Posted by: Mark Nielsen | October 7, 2009

NFL Rushing Out on a Limbaugh

I read  today that radio personality Rush Limbaugh is putting in a bid to buy the St. Louis Rams football team. I’m trying real hard not to care about that, but I just can’t manage it. And I’m not even from St. Louis.

But former Rams owner Georgia Frontiere was from there, as is Limbaugh (more or less). Not that I’ll hold that against St. Louis. It’s a nice city, and Missouri is a nice state, mostly full of kind, complicated people. 

Complicated like Mark Twain was. Or Beat writer William S. Burroughs, or Chuck Berry, or former Cards and Cub baseball broadcaster Harry Carey, plus various iconoclastic politicians over the years who lean right on some issues and left on others. I think this happens partly because St. Louis was the classic “frontier gateway” town for over a century: where toughness, originality and risk-taking were always encouraged. Risks like Frontiere’s decision to take over the team she inherited from her late husband, instead of letting his son run the team. Or the risk of a move from flashy Los Angeles to flyover St. Louis, or the risk of turning over the quarterback reins to Kurt Warner — a recent grocery clerk–  from 2000 to 2002, when he won one Superbowl for them and took them to a second.

But Frontiere passed away in 2008, leaving her 60% share of the team to her two children. That’s the 60% that Limbaugh and St. Louis Blues owner Dave Checketts are now bidding on. The NFL franchise is now reportedly worth $929 million, despite the fact that the team has fallen into the lower third of the league in terms of talent and performance lately. So you might say that uber-capitalist Limbaugh is taking a risk of his own.

Never a shy one, I’m sure Rush sees it that way and will paint it that way in the press. I can almost predict what he’ll say on his show, or in a press conference:

“I’m just the head of a media empire trying to rescuscitate my hometown team and return it to its former glory, just like I’m trying to return the entire country to its former glory with my radio show. We’re all on the brink of disaster, but I believe I can help. I’m the original ‘voice in the wilderness’, and I’d like to be the one to lead the Rams back to the Promised Land.”

Limbaugh hasn’t said it yet. But he will. Can you hear the avalanche of chatter, the media frenzy, that this is going to kick off? Then Rush will stand on his “rights” to buy whatever he wants, while he basks in the glory of all the critical bluster from pundits, sports talking heads and entertainment figures. Just like he did last week on Jay Leno (of all places!… what’s NBC doing giving the guy a primetime pulpit to preach from?). Just like he’s done through the recent spate of town hall shoutfests and underhanded propaganda, taking shots at healthcare reform efforts. This from a man who…

“withheld information from a medical practitioner. That charge is known as doctor shopping and is a third-degree felony.” (Law.com, 2006)

In other words, Rush cut a plea deal on a drug fraud case in 2006, thus avoiding jail time for doing an insurance system end-around (see!? He knows about football…), by receiving thousands of extra oxycontin painkillers from multiple doctors and private sources. On the other hand, a drug-induced haze would explain his insane rants over the years. The man can afford to buy drugs illegally, but when it comes to giving more working Americans a chance to get them legally, he’s against it. Go figure.

Remember the last time Limbaugh got directly involved with the NFL? He was contracted as a weekly guest commentator on ESPN’s pregame show, only to be forced out after he made a racist remark about Philadelphia quarterback Donovan McNabb. That was 2003. How short is our memory?

If the Rams deal goes through, Limbaugh won’t be the first “media mogul” to own a major sports team. For example Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, another “maverick” and lightning rod for controversy, is among that crowd as well. But Cuban is also complicated: he’s on record as a libertarian of sorts, and so has supported both Right-leaning and Right-critical candidates and projects over the years, through direct donations, movies and other efforts. For example: one of Cuban’s companies financed and distributed a project by left-wing wunderkind filmmaker Steven Soderbergh (Erin Brockovich, Traffic, K Street and Syriana being among his most political projects).

Meanwhile, Rush Limbaugh isn’t complicated at all. He’s a one-trick pony and always has been.  He wouldn’t touch the likes of Soderbergh– or any other proponent of an honest conversation about corporate accountability, sound foreign policy, or market reform–  with a ten-foot pole. If Rush had made Erin Brockovich, the cancer those families got would somehow have been their own fault for drinking the water. What Rush calls being honest is to cite and interpret imaginary “facts”, and then ignore other real ones, all to prop up the crazy system that made him a millionaire in the first place.

In other words, I wouldn’t want to be a majority owner of one of the weaker NFL franchises — to have to deal with Limbaugh bullying me to get what he wants a few days a week during his wildly popular radio show, or Limbaugh “wagging the dog” in the boardroom and in colorful press conferences. Because if nothing else, Limbaugh is certainly a fine salesman, the way he’s gotten middle-America to stand behind the same people and policies that consistently sell them down the river.

So having Rush in on the party will be bad for the NFL not because he’ll be a bad Rams owner (who knows? He certainly shows signs of being a smart businessman…), but because the league will be hurt by all his trademark personal and political distractions in its rise toward becoming the new Great American Pastime. Why? Because Limbaugh is the ultimate media whore. He can’t help himself. He’ll choose his personal agenda over what’s best for the public every time. The Al Davis and Jerry Jones types at the top of some teams are bad enough, with their rampant egotism, illogical football choices and occasional (but veiled) bigotry. But Limbaugh will likely set a new standard for ethically compromised and politically biased team management, whether or not he knows anything useful about football.

Yes, sports, big business and politics have been strange bedfellows for years– from the public and private money involved in NCAA football activities, to the strikebreaking and monopolies encouraged in major league baseball ever since its early days. But the difference here is that I don’t trust Rush to even try to keep his politics and business practices separate from his football-related decisions. So to have one guy, especially THIS guy, creating a whirlwind centered on himself instead of doing what’s best for his players and the NFL — it’s just a real bad idea.

The Cleveland Dawg Pound and Raider Nation notwithstanding, I predict that Rush’s Dittoheads will easily be the NFL’s newest rabidly moronic fans of a very bad team by this time next year. As if the pro sports millionaires’ club wasn’t hard enough to stomach already, now we’ll have to endure Republican “tea parties” disguised as Rams tailgate parties, or ads for Halliburton alongside the Budweiser and Levitra signs on stadium scoreboards.


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