ESPN Blocks The Vote, Rejects NASCAR Driver's Ad Allegedly Due To "Religious Overtones"

ESPN, which airs all NASCAR Nationwide races, informed Nationwide driver Blake Koch that they have rejected an ad featuring his likeness due to "religious overtones." Yet they have no problem airing commercials featuring devout Christian Tim Tebow (inset). ESPN has since backtracked and claimed his "personal religious beliefs played no role".

Blake Koch is a very talented driver. He made his debut in the NASCAR Nationwide Series last year, and finished in the top 20 in four races, enough to rank 18th overall in 2011. Currently in his second season, Koch rounds out the top 20 after five Nationwide races. Not too shabby. The kid’s obviously got a bright future.

Unfortunately, his future in publicizing voter registration awareness is not off to a good start.

The website RiseUpAndRegister.com has affiliated itself with Koch in encouraging “the entire NASCAR nation to rise up and make our voices heard this election.” A quote from Koch on the website reads, “Over half of all race fans didn’t bother to vote in the last election. I know I was one of them.” He’s spearheading a promotion where, if you join Rise Up And Register via text, you’ll be in the running to win a Chevrolet Camaro, which Koch even promises to “deliver… myself.”

There is a 30-second advertisement promoting the cause, the contest, and of course, the website.

Koch and crew hoped that the advertisement would run on ESPN, whose family of networks carry coverage of the Nationwide circuit all season long. Much to Koch’s chagrin, ESPN waved a caution flag.

On Thursday, ESPN released a statement stating that they rejected the ad, saying it “did not meet our guidelines in regard to advocacy messaging.” The Worldwide Leader also claims “Koch’s personal religious beliefs played no role in our evaluation.”

But Koch is claiming otherwise. Koch told Bob Pockrass, NASCAR journalist for Scene Daily, which has been officially rebranded as the NASCAR section of SportingNews.com, that he had been informed way back on February 24 “that they weren’t going to air the commercials due to political and religious overtones… particularly on the BlakeKoch.com website.” (The “Rise Up And Register” spot was uploaded to YouTube on February 29.)

As a result of ESPN’s refusal to run the ad, Pockrass is also reporting that the organization “has now decided to stop sponsoring the Rick Ware Racing car.” Though, as of post time, references to Rise Up And Register (including photos of Koch donning gear bearing the organization’s logo) appear on Koch’s website, and of course, likewise on Rise Up And Register’s website. And Koch tweeted today that Rise Up And Register would honor their commitment to sponsor 20 races and “they are trying [their] best to make that happen.”

Koch also appeared on Fox News Channel’s morning show and played audio of a voice mail left by Rosa Gatti, ESPN Senior Vice President of Communication, who explained it “was declined for poitical and religious overtones which we avoid by all of our standards.” Note that the spot does not make a single reference to religion or Christianity, yet ESPN, according to Gatti, believes that they “do see the religious aspects of” the campaign by looking “at Blake’s website.”

The ESPN employee’s voice mail is a complete contrast from the official statement ESPN issued last week citing his “personal religious beliefs played no role” in their decision to deny the spot.

Oh, I see. So maybe it would only be a conflict of interest because President Obama makes regular appearances on ESPN.

Yeah, right.

Let’s take a closer look at Blake Koch’s website. Part of his bio reads, “Blake’s ambition is to promote God back into the American family.” On the “Outreach” page, it promotes appearances that Koch plans to make at churches in cities where upcoming Nationwide races are scheduled to take place. And did you see one of the T-shirts that Koch is selling? It reads “For One Nation Under God.” Additionally, a link on the bottom right of the Rise Up And Register website asks visitors to “bring Blake Koch to your church!”

Likewise, Koch made no secret of his belief in his Christian faith when he appeared on Fox News. “One thing I will not do is deny my faith just because a particular sponsor might not like the way I express my faith… I didn’t think that my faith in Christ would have an impact on whether or not a sponsor could air a commercial or not.”

Whether the Worldwide Leader is playing a game of “CYA” or not with their statement issued on Thursday, the bottom line is that Blake Koch learned straight from the source that “religious overtones” played into ESPN’s decision not to air Koch’s ad for Rise Up And Register.

This is the same ESPN that has devoted hours upon hours of coverage to another outspoken Christian athlete – you probably heard of him… His name is Tim Tebow.

The same Tim Tebow that ESPN devoted not one, but two special editions of “SportsCenter” to.

The same Tim Tebow whose introductory New York Jets press conference aired, not only on ESPN, but in stereo on ESPN2 – with a tweeting Skip Bayless as a subwoofer.

And the same Tim Tebow whose commercials endorsing the energy drink FRS have ran on, you guessed it, ESPN.

Let’s pay a visit to FRS’ website, shall we? We already know what “religious overtones” to expect when we go to Tebow’s official website. Ah, there it is: Tim Tebow’s personal profile on FRS.com, which, in the middle of the page, has a shameless plug for the Tim Tebow Foundation, which “utilizes the public platform that” – wait for it – “God has blessed Tim Tebow with to inspire and make a difference in people’s lives throughout the world.” There it is! A reference to Tebow’s Lord and savior Jesus Christ on FRS’ website! Who knew? (By the way, FRS: You may want to update that part on your Tebow page about him being the “starting quarterback for the Denver Broncos.”)

Does anybody know if Rosa Gatti or anyone from ESPN decided to take a look at Tim Tebow’s website, or perhaps his profile on the FRS website before airing the Tim Tebow FRS commercial? We wouldn’t want ESPN viewers to be fed any “religious overtones” if they saw that commercial, would we?

There’s a reason why you get over 2 million search results if you Google “ESPN” and “hypocrites”: because the Worldwide Leader is guilty of so many double standards. They won’t promote politics or religion unless it benefits them. In fact, when ESPN fired longtime “Monday Night Football” theme crooner Hank Wiliams Jr. after his controversial appearance on Fox News Channel, many were quick to point out ESPN’s political bias.

While there are no signs of Koch’s political preference on his personal website, when he says, “over half of all race fans didn’t bother to vote in the last election” – an election in which Democrat Barack Obama defeated Republican John McCain – and concedes that “I know I was one of them”, and is now the face of a campaign encouraging all of “NASCAR nation” to “rise up and register” to vote in this year’s election, some people could draw their own conclusions. Especially when you consider ESPN’s decision to not accept Koch’s advertisement, yet they fawn all ower Tim Tebow – who has been seen in the same room as President Obama (just sayin’).

And here’s the kicker: In the ultimate sign of disrespect to Blake Koch, not only is Rise Up And Register not listed as his main sponsor on ESPN’s website, he’s still listed as a driver for Chip Ganassi Racing – and the driver of a Dodge, to boot. Somebody please alert ESPN that Blake Koch has joined Rick Ware Racing and now drives a Chevrolet – and he’s going to give one lucky race fan his or her own Chevy Camaro if they sign up for Rise Up And Register – on second thought, just tell them that he’s joined Rick Ware Racing.

Blake Koch. The latest in a long line of people to which ESPN owes a major apology – for another bout in a recurring disease known as hypocrisy.

UPDATE: Jerry Wilson of Examiner.com is reporting that not only did ESPN reverse its decision not to run the Rise Up And Register spot, but it was the organization’s “failure to fulfill its financial obligations to ESPN” that is the main reason why the spot was not run on their air. Additionally, the group “has failed to make payment to Rick Ware Racing for sponsorship of the car” – this likely lends creedence to Koch’s earlier tweet that both sides were working to “make that happen.” Stay tuned.

Rams, Redskins, RG3 and… Rush?

The Washington Redskins traded four draft picks to the St. Louis Rams, in the hopes of drafting Robert Griffin III. But what if talk show host and former ESPN commentator Rush Limbaugh had been a part-owner of the Rams, as he had aspired to be back in 2009? With the recent Sandra Fluke controversy, would any teams have even fathomed a deal with the Rams?

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.

Hump Start: NFL Moves 2012-13 Season Kickoff Game To Wednesday Night

Once again, the New York Giants find themselves in an interesting position: beginning their defense of their NFL championship a little earlier due to a conflict with an election convention. This year, the Giants will kick off the season on a Wednesday night, playing the first Wednesday NFL game since 1948.

Are you ready for some football? On a Wednesday?

As President Obama would say, yes, we can.

For the first time in 64 years, a regular season NFL game will be played on a Wednesday night – and it’ll be the very next NFL game, which opens the 2012-13 season.

And for the second time in five years, it’ll be at the expense of the World Champion New York Giants.

Here’s the deal: The game, which will be played at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey, home of the Giants, was originally scheduled, as has been the case for the past dozen years, on the first Thursday of September following Labor Day.

This year, that would be September 6. Incidentally, 2012 is an election year, and each election year, the Republican and Democratic National Committees have been hosting four-day conventions during the final week of August and first week of September, alternating each year. The final day of the convention – Thursday – is the crescendo which closes with a speech from the main candidate (or sitting President).

There was no conflict in 2004 because the Democratic convention was held in July of that year. However, in 2008, so as not to step on Republican nominee John McCain’s address, the NFL moved up the time of the season opener – also involving the Giants, who had won Super Bowl XLII – from an 8:30 PM (ET) start time to about a 7 PM kickoff. The ratings were decent, but apparently not decent enough to the point that the Giants will be playing another early Thursday night season opener.

So on Tuesday, the NFL decided to simply move the game to the previous night, Wednesday, September 5. It will be the first time since the fall of 1948 that a regular season NFL game would be played on a Wednesday. On that day, September 22, 1948, to be precise, the Detroit Lions lost to the Los Angeles Rams, en route to a 2-10 season; the Rams finished 6-5-1. (In case you’re wondering, the Philadelphia Eagles won the championship that year.)

This will be the second time in three years that a regular season NFL game will be played on an unorthodox day of the week. In late December 2010, a Sunday afternoon game involving the aforementioned Eagles was moved to Tuesday night due to extreme blizzard conditions in Philadelphia. The visiting Vikings – playing out the string a la the Asheville Tourists after a blizzard back home impounded the Metrodome – won the game behind the unlikely arm of Joe Webb.

The Giants’ first opponents of the 2012-13 season is still to be determined. In 2008, the Giants beat the Washington Redskins in the season opener. With politics once again coming into play in the Giants’ defense of their Lombardi trophy, don’t be surprised if the Giants once again square off against Washington on September 5; the start time will remain 8:30 PM ET. (The two teams have actually faced each other on the season opener for the last two years.)

And in case you’re wondering: no, the Giants don’t play the Chicago Bears this season, so that was not a factor in moving up the season opener to Wednesday to accommodate big-time Bears fan President Obama the following night.