Over the weekend, the Washington Redskins have agreed to a trade with the St. Louis Rams, giving them this year’s second overall pick in the NFL Draft, in exchange for their sixth and 39th overall picks in this year’s draft, plus their first-round draft picks in the next two years. With the deal, the Redskins effectively opt-out of the “Peyton Manning sweepstakes”, as the franchise has their sights set on Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III – provided the Indianapolis Colts don’t call an audible and grab Griffin themselves with the first overall draft pick, which the team is likely using for Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, who would effectively replace Manning after fourteen seasons with the Colts.
The Redskins’ trade with the Rams, on paper, appears to be a coup for both teams: St. Louis, who had already drafted a quarterback two years ago in Sam Bradford, sensed that with two quarterbacks – Luck and Griffin, possibly in that order – projected to be drafted with the first two picks, they felt it was best to trade their pick away to a team that would best benefit from the services of “RG3”, while the Rams used the draft picks they would receive from said team to continue the rebuilding process.
And in “RG3,” the Redskins seem to have found the franchise quarterback they have needed since Joe Theismann took over under center in 1978, just as the league’s regular season tally expanded from 14 games to 16.
But imagine for a moment that this blockbuster trade may have never come into fruition. That’s right: there might have been a possibility that the Redskins, or any of the other NFL teams, for that matter, may have wished not to do business with the Rams for their second-overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft. All because of one man who had expressed interest in part-ownership of the franchise some two-and-a-half years ago: conservative talk radio titan Rush Limbaugh.
Georgia Frontiere, previous owner of the Rams, died in early 2008 due to complications from breast cancer. It was under her watch that the franchise moved from Los Angeles to her hometown of St. Louis in 1995. Prior to the 2008 season, Limbaugh, a native of Cape Girardeau, MO, which is just over 100 miles from St. Louis, expressed his interest in owning the Rams. “My desire to get involved [with NFL ownership] has not been a secret,” Limbaugh said at the time, adding that he knows “a lot of friends” in that capacity. And despite the Rams being located not too far from where he was born and raised, Limbaugh pleaded that such a move would be strictly “a business decision.”
Limbaugh’s desire to join the ranks of NFL ownership intensified in October 2009, when he announced that he would be joining a group led by St. Louis Blues owner Dave Checketts, who previously had been the president and CEO of Madison Square Garden through most of the 1990’s, in a bid for ownership of the Rams. This was met with much criticism, as several negative comments about the NFL from Limbaugh were resurfaced and rehashed ad nauseum, most notably his comparison of the league to “a game between the Bloods and the Crips without any weapons” in 2007.
Also revisited was his ill-fated stint as commentator of “Sunday NFL Countdown” on ESPN in 2003. On the September 28, 2003 edition, the “Countdown” crew had been discussing the Philadelphia Eagles, who at the time were 0-2 – outscored 48-10 in the first two games at their then-new stadium, Lincoln Financial Field – and just coming off of a bye week. In those previous two games, quarterback Donovan McNabb had thrown for zero touchdowns and three interceptions, and was sacked a whopping ten times for a combined loss of 66 yards. This led Limbaugh to say about McNabb: “I’m sorry to say this, I don’t think he’s been that good from the get-go… I think the media has been very desirous that a black quarterback do well… he got a lot of credit for the performance of this team that he didn’t really deserve. The defense carried the team.”
Co-commentator Tom Jackson was quick to point out that McNabb had led the Eagles to “those championship games” in the previous two seasons – they had been eliminated by the Buccaneers in 2003, and the previous year, incidentally, by the Rams, both of which had advanced to and won Super Bowls in those years. “He has been a very effective quarterback for this football team over the last two or three years,” Jackson said of McNabb, “and they didn’t have any more talent then than they do now.” Limbaugh replied: “Oh, yes, they did: on defense… I think he got a lot of credit for the defensive side of the ball winning games for this team.”
Limbaugh also assured Jackson that McNabb was “a good investment” by the Eagles, but “I just don’t think he’s as good as everybody says he has been.” Fellow commentators Steve Young and Michael Irvin were not as dismissive on Limbaugh’s view as Jackson had been. “Don’t misunderstand,” said Limbaugh.
Whether or not the quarterback had “misunderstood” Limbaugh’s comments, McNabb spoke out about them in a newspaper interview: “It’s sad that you’ve got to go to skin color. I thought we were through with that whole deal.” This led to several athletes and noted Democratic figures, including civil rights activist Al Sharpton, dismissing Limbaugh’s comments about McNabb on ESPN, and an outfit known as the National Association of Black Journalists questioning “ESPN’s credibility as a journalism entity.” This led to ESPN issuing a statement on the night of Wednesday, October 1, 2003, announcing that they had informed Limbaugh that his comments about McNabb “were insensitive and inappropriate.”
Shortly after, Limbaugh would part ways with the Worldwide Leader, resigning his post on “Sunday NFL Countdown.”
Keep in mind that the next day, October 2, 2003, he would deliver the keynote speech at the annual National Assocation of Broadcasters convention – which just happened to be based in Philadelphia that year.
Fast forward six years, and ten days, later. In the wake of Limbaugh’s inclination to be part of a group making a bid for ownership of the St. Louis Rams, the executive director of the NFL Players Association, DeMaurice Smith, who is African-American, voiced his opposition of Limbaugh’s involvement with NFL ownership, saying his history of controversial comments that have been made, not only about McNabb on ESPN, but on his nationally syndicated radio show with roughly 600 affiliates – Rush has made no secret that he is not a fan of current U.S. President, Barack Obama – would mar the spirit of the NFL, which “overcomes division and rejects discrimination and hatred.”
Much like in 2003 after Limbaugh’s viewpoint on Donovan McNabb, several athletes did not take kindly to Limbaugh’s potential part-ownership of an NFL franchise. “Our players… know that there is an ugly part of history and we will not risk going backwards, giving up, giving in or lying down to it,” said Smith in 2009. “I am proud when they stand up, understand that this is their profession, and speak with candor and blunt honesty about how they feel.” The next day, the commissioner of the NFL, Roger Goodell, went on the record as saying Limbaugh’s comments, particularly about McNabb in 2003, were “divisive” and “polarizing,” and “would not want to see those comments coming from people who are in a responsible position in the NFL… Absolutely not.”
Make no mistake, Rush Limbaugh is a polarizing figure in the African-American community. It would be hard to fathom his involvement in the ownership of a team located in a city which, in 2010, roughly half of its population (49.2%) was African-American.
Shortly after Goodell voiced his displeasure in Limbaugh’s potential link to Rams ownership, Checketts had no choice but to shed Limbaugh from his ownership group. “It has become clear that his involvement in our group has become a complication and a distraction to our intentions,” Checketts said in a statement, adding that Limbaugh would have only been “a limited partner” who “would have had no say in the direction of the club or in any decisions regarding personnel or operations.” Checketts was optimistic that his group’s disassociation from Limbaugh would “eventually lead… to a successful conclusion” – that being, claiming ownership of the Rams franchise.
What appeared to be a strong desire by Checketts & Co. in the beginning of 2010 had fell by the wayside as the winter went on, and ownership of the team ultimately went to billionaire Stan Kroenke just prior to the start of the 2010-11 NFL season.
It’s clear that without Rush Limbaugh, the NFL is all the better for it.
But given the events of the last few weeks, I can’t help but wonder if: What if Rush Limbaugh was currently a part-owner of the St. Louis Rams? What if Rush Limbaugh had never been an employee of ESPN? What if Rush Limbaugh – as impossible as it may be to imagine – had never uttered a “divisive” thing about anyone or anything over the last 25 years?
It was on New Year’s Day 2012 that it was first reported on, ironically enough, ESPN’s “Sunday NFL Countdown” program, that junior quarterback Robert Griffin III of Baylor, just three weeks after winning the Heisman Trophy, was going to declare eligibility for the NFL Draft.
On February 24th, the Rams let it be known that they are willing to part with the second overall draft pick – for the right price. St. Louis, of course, is set at quarterback with Sam Bradford, so it’s not much of a necessity for them to draft Griffin.
The day before, on February 23rd, Georgetown University law student Sandra Fluke had given testimony at a panel on Capitol Hill titled, “Lines Crossed: Separation of Church and State. Has the Obama Administration Trampled on Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Conscience?” Fluke had spoken in favor of contraception being covered by health insurance plans offered by employers, including regilious institutions.
On February 29th, on his radio show, Limbaugh spoke out against Fluke’s support for a federal contraception mandate. “What does it say about the college coed… who goes before a Congressional committee and essentially says that she must be paid to have sex?,” he asked his listeners. “What does that make her? It makes her a slut, right? It makes her a prostitute. She wants to be paid to have sex.” Limbaugh further continued skewering Fluke for the remainder of the week, culminating with his March 1 show, in which he voiced a request for Fluke, in exchange for her plea for taxpayers footing the bill for contraceptives, “to post the videos online so we can all watch.”
The verbal attacks on Fluke were so brutal that she received a call from President Obama on Friday, March 2. Amid mounting criticism, Limbaugh posted an apology on his website the next day – but by then, the damage would just start to be done, as seven sponsors announced that they would pull their advertising from Limbaugh’s radio show over the weekend. Since then, the list continues to grow. Two radio stations in the “blue state” of Massachusetts and the island of Hawaii even canceled Limbaugh’s show. And just recently, a trio of women’s rights activists led by Gloria Steinem urged people to file complaints with the Federal Communications Commission so that they may revoke the licenses of hundreds of radio stations that air Limbaugh’s “toxic hate speech.”
In the span of ten days, Rush Limbaugh had been under much scrutiny for his comments about Sandra Fluke, and rightly so.
Now, take that all in, and imagine if, amidst all of this controversy, he was a part-owner of the St. Louis Rams.
A St. Louis Rams team that would be openly willing to wheel and deal the second overall draft pick to other NFL teams.
There’s a good chance that the Rams would have been left at the altar.
Regardless of how talented and highly touted Robert Griffin III may be, Rush Limbaugh’s mere existence on the Rams ownership board would have been front office kryptonite, with Limbaugh’s comments about Fluke tainting such a deal before it would even be proposed.
“Well, I’m terribly sorry about Mr. Limbaugh’s comments regarding Ms. Fluke, but… RG3! Come on!”
There would have been no takers. Not even the NFL team representing Washington – where Georgetown University is located – and President Barack Obama currently resides.
It could have been the second case of Rush Limbaugh being in the wrong place at the wrong time since 2003, after he quit his gig at ESPN over controversial comments about the quarterback of Philadelphia’s NFL team – right before he was to give a speech at a broadcasting convention in Philadelphia.
Things could have been far worse: Could you picture a part-Limbaugh-owned Rams team making the draft pick megadeal with the Redskins, and then going on the radio to defame Sandra Fluke as a “prostitute” and a “slut”? The Rams, the Redskins, the entire NFL starting with Roger Goodell – they would have to spend the weeks leading up to the NFL Draft trying to remove all of the egg from their faces. Those comments clearly would have been a distraction as all 32 teams prepare for the draft, with the conversation of “Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin?” being relegated to a sideshow.
A distraction similar to the one that sprung up when Limbaugh first expressed interest in ownership of the francise.
There’s no way that anybody with a pulse can condone Rush Limbaugh’s many “divisive comments” over the years.
In the case of Rush Limbaugh, the aspiring part-owner of an NFL team, however, it’s somewhat bittersweet that he has made such comments, only in that the NFL has swiftly denied access to him joining the league’s franchise owners, because of those comments.
Such unnecessary roughness on Sandra Fluke may have resulted from him being banned from the league.
One more serving of food for thought: Would Rush Limbaugh have made those comments about Sandra Fluke, comments that the average woman took offense to, if he had been part-owner of the St. Louis Rams, continuing a legacy of franchise ownership previously upheld by… a woman?
If Georgia Frontiere heard some of the things Rush Limbaugh has said, whether he owned the Rams or not, she might roll over in her grave.