Since starting this blog almost four months ago I have tried not to veer into the world of politics too often. It isn't because of the people who write the inevitable, "stick to sports," posts or notes or even because I know my politics are way left of a majority of those who follow sports. I have a friend, Slugger White, who is a rules official on The PGA Tour who is as far right as I am left who likes to say, "John, you're so far left you've almost come all the way around to the right."
That said, there is no way to NOT discuss Rush Limbaugh and his bid to become an owner of the St. Louis Rams. To be honest, my feelings on the subject may surprise people. I really don't care if Limbaugh becomes an NFL owner. It isn't as if we're talking about the United States Senate or The Supreme Court--both entities that have some pretty shaky people among their membership that conduct work and make decisions far more important than whether to go to an 18 game schedule.
The NFL may be the most image conscious entity in the U.S. It is at least as powerful as it is image-conscious. Remember, this is the league that bullied ESPN into dropping a fictional show depicting life in the NFL because it didn't like the way players and owners were being portrayed. The fact that the league cared says a lot about the league. The fact that the TV network, which considers itself all knowing and all powerful folded, also says a lot about the league. That's why I used to refer to Paul Tagliabue as "Don Tags," when he was commissioner.
We all know who Limbaugh is and what he stands for. His Donovan McNabb comment six years ago was simply stupid--although it is worth noting that ESPN didn't fire him for saying it, it fired him because of the reaction to him saying it. Little Mark Shapiro, who is now one of Danny Snyder's henchmen (he's the guy who got Six Flags underwater literally and figuratively) in Washington, initially defended Limbaugh.
Limbaugh has said a lot worse things than that, including recently saying he hoped The President of the United States fails at the job. Look, I don't care whether your politics are right or left or in-between, you don't openly root against the President. I certainly didn't root against George W. Bush. I simply disagreed--vehemently--with him. Limbaugh, as proven by the Michael J. Fox episode and others, is a mean, vicious little man.
That doesn't mean he can't own an NFL team. To begin with, even though most won't publicly admit it, a lot of the owners aren't very far from Limbaugh politically--which actually isn't a relevant part of the conversation anyway. If Keith Olbermann wanted to buy an NFL team he would be less than welcome in the owners club but would be no more or less qualified to own a team than Limbaugh.
Roger Goodell isn't the son of a politician (the late U.S. Senator Charles E. Goodell) for nothing. He knows his constituencies. One is the players union. Although the players have no say in who owns a team and most will play for anyone who waves the right amount of money at them (witness Snyder and the Redskins) he also knows he's got a tough contract negotiation on his hands right now and doesn't need another hot-button issue walking into the room. He is also being consistent: he's said from the start that he wants to hold players to a higher standard of behavior than in the past. He needs to do the same for owners, coaches and anyone who works for the league.
In the end though, it will be the owners who will decide whether Limbaugh's group gets the chance to buy the Rams. No doubt many of them are hoping that someone outbids his group so they don't even have to debate it. It takes 24 of 32 votes to approve the purchase of a team and, with Goodell probably quietly lobbying against Limbaugh (image again) it may be tough to get those votes unless the Limbaugh bid simply blows away the competition financially. Owners do have the right to turn down an ownership bid, that's been long established, and the Phoenix Coyotes court case re-established that point recently.
Here's the irony in all this: owning an NFL team would be a bad thing for Limbaugh. Once he's an owner he would have to muzzle himself on a lot of issues that have made him so popular with his base--the far right wing. You can be sure Goodell and the owners would make it clear to him in the vetting process that he would have to "live up to the NFL standards of behavior." That's not something tangible you can wrap your arms around but some of Limbaugh's past comments would certainly fall outside those parameters. One would guess that screaming into a radio microphone that someone who called the President of the United States a liar during a joint session of Congress should NOT apologize for that act would be an example of behavior not approved by the owners. (even though I guarantee some of them would agree with Limbaugh).
There's part of me that would like to see the Limbaugh bid go forward if only because it will be fascinating to see how the NFL handles it. In the end, the owners and Goodell will probably find some way to squirm out of a Limbaugh ownership and when they do you can bet the rants coming from ole Rush will be a hoot because the guy doesn't deal with any sort of rejection very well. In fact, he might be the one person on earth who can walk into an NFL owners meeting and have the biggest ego in the room. That's saying a lot.
The funniest thing in all this was Limbaugh's quote about how it will make people "nuts," to see him work himself into the mainstream and this is one way for him to do it. Actually Rush, none of us really care if you work your way into the mainstream. If you want to share a room with Dan Snyder and Jerry Jones and be told you have to keep your mouth shut be our guest. You deserve to be an NFL owner. And, in many ways, the NFL owners deserve you right back.
There's an item in the paper today that I believe officially signals the death knell for college football as a serious New Year's Day tradition. Remember the old days when the four (then five with the Fiesta Bowl) New Year's bowls were the traditional finale of the college football season? Playing on New Year's Day meant something, you had to be GOOD to make a New Year's Day bowl. That's been watered down severely with the BCS moving it's so--called championship game back a week and taking at least one other bowl off the New Year's Day calendar. Now you have The Gator Bowl (which last year included a five loss Clemson team) and The Citrus Bowl and a bowl named for a steakhouse (albeit one that I like) played on New Year's Day.
And now we are going to have The Dallas Bowl played on New Year's Day. This is it, the end for New Year's Day to matter at all except when The Rose Bowl is being played. Follow me here for a minute: The Dallas Bowl is going to be played IN The Cotton Bowl. The reason for that is that, even though The Cotton Bowl was recently renovated those who run The Cotton Bowl game moved it to Jerry Jones's new palace. So, the people who run The Cotton Bowl stadium decided to create a new bowl. It will match mid-level teams from The Big Twelve and Conference-USA. So, you could have a New Year's Day matchup between, say, Colorado with a 6-6 record and Central Florida at 7-5. Oh joy, just we need to start the New Year.
It's bad enough that the NCAA hands out bowl bids to anyone who has a dozen ugly blazers lying around but can't it at least put some kind of limit on what gets on New Year's Day? Can't we have SOME tiny respect for tradition? Apparently not. I guess I'll watch the outdoor hockey game.