Ladies and gentlemen, the real ego has landed. That huge sigh you heard yesterday came from a hundred conscientious football free agents who don’t have to limit their professional options on ethical grounds, and a million football fans who won’t have to hold their noses when the St. Louis Rams take the field (at least more than usual).
On Thursday, conservative radio firebrand and former recreational pharmaceutical enthusiast Rush Limbaugh was denied participation in any possible sale of the Rams, a National Football League franchise (5-31 since 2007) thought to be on the block.
A spirited opposition — one that started within the NFL itself, spread to the blogosphere and ultimately found voice with Sharpton & Jackson — have helped scuttle plans for Limbaugh to join the investor group considering a bid for the team, which Forbes says is worth north of $900 million.
The reason, of course, has everything to do with Limbaugh’s long and controversial history of racially and ethnically insensitive remarks on the air. Limbaugh has denied making such inflammatory statements, and did so again on Thursday, fulminating about how the investor group’s decision to exclude Limbaugh from participation was the work of President Obama and the Democratic Party (in league with Satan, of course).
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Limbaugh said he believed his ouster from the Rams sale was an example of “Obama's America on full display.” He claimed he was a victim of “misreporting, lying, repeating the lies while also saying 'Limbaugh denies,' repeating the made-up quotes, the blind hatred.”
“Believe me, the hatred that exists in this is found in the sportswriter community, it's found in the news business, it's found in the race hustler business,” Limbaugh said.
Check your watch. He should be blaming Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, too, right about now.
For all Limbaugh’s bluster, though, this fall from grace was entirely his own. Media Matters for America has posted an exhaustive, and breathtaking collection of Limbaugh’s race-baiting diatribes going back more than two years.
From fueling the malignant fire of the birther movement (“God does not have a birth certificate. Neither does Obama”) to nasty ad hominem attacks on President Obama; from maligning black Americans as lazy beneficiaries of government paternalism to impugning the reputation of the players in the very league he tried to join (“The NFL all too often looks like a game between the Bloods and the Crips without weapons”), Limbaugh has a disturbing reputation that handsomely preceded him into the boardroom where it was decided his participation in any purchase of the St. Louis Rams was no longer required.
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The right-wing media machine was furious on Rush’s behalf. Conservative extremist attack-dog author Anne Coulter said on Fox: “"the NFL is very easily spooked by crazy left-wing hoaxes."
“What happened here, and is happening elsewhere in American life, is that Mr. Limbaugh's outspoken political conservatism is being deemed sufficient reason to ostracize him from polite society.” The Wall Street Journal said in an op-ed.
On MSNBC’s “Hardball With Chris Matthews,” conservative analyst and apologist Pat Buchanan took up Limbaugh’s charge that it was all somehow orchestrated by the White House, a diabolus ex machina express from Washington.
Buchanan called Limbaugh’s dismissal “shabby, vindictive, petty. Chris, you and I have made controversial statements, we made statements to regret and apologize for.
“But in this case to blacklist an individual like they do out in Hollywood because they thought they were Communist that cost them their jobs because of something they said … Those folks did terrible things. To do this to Rush Limbaugh. You deny a man a position like that, this is blacklisting in my judgment.
“It's contemptible. Liberals used to condemn it.”
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But Al Sharpton, also on “Hardball,” wasn’t buying it Thursday. Sharpton, who when necessary works the moral-suasion reflex of the national central nervous system like nobody’s business, took Buchanan and Limbaugh to task for ascribing grim political overtones to what, apparently, was purely a business decision (business decisions often being made as much for reasons of public relations as for reasons of the bottom line).
“I think that if you want to be an NFL owner, you have to be accountable for what you say about those that generate the money in that league,” Sharpton said. “Limbaugh, who has made a career out of holding people accountable, had to be accountable to his own statements, and I think he ultimately was.”
“Let's remember here, Chris, his name was withdrawn by those that submitted his name. The NFL, nobody disqualified him. They withdrew his name. So he can have all of these grandiose ideas of a conspiracy. What sacked him was the people that brought him to the party withdrew him from the party.
“And I think that all of these other implications really don't deal with the fact that the people that thought he was an asset began to think he was a liability.
“He's trying now to make this like this is some wounding of American conservativism. He was rejected by his own partners ultimately.”
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But shed no tears for the Rushster. With an unprecedented eight-year radio contract worth about $400 million, and merchandising, book sales, speaking engagements and other ancillary income worth millions more, Rush Limbaugh Inc. will remain a solvent enterprise. For him, part ownership of an NFL team would have been little more than an affectation, like a pinky ring.
And maybe he should count his lucky stars. It’s not a good idea to try to catch a falling knife: The St. Louis Rams lost again on Sunday, mugged by the Minnesota Vikings 38-10. The team that was his heart’s desire is 0-5 for the season. But because of that desire, and the vote of confidence in the team it signaled, it’s a safe bet the Rams might save a space for him on the sidelines. Maybe.
That’ll have to do. It’s as close to the owner’s box as he’s ever going to get.
Image credits: Limbaugh: Via Fox News. Sharpton: Still from MSNBC's "Hardball." Rams logo: St. Louis Rams.