Rhetoric Heats Up Around Limbaugh's NFL Bid

The NFL's woeful, winless St. Louis Rams are the talk of the sports and news media because conservative radio talk-show host Rush Limbaugh reportedly is part of a group interested in buying the team. There've been some strong statements in light of Limbaugh's racially charged comments in recent years.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

The rhetoric heated up yesterday between talk show host Rush Limbaugh and those who are challenging his effort to buy a pro football team. Limbaugh recently revealed he's part of a group planning to bid on the NFL's St. Louis Rams. NPR's sports correspondent Tom Goldman joins us now. Good morning.

TOM GOLDMAN: Good morning.

MONTAGNE: And how likely is it that Rush Limbaugh will be the man who turns the Rams into winners?

GOLDMAN: Well, turning the Rams into winners is a tall order. They are the worst team in the League, winless in five games, scoring less than seven points a game, and maybe they do need to shake things up with a guy like Rush Limbaugh. But there are big questions marks, however, about his potential involvement. First, the current Ram owners haven't even fully committed to selling the franchise. And second, Limbaugh says he'd only be a minority owner if a deal happened, meaning at least at the onset, he wouldn't be the guy making the big decisions by himself. But even though it still is a ways from happening, it hasn't stopped the media firestorm.

MONTAGNE: Well, Tom, remind us what caused that fire storm in the first place.

GOLDMAN: Well, Limbaugh is well-known for making statements that could be called racially polarizing. A few years ago, he lost his job as an ESPN pro football broadcaster when he said Philadelphia quarterback Donavan McNabb, who is African-American, was overrated because the media wanted to see a black quarterback do well. And then in 2007, Limbaugh said the NFL often looks like a game between the Bloods and the Crips without any weapons.

MONTAGNE: And so far, Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, a number of sports journalists have weighed in. Anything from the NFL itself?

GOLDMAN: Yeah. Yesterday, it was a hot topic at the NFL owners meeting in Boston. Commissioner Roger Goodell said he disagreed very strongly with Limbaugh's comments about McNabb a few years ago. And Goodell said he wouldn't want to see divisive comments from people who are in a responsible position within the NFL.

But, Renee, it's not up to Goodell to decide whether Rush is in or out. It's up to the other owners. Twenty-four of the 32 have to vote yes for new ownership, and at least one, Jim Irsay of the Indianapolis Colts, said no way. Here's his quote: "I couldn't even consider voting for him when there are comments that had been made that are inappropriate, incendiary and insensitive. Our words do damage, and it's something that we don't need."

MONTAGNE: And what do the guys on the field have to say, the players?

GOLDMAN: Well, the new head of the players' union, DeMorris Smith, who is African-American, asked players to say no to Limbaugh's bid. A few have, including Donovan McNabb. Many haven't, I think in part because most players feel fairly removed from ownership and they prefer to stay apolitical, for better or for worse. Players are mostly concerned with avoiding injury and collecting paychecks and winning ballgames.

MONTAGNE: And Rush Limbaugh himself, now he loves a good controversy. Is he loving this particular one?

GOLDMAN: I don't know if he's loving it, but he is speaking out. He blasted his critics yesterday. He accused them of a full-fledged smear campaign. And on his radio show, Limbaugh said he's trying to get apologies and retractions, with a threat of lawsuits, from journalists who have repeated incendiary quotes attributed to him, quotes where he allegedly said James Earl Ray, the man sentenced to prison for Martin Luther King, Jr.'s assassination, deserves a posthumous medal of honor. And another one, that slavery had its merits because the streets were safer after dark.

Limbaugh said yesterday he never said that stuff. And about the ownership controversy, he said it's regrettable that something I've dreamed about for years has taken this course, but the fight is worth it to me. I love the National Football League.

MONTAGNE: Tom, thanks very much.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome.

MONTAGNE: NPR sport correspondent Tom Goldman.

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