The visceral reaction to the news that Rush Limbaugh was part of a potential ownership group looking to purchase the St. Louis Rams was quite heartening. Dave Checketts, the owner of the St. Louis Blues hockey team, announced that Limbaugh had "become a complication and a distraction," and he was dropped from the group. In an effort to clear himself, Checketts explained that Rush was only to have a limited role: "Rush was to be a limited partner -- as such, he would have had no say in the direction of the club or in any decisions regarding personnel or operations." It is hard to say whether the Checketts group had a clear path to the acquisition, but, in any case, the story here is in the response to the news and the speedy and unconditional rejection of Limbaugh.
The NFL Players Association led the charge, perhaps the first time it has ever weighed in on a question of club ownership. The equivalent would be the NFL Commissioner raising an objection to the players' selection of their Executive Director, something that would likely be an unfair labor practice as an interference with the protected right of players. Owners decide who should be allowed in the club as fellow owners, not the players.
In this instance, however, NFL Players Association Executive Director DeMaurice Smith could not contain his anger. He urged players throughout the league to speak out against the inclusion of Limbaugh in any potential Rams ownership group. Limbaugh had made himself an icon of the reactionary right and an enemy to all persons of color. Two-thirds of all NFL players are black. Smith wanted to make sure there would be consequences for Rush's choice to pander to racism.
Limbaugh's views on race and football are well known. In 2003, Limbaugh was a commentator with ESPN when he explained why the media was not harder on the Philadelphia Eagles' quarterback Donovan McNabb: "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." For Rush, there must be a liberal plot behind the tenure of an athlete who would become the Eagles' all-time leader in career wins, pass attempts, pass completions, passing yards, and passing touchdowns. In 2007, according to transcripts on his website, Limbaugh said, "The NFL all too often looks like a game between the Bloods and the Crips, without any weapons. There, I said it." He did, and he said many other things that should be of concern to any thinking man or woman. His attacks on President Obama, for example, have been outrageous and insidious.
Kudos to Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay, the first to say he would vote against any ownership group that included Limbaugh. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell chimed in with his concerns about Limbaugh's divisive comments. The dye was cast, and Limbaugh's future as an NFL owner was doomed. Rush fought back using his radio bully pulpit: "This is not about the National Football League. It's not about the St. Louis Rams. This is the latest in a long line of attempts by the left to discredit any of us who believe what we believe. I'm not even thinking of exiting (the Rams group). I'm not even thinking of caving. I am not a caver."
He may not be a "caver," but he soon became a "cavee." Checketts dropped Limbaugh like Ray Lewis hitting a defenseless quarterback. It is said that Rush was "very unhappy" about his sudden demise, and it certainly will not temper his commentary on life as a conspiracy: "The NAACP should have riot rehearsal. They should get a liquor store and practice robberies."
We pride ourselves as Americans with countenancing all kinds of speech, even divisive, prejudiced bile spilled by rightwing fruitcakes. It will take more than Rush Limbaugh to repeal the First Amendment. Yet, the stunning reaction to Rush's efforts to achieve mainstream legitimacy (other than at a place like Fox News) says much about the limits of tolerance. We will let you say your piece, but don't expect us to take it in stride. You deserve to be an outsider, and you should stay there.