Wetzel: Limbaugh must take bad with good
BOSTON – When it comes to firebrand radio host Rush Limbaugh, don't expect the NFL to be in a hurry to take his money.
On Tuesday, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell put the divisive Limbaugh's possible bid to buy the St. Louis Rams on life support. In essence, the good-time-loving NFL wants no part of a guy who could hurt the brand.
"I've said many times before, we're all held to a high standard here and I think divisive comments are not what the NFL is all about," Goodell said of Limbaugh's history for controversial remarks during the league's annual fall meetings. "I would not want to see those comments coming from people who are in a responsible position in the NFL, absolutely not."
In short, Limbaugh can go back to the microphone and continue to talk politics, economy and social order all he wants. When it comes to joining the NFL, the closest he'll get is buying a season ticket.
Limbaugh, teaming with St. Louis Blues owner Dave Checketts for the NFL bid, has received plenty of public opposition to the potential move. New York Giants defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka(notes) is among current NFL players to voice their opposition. Now, Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson are speaking out against the move.
The possible short-circuiting of a bid is nothing new for the NFL, which vets prospective owners just as thoroughly as players. Just ask Howard Milstein, a New York City real estate mogul and then-part owner of the NHL's New York Islanders, who in 1999 tried to buy the Washington Redskins. One of the problems for Milstein is that he was litigation happy, willing to drop a lawsuit the way strippers drop their clothes.
In that way, Limbaugh is in a similar predicament. The NFL doesn't need his money; it has plenty of billionaires willing to buy teams.
Furthermore, it doesn't need somebody who will thrive on insulting the audience. Now, before you think this is a political comment, the same goes for the left. If you think the NFL wants Michael Moore(notes) as an owner, think again. Film producer Harvey Weinstein, talk show host Rachel Maddow and the Dixie Chicks probably aren't too welcome, either.
"I can't vote for that," Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay said. "There's no way I would go for that, for the comments he has made that are out there and everybody knows. I've met Rush one time and he seemed like a great guy, but I wouldn't. The comments are insensitive and inappropriate. I could talk to Tony Dungy, Jim Caldwell and Dwight Freeney(notes), but I know already. I wouldn't feel comfortable in voting for him."
Said another owner who didn't want to be identified: "We don't need to go there. Look, we haven't even started to go through the process with the Rams who they're going to sell to. We're months away from knowing anything. But really, we don't need that."
For all the hard-hitting and violence of the NFL, the reality is that the league likes the benign a lot more. It's like when singer Glenn Campbell had his show in the 1970s and was going against the likes of the Smothers Brothers. When Campbell's producers urged him to take on political topics, he refused. He wanted his show to be an escape, not an agitator. As a result, he had much higher ratings.
And folks, the NFL is all about ratings (duh). This isn't even about how the players or the NFL Players Association or anybody really feels about Limbaugh. It's about providing an escape from the likes of Limbaugh. Keep the people happy as they watch and, most importantly, spend. The NFL is the Disney World of sports and just as Disney makes sure that none of the paying customers wear anything out of line, the NFL restricts folks from saying anything out of line (just ask Jerry Jones).
Certainly, Limbaugh has said plenty of things to upset plenty of people in this country. His comments in 2003 about Donovan McNabb(notes) are a prime example, forcing ESPN to dump him faster than it got rid of "Playmakers." Literally.
In fact, Limbaugh has turned his style of speak into an art form, earning himself a $400 million radio contract and an estimated net worth of more than $1 billion. It made him rich enough to be considered for an ownership group.
On Tuesday, however, shortly after the Rams ownership made a presentation about where they are in the sale process (they're not even sure they are going to sell at all), Goodell put the idea of Limbaugh in perspective.
Basically, he ended it.