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Morris W. O'Kelly

Morris W. O'Kelly

Posted: October 13, 2009 10:26 AM

Limbaugh in the NFL Would Be Bad Business

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Nationally syndicated conservative talk show host and lightning rod Rush Limbaugh has made known his plans to purchase the St. Louis Rams of the National Football League.

Although NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has indicated that Limbaugh's application for franchise ownership is in its primary phase of consideration and in conjunction with Dave Checketts (owner of NHL's St. Louis Blues); the response around the league and in the media has been considerable.

Considerably negative that is...

The first shoe to drop came in the form of an email from NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith last Saturday:

"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."
Then, Rev. Al Sharpton on Monday entered the fray contacting Goodell, alleging that Limbaugh has been both divisive and "anti-NFL" over the years. As you could imagine, any story with Limbaugh and Sharpton bookending it immediately moves the discussion towards race. One side predictably calls Limbaugh a racist...which he is. And the other side calls Sharpton a "race-baiter"...which he is. But both sides are missing the point. This really shouldn't be about Limbaugh or Sharpton when the NFL makes its decision. Well, yes and no. Race is part of the discussion but I would submit that it is not and should not be the focal point. The reasons why Rush Limbaugh has no business as an owner in the National Football league inevitably ties back to it being a bad business idea...with SOME of it tied to race. There are two histories to consider here; Limbaugh's and the NFL's. Let's first look at the NFL. The National Football League is by far the most popular spectator sporting league in America, if not the world. The ratings for even NFL PRE-season games easily dwarf the ratings for the World Series and the NBA Finals.


  • Game 5 of the 2008 World Series garnered a 9.6 rating, the highest of the series.
  • Game 1 of the 2009 regular NFL season on Fox earned a 16.5
  • Game 1 of the 2009 NBA Finals, Lakers V. Orlando earned a 5.7

The NFL has no sports entertainment peer and much of it has to do with its marketing and stringent controls. From the fines levied at players for supposed excessive endzone celebrations or to not meeting the league's standards for uniforms and regulations, the NFL has been in supreme control of how its product is marketed and perceived.

And damn well they should...

That's just on the field. Off the field, Roger Goodell has been diligent in his efforts to curtail "incidents" with the implementation of a league-wide player conduct policy. Regardless whether one agrees with Goodell's policies and rulings thus far, the historical precedent had been set.

The NFL is not interested in controversy.

In fact, many players have branded it as the "No Fun League" due to the amount of rules and regulations required of them. The NFL is clear it wants considerable say in the behavior of those who represent the league on any level.

As for Rush Limbaugh, his history is equally relevant in this discussion. From his remarks generally about African-Americans over the years to Donovan McNabb specifically, it's fair to say that Limbaugh has consistently inspired controversy from both the television and radio studio. Consider this statement from October 2003:

"Sorry to say this, I don't think he's been that good from the get-go. I think what we've had here is a little social concern in the NFL. The media has been very desirous that a Black quarterback do well. There is a little hope invested in McNabb, and he got a lot of credit for the performance of this team that he didn't deserve. The defense carried this team."

Yet, the controversial nature of Limbaugh doesn't begin or end with just issues of race. There's a long line of non-African-Americans also waiting to express their dislike of Rush Limaugh and what he espouses.

Rush Limbaugh as an NFL franchise owner (majority stake or otherwise) means he is de facto a representative of the league. Each and every time Limbaugh should open up his mic on his radio show and tells an African-American caller to "take the bone out of his nose" or refers to the President of the United States as "The Magic Negro" or even chides Colin Powell, former Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff as a "race loyalist" for supporting said "Magic Negro"...he would be representing the NFL.

I'm not sure the NFL is ready to stomach the hatemail the next time Limbaugh compares the Democrats to Nazis, but like it or not...as an owner he would represent the NFL.

And speaking of anti-Semitism, former Cincinnati Reds owner Marge Schott could not possibly purchase a baseball team in today's world. It would simply be bad business for the team and for Major League Baseball, given her own past statements, such as this from 1996"

"Everything you read, when he came in [to power] he was good...They built tremendous highways and got all the factories going...Everybody knows he was good at the beginning but he just went too far."

It's likely why Mark Cuban's ownership bid was turned down ignored by the Chicago Cubs. No, Cuban isn't a racist but sports franchises are now hyper-sensitive to public personas and the public perception they yield.

And damn well they should (although I think the Cubs whiffed on Cuban.)

The rub in this instance is that although Limbaugh would be a representative of the NFL, the league would not have any editorial control over Limbaugh's daily radio program. Each and every single day, Rush Limbaugh manages to deeply offend someone and that anger would then be tied to the St. Louis Rams and to the NFL. The routine and inevitable hatemail and calls for boycott of advertisers supporting Rush Limbaugh would also then become the NFL's problem.

Every subsequent story regarding the "questionable" remarks of one Rush Limbaugh would inevitably include the words "owner of the NFL's St. Louis Rams" in the opening paragraph. The NFL doesn't want that and given its stature surely doesn't need that. In the game of dominoes we always say, "not all money is good money."

Same applies here.

Controversy makes for good if not great radio. Conversely, it's a horrible business model for the NFL in 2009.

Where race intersects the discussion of bad business is in the racial makeup of the majority African-American NFL. We saw how this played out on ESPN with Limbaugh as a "football commentator." ESPN cut bait quckly, as Limbaugh's baggage immediately became ESPN's baggage. Note this important Limbaugh historical footnote. The NFL doesn't need to extrapolate out what Limbaugh "might" mean for the NFL in terms of press. It already has a verifiable, historical example in which to reference. And if there's anyone who's good friends with the NFL, it's ESPN.

Friends don't let friends drive drunk or make the same mistakes they once made.

The NFL doesn't need gimmicks like glow in the dark footballs or steel cage matches in which to inspire ratings supremacy. It is already king of the hill. All it needs to do is keep using common sense and good business sense.

Allowing Rush Limbaugh to become an owner would be indicative of neither.

The NFL is a private business entity and can hire whomever it sees fit to represent or endorse its product. Good business sense says that Rush Limbaugh as an owner is no better a decision than Rev. Al Sharpton. The reasons are the same and race is only a piece of a much larger discussion.

There is only risk with no reward for having the NFL associating itself with Rush Limbaugh and all the baggage he brings. To reduce this into a discussion of Sharpton or race misses the point and further marginalizes the real issues of race.


Morris W. O'Kelly (Mo'Kelly) is a syndicated entertainment and socio-political commentator. For more Mo'Kelly, http://mokellyreport.wordpress.com. Mo'Kelly can be reached at mrmokelly@gmail.com and he welcomes all commentary.

 

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