Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Carnie Has a Right to Buy an NFL Team

The Carnie Has a Right to Buy an NFL Team

By Evan Weiner

October 10, 2009

5:00 PM EDT

(New York, N. Y.) -- It is really odious to defend Rush Limbaugh but he does have the right to put in a bid for the National Football League franchise that is for sale in St. Louis. The carnie Limbaugh who might or might not believe every word that comes out of his mouth in a bid to startle people to get them to listen to his three hour daily United States radio program, apparently has enough money to join with long time sports executive David Checketts in an attempt to buy the team. If Limbaugh has the money, then he should go ahead with his bid despite his opinions on race, women, politics and anything else. After all, George Preston Marshall once owned the Boston-Washington Redskins and did not employ an African American player until 1962.

Checketts, if Limbaugh is telling the truth about the bid, is a Mormon and apparently is comfortable with the radio character who has made a career out of race baiting along a Nazi fascination and other less than complimentary, rude, hurtful, spiteful comments which would landed him in hot water with many elementary school teachers and principals which could lead to a school suspension and lessons on civility. Of course, Limbaugh’s words came out with a wink; he is only a carnie after all.

There are far more grown ups in elementary school than in the vast cultural wasteland of American radio and TV and that is where the defensive of Limbaugh has to begin. You see the caretakers of the publicly owned radio stations and syndicators are also involved in sports, people like Major League Baseball's Texas Rangers and the National Hockey League Dallas Stars owner Thomas O. Hicks. In addition to Hicks, there is the former owner of the National Basketball Association's San Antonio Spurs and the National Football League's Minnesota Vikings Red McCombs.

McCombs and Hicks were Limbaugh enablers but their contribution to the Limbaugh story is pretty much scrubbed from the public record. In 1975, McCombs along with L. Lowry Mays purchased a San Antonio, Texas radio station, WAOI, and founded Clear Channel Communications. In 1996, Clear Channel purchased Premiere Radio Networks and gained control of Limbaugh's nationally syndicated radio show. McCombs was the owner of the Spurs at the time and there seems to be no record of NBA Commissioner David Stern expressing any sort of outrage that McCombs had Limbaugh and others of his ilk under his control.

Limbaugh was making money for McCombs and the association flew under the radar screen. In 1999, Hicks' AMFM, Inc. merged with Clear Channel, but neither Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig nor National Hockey League Commissioner Gary Bettman ever voiced any opinion about Hicks owning a company that allowed Limbaugh to rant three hours daily about whatever would get him into trouble with the elementary school principle whether it was race baiting or calling feminists "Feminazis" or other words or radio skits that would be deemed offensive.

The real genius of Rush Limbaugh lies in the fact that he can keep an audience between commercials with whatever inflammatory statements he can think up. The truth is that over-the-air TV and radio along with newspapers depends on keeping the consumer's attention in between commercials that pay the bills. It has nothing to do with political ideology or covering the news, it is all about getting the most consumers and then being able to steer them to buy what the advertiser is selling. Someone has to pay the bills.

It is all about money; Limbaugh has made money for bosses like McCombs and Hicks. McCombs and Hicks sports interests do not dovetail necessarily with their real businesses. McCombs and Hicks perpetuated Limbaugh's brand and they own sports teams.

Selig was not bothered at all that one of his owners, Hicks, was an enabler but Selig developed a social consciousness over two very visible incidents that involved Cincinnati Reds owner Marge Schott and Atlanta Braves pitcher John Rocker that sort of echoed the type of programming that Limbaugh and others had on Premiere.

One of the consequences of the absolute lessening of manners and civility of conversation on radio and TV is the diminishing of respect people have for one another. The likes of Don Imus back in the 1970s opened the door to nastiness and it was all in the pursuit of an audience that would spend money on sponsors. Perhaps Rocker, who was a guy in his 20s at the time felt that he could say what we wanted because of pioneers in race baiting, like Limbaugh who had a rap sheet going back to the days of being a radio disc jockey in Pittsburgh.

Of course there has always been this caveat that has been uttered by the likes of Imus and Limbaugh. We are only entertainers.

In December 1999, Rocker did an interview with Sports Illustrated writer Jeff Pearlman. Among the quotes that caught the attention of Selig was one response after Pearlman asked if Rocker would ever play in New York.

“I'd retire first," Rocker told Pearlman. "It's the most hectic, nerve-racking city. Imagine having to take the 7 Train to the ballpark looking like you're riding through Beirut next to some kid with purple hair, next to some queer with AIDS, right next to some dude who just got out of jail for the fourth time, right next to some 20-year-old mom with four kids. It's depressing... The biggest thing I don't like about New York are the foreigners. You can walk an entire block in Times Square and not hear anybody speaking English. Asians and Koreans and Vietnamese and Indians and Russians and Spanish people and everything up there. How the hell did they get in this country?

Rocker also made it clear he did not like New York.

“Nowhere else in the country do people spit at you, throw bottles at you, throw quarters at you, throw batteries at you and say, 'Hey, I did your mother last night — she's a whore.' I talked about what degenerates they were and they proved me right.”

Pearlman did the interview while driving with Rocker and reported that "Rocker spat on a Georgia 400 toll machine and mocked Asian women. Also, he supposedly referred to black teammate Randall Simon as a "fat monkey".

The interview was a stain on baseball and Selig acted quickly after it was published. Rocker was suspended in spring training and for the first 28 days of the 2000 season without pay and ordered to sensitivity training. It did little good as Rocker continued opening his mouth but his career quickly went downhill. As soon as his left arm wore out rendering him useless, his career was over.

Schott had all kind of things to say about Nazis, including nice things about Adolf Hitler and disparaging opinions on African Americans and Jews along with men who wore earrings. She earned suspensions in 1993 and 1996 and Selig laid out a deal with her in 1998, face a third suspension or sell off your part of the team by December 31, 1998. Schott did sell most of her Reds ownership shares. What Schott said publicly hurt her, but there were baseball owners who said unsavory things but were never caught on the record. Selig had nothing to say in 1994 when it was alleged in a John Helyar book, Lords of the Realm, that New York Mets co-owner Nelson Doubleday said a derogatory remark against Selig and Chicago White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf to National League President Bill White.

Doubleday was one of the good old boys, Schott wasn’t.

Limbaugh is up front with his mouth. Oklahoma City Thunder minority owner Aubrey McClendon funds anti gay groups. That is McClendon's right but see how differently NBA Commissioner Stern handled McClendon’s political agenda when compared with his actions with Tim Hardaway. Stern did nothing. There could be a reason for that, McClendon is one of Stern's bosses, a commission has to answer to others and Haradway was merely a former player.

During an interview on Dan Le Batard's Miami radio show on February 14, 2007 concerning the recent coming out of former NBA player John Amaechi, Hardaway eventually said that " Well, you know I hate gay people, so I let it be known. I don't like gay people and I don't like to be around gay people. I am homophobic. I don't like it. It shouldn't be in the world or in the United States." He also said that if he found out he had one or more gay teammates, he would try to get them fired."

Hardaway was long retired by that point and was an NBA legend. He was supposed honored at the league's All Star Game Weekend festivities a few days after the interview. The NBA banned him from appearing and Hardaway lost his job with the Continental Basketball Association's Anderson, Indiana team. The CBA threw him under the bus. Stern did fine McClendon though but it had nothing to do with his politics. Stern was offended that told an Oklahoma City newspaper that Clayton Bennett and his partners, one of who was McClendon, bought the Seattle SuperSonics with the hope of moving the team to Oklahoma City. In August 2007, Stern levied a $250,000 fine against McClendon for speaking the truth.

Limbaugh does not a criminal record despite his OxyContin problem back in 2003, so that is a plus in his bid for a spot with Checketts group. There is a sports team owner with a Betty Ford Clinic background so that should not matter. But the NFL also has an unfavorable record with Limbaugh as his radio character came out in 2003 when he criticized Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb in a racially charged way, Limbaugh might have been right in his assessment of McNabb the quarterback but he forgot he was on ESPN not the imaginary EIB or Excellence in Broadcasting network and that his audience was not the radio "dittoheads". Limbaugh resigned his ESPN job on NFL Sunday Night Countdown October 2, 2003 after just a couple months on the job.

African American players who are currently employed by the St. Louis Rams are not impressed that Limbaugh wants to bid on the team. Ironically enough, the 1946 Los Angeles Rams hired two African American players, Kenny Washington and Woody Strode, and ended a 12-year-old policy of segregation. The rival All American Football Conference started in 1946 and did employ African American players as Paul Brown signed Bill Willis and Marion Motley for his new Cleveland Browns franchise. The 1946 Browns replaced the Rams as Cleveland's team and it was because of the Los Angeles Coliseum Commission's deal with Rams owner Daniel Reeves that Washington and Strode signed with Los Angeles. Reeves wanted LA but could only get the Coliseum if he signed Washington. Reeves signed the two players ending NFL segregation.

NFL owners generally never talk about potential partners but Checketts is already a member of the fraternity as an owner of the St. Louis Blues National Hockey League team after running Madison Square Garden for years along with the NBA's Utah Jazz. Checketts is not the problem, the carnie Limbaugh is for numerous reasons starting with his reputation. But Limbaugh has accomplished his primary mission which is all about El Rushbo, but saying he is interested in the Rams, he got people's attention and that probably will put money in his pocket. After all, isn't that what a carnie does?

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