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Radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh is No. 1 -- and so's the NFL. But never the twain shall meet. Conservative commentator was dropped from prospective ownership group wishing to buy St. Louis Rams.
Consider the seeming hypocrisy: The league includes players either implicated or found guilty in vehicular homicide (current Rams player Leonard Little and suspended Cleveland Browns wide receiver Donte Stallworth), stabbing deaths (Baltimore Raven Ray Lewis who pleaded out of a murder charge), animal cruelty (yeah, you know who!), drug usage (too many to mention) -- and various other ethical and legal transgressions.
So how can Rush Limbaugh be deemed persona non grata among owners? Foul-mouthed rappers like Jay-Z can get ownership shares in basketball teams without a peep of protest. Yet, any ownership group that includes Limbaugh may be unable to get the necessary two-thirds approval from owners.
To understand what is going on, realize that Rush and the NFL are unique in their respective fields. The NFL passed baseball as America's national pastime years ago. Limbaugh dominates too: No one comes close to his weekly audience of 20 million.
Unfortunately, their brands are almost mutually exclusive.
The NFL is about conformity, control and image. Controversy is neither desired nor tolerated. Indeed, Commissioner Roger Goodell has made discipline his watchword. Suspensions for inappropriate off-field behavior have been swift and unsparing. The reason is obvious: He is overseeing an $8 billion business and he will not allow a bunch of spoiled 20-something athletes to ruin the public image of this golden goose.
Limbaugh, meanwhile, courts controversy. His image is big, bold and brassy. He sees himself as the truth-teller against a left-wing media, and he adopts a "bring it on" attitude when critics demonize him.
On the surface, the Rush-NFL story seems to be about race: All NFL owners are white, yet more than 65 percent of the players are African-American. Some black New York Giants players declared that they could never play for a Limbaugh-associated Rams team:
"All I know is from the last comment I heard, he said in (President) Obama's America, white kids are getting beat up on the bus while black kids are chanting 'right on,'" defensive lineman Mathias Kiwanuka told The Daily News. "I mean, I don't want anything to do with a team that he has any part of. He can do whatever he wants, it is a free country. But if it goes through, I can tell you where I am not going to play."
Limbaugh brought race to the fore in his ill-fated stint as an ESPN analyst in 2003, infamously declaring that Donovan McNabb was overrated because the media and the NFL wanted to see "a black quarterback doing well." As it happens, Limbaugh was wrong on both counts -- his estimation of McNabb's talent and on the level of racial "boostering" in the media.
It's not a coincidence that
when he made it quite clear that Rush's role with the ownership groups was exceedingly problematic.
McNabb isn't just a good player; he's also a good person -- someone who's never been in trouble on or off the field. He is, yes, a role model -- the opposite of the bad boys that Goodell has been forced to discipline over the last few years.
If Limbaugh could make race a feature of commentary on his first NFL go round, what could the league expect if it partnered with him? Goodell could immediately envision weekly politically-charged comments from Limbaugh, who earns millions for not holding his tongue. The radio host's bomb throwing would be attributed to "NFL owner Rush Limbaugh" if he was allowed in the club.
The Limbaugh-NFL union ended before it even began, a victim of each party's outsize success. No need to cry for either one, because they both remain No. 1, and quite profitably.