heard, he said in (President) Obama's America, white kids are getting beat up on the bus while black kids are chanting 'right on,'" Kiwanuka told The Daily News. "I mean, I don't want anything to do with a team that he has any part of. He can do whatever he wants, it is a free country. But if it goes through, I can tell you where I am not going to play."

"I am not going to draw a conclusion from a person off of one comment, but when it is time after time after time and there's a consistent pattern of disrespect and just a complete misunderstanding of an entire culture that I am a part of, I can't respect him as a man."

There was no other way to read Limbaugh's "Obama's America" line than he was trying to draw a direct connection between having a black president and black kids beating up a white kid (his faux black-accented "Right on, right on" hardly helped).

Did Smith then take advantage of something that he sensed was already a problem for some of his players? Absolutely.

But if he was any union head worth his weight, how could he not?

Where the Journal is going with its conclusion is beyond me:

It is no secret that this country's politics has become intense across the ideological spectrum. Rush Limbaugh lets his listeners blow off steam and then get on with the rest of their day. But if the people who claim to worry about such things want to see a truly angry right develop in this country, they should continue to remain silent while the left tries to drive Rush Limbaugh and others out of American political life. If that happens, the NFL by comparison will look like an afternoon tea.

How is being prevented from buying a stake in a professional football team equivalent to being driven "out of American political life?" I mean, really? Rush makes a living out of making politically inflammatory statements. Occasionally those statements come back to haunt you. The NFL owners -- the vast majority of whom are politically active Republicans -- made a decision that being associated (from an ownership position) with someone likely to continue making such statements on a daily basis for years to come was a risky business proposition.

Goodell obviously saw it as problematic in the short-term because of the pending CBA, but the other owners saw that there could be long-term consequences from bringing Limbaugh on board.

How the Journal fails to see this is bizarre.

One last point: A few people wonder about a possible double-standard between Limbaugh and Keith Olbermann, who anchors NBC's "Football Night in America" on Sundays. Well, there are a few reasons:

1) Olbermann had a long career as an ESPN anchor before he wandered into his current hard-left schtick on MSNBC;

2) Possibly because of that background (and possibly because of a warning from above), the "FNIA" Olbermann is much closer to his old ESPN persona than his more recent one (as far as I know: I haven't had a chance to watch every edition of "FNIA"); he seems to know the church-state rules and doesn't bring his political controversies to Sundays;

3) Limbaugh is a much more out-sized personality and bigger political celebrity than Olbermann could ever hope to be. Limbaugh's comments get picked up and ripple through the broader media. Bringing him is in an invitation to the likelihood of much greater controversy than having Olbermann around.

4) Were Olbermann to announce that he was going to try to buy an NFL team, I'm guessing that that might not sit too well league ownership eith.

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