In the aftermath of the announcement that Rush Limbaugh's name has been dropped from the group bidding to purchase the St. Louis Rams NFL football team, a moment of some rational reflection on this matter might be in order.
Certainly, as both a moderate progressive with a liberal philosophy of the role of government and society in helping those who need pro-active support, and also as a minority political analyst who clearly has sensitivities to racial, ethnic, gender and lifestyle insults and attacks, I have often been most disconcerted and sometimes quite appalled by comments Rush Limbaugh has made over the years using the forum he has as a national radio talk show host and recognized spokesman for the conservative, Republican, and sometimes "right wing" position on the issues of our time.
Yet, after really considering all the various aspects of the controversy over Limbaugh's bid to become an owner of the Rams, I must say that I am far more concerned and dismayed by what Limbaugh says on the air rather than by what he does off the air. And in fact, I'm just not convinced that if, as an American citizen, he is engaging in activities in his private life that any other American could engage in without scrutiny (thus ruling out violating moral or civil laws), that we should be able to deny him that privilege to do that because of what he does in his professional, non-elected, public life. And non-elected is a key phrase in that description.
I don't have to account to any liberals who would attack me for even appearing to defend Rush Limbaugh because, in my good fortune to have had the opportunity to host my own radio show and appear frequently on both radio and television to defend liberal and progressive positions on race, politics, government, business and education, I have in fact been able to more openly confront and oppose Rush Limbaugh and many others who espouse some of his views far more frequently with far more exposure than virtually any of those who would want to attack me on this - so go ahead. What I'm trying to do here is make some sense and raise some common sense issues that those among us who like a reasoned approach to discourse can just reflect on.
To me, the arguments made against Rush Limbaugh being allowed to participate in ownership of an NFL team just seem less than totally convincing in this specific application regardless of how we might feel about him in other applications.
He is after all a successful American citizen whose only crime is that he is hated by so many of us for reckless, insensitive and polarizing comments, just as he is also loved by so many of us for motivating and inspiring a significant portion of the population who feel that he is the only one who truly understands how they feel and is courageous enough to articulate those views. See how different your description of him can be based on whether you actually agree or disagree with his political and social views on the issues.
But beyond that, do we really have the right to punish him in his own private life and family life for pursuing something that everyone of us would want to do if we could, and if we had the resources to pursue it along with the interest he clearly has in sports.
Again, if he is not a public villain certified by either registrations such as sex-offender lists or owing alimony or child support, or a convicted felon or other adjudicated determinations of that nature (the prescription pain matter has been expunged from the record), or disgraced himself in a public way that brings universal scorn (people who display themselves in public, etc.), and remember, what he does on the radio brings scorn only from those of us who disagree with him, not universally from everyone based on universally accepted societal mores and values.
And if you at least understand that point, then I just don't think we can prevent him from being part of the group attempting to purchase the team. We can certainly write letters to the current owners to express our opinion on why we don't want him involved in the team's ownership, and we can also express concerns to the NFL League office expressing our reservations as well.
But ultimately, the process should go forward as normal and it should be the decision of the current owners as to whose bid they accept, and an organized public action coordinated by Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson as if it is a core civil rights movement "call to action" just seems unjustified. Limbaugh should not have been forced out of even the process just because of who he is.
The fact is, I was much more comfortable with Limbaugh being forced to resign from ESPN's Monday Night Football game analysis team after his comments about the NFL wanting a "black quarterback to succeed" than I am with this current result. Why, because the "cause-effect" application in the Monday Night Football case looks at something he was doing as part of his public, professional life, and in that capacity, he was insulting so many fans of the game and also Americans in general and African-Americans in particular. And in that capacity, for him to continue to be part of that analysis team would only add salt to that original wound - and he should have been more sensitive - just as he should be in his current radio talk show format - with more license than he would have on the Monday Night Football format.
And as for Jesse and Al, while I often disagree with some of either their tactics or strategies, as I do here, I never refrain from pointing out how important I believe their roles have been in bringing matters of injustice and racial cross road issues to the forefront of the American consciousness. And I continue to salute them for that.
But in this case, maybe it would have been more effective and a better approach if Jackson and Sharpton had instead devoted their efforts to reaching out to wealthy Black figures such as Dick Parsons, former Chairman of Time Warner, and Kenneth Chenault, top executive and likely soon to be Chairman at American Express, and Jerry Rice, former NFL star, and others in that category and have them form a new group and pool their resources and have them outbid the Limbaugh group in a competitive heads-on competition, the kind that has really been a hallmark of America's free enterprise system which rewards competitive success, and the very same kind of competitive success we seem scared to allow to take place with our likely to be very costly refusal to include a government option in the health care reform legislation - we really do need that government option to make that plan work.
If you don't like the Limbaugh group make-up, then capitalize on the strong anti-Limbaugh fervor and form a new group with some core wealthy minority participants and then maybe open up small slots for average Americans who want to protest Limbaugh by buying into a competing group.
And as for the NFL, we have the Rooney rule, which requires teams to interview African-American coaches before hiring a new coach, and we should continue to encourage the NFL to reach out with affirmative efforts to bring more Blacks and minorities into the management ranks, and front office ranks, and ownership ranks.
But it seems to me we can't have it both ways. If we can have the NFL go out of its way and make extra outreach efforts to get more African-Americans into all ranks of participation in the NFL, even with some added leverage provided to some of these candidates, and I support that fully, then we can't also look at the other end and deny some mainstream Whites or others from at least having some equal participation opportunity when they could not be disqualified for any reasons other than people don't like their political views.
That is just going too far. But let's continue to do what the NFL is doing to promote more minority participation, and if that means real affirmative action, I support that. But let Limbaugh make his bid with his group, and then boycott his radio show, and express your disapproval, but don't prevent him from even participating in the bid effort with no universally supportable condemnable activity on his part.
And as for the argument that 70% of NFL players are Black - so what! Since when have African-American wealthy athletes been willing to take stands on important social issues where they might have made a difference? Michael Jordan openly supported Bill Bradley for President primarily because he was a basketball player who was a close friend of Jordan's - not because of Jordan's commitment on the issues. In fact, the whole attitude of Black players was best summed up by Jordan himself, when in response to a question as to why he didn't get involved in political and social issues, he responded - "Republicans buy tennis shoes too." So there you have it.
And if Black players say they don't want to play for a team owned by Rush Limbaugh, I say - Oh Yeah - where were you when the owner of the LA Clippers basketball team, Donald T. Sterling, was accused of racial discrimination in not renting to Blacks in some of his apartment buildings. I have been waiting to condemn wealthy Black players who were on Sterling's team and never took a stand, or refused to play unless that egregious activity was corrected. Those actions hurt far more than Limbaugh's ranting - and you know what, and I'm just taking a guess - but if Limbaugh owned any apartment buildings he probably would insist they didn't discriminate in any way - that would be just like him. So don't give me that "Black players in the NFL" argument - when they are prepared to stand up for themselves and use their exalted place in society to better that society, then I'll stand up for them.
The fact is, since Jackie Robinson in the 50's and 60's, and the "gloved hand" demonstration by the Black athletes at the 1968 Mexico City Olympic games, Black athletes have gotten less active and concerned about political and social issues in direct proportion to how much more wealth they are accumulating on the field.
The deed is now done, and Limbaugh is out. But how much better do you feel about that - and wouldn't you feel a lot better if instead of him being forced out, we proved just how much progress has really been made in America by seeing an African-American group formed that included Black athletes, and professionals, and wealthy entrepreneurs and businesspeople, and that group outbid the Limbaugh group. In that scenario, Limbaugh loses fairly with no greater prejudice of action shown towards him than would be shown to anyone else trying to participate in the ownership bid. And all of us win. In the current scenario that actually did play out, yes Limbaugh loses, but so do we as well. We can do better!
Carl Jeffers is a Los Angeles-and Seattle based columnist, TV political analyst, radio talk show host and commentator, and a national lecturer and consultant. E-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.