Last week on the air, Rush Limbaugh gleefully pronounced that the only thing more embarrassing to President Barack Obama than attaching himself to Chicago’s losing 2016 Olympic bid was being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for “telling everyone how much our country sucks.”
That's unless a cabal of industry titans and media moguls tells you: “We don’t want your money.”
After NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell publicly disassociated the league from Limbaugh’s divisive rhetoric, saying “I wouldn’t want to see those comments coming from people who are in a responsible position in the NFL,” the investor group bidding to purchase the St. Louis Rams reportedly announced that Limbaugh was being dropped from the group so that controversy surrounding Limbaugh and his past comments wouldn’t interfere with their acquisition.
That’s how America’s right wing, talk radio king got dumped by his cronies: His reputation as a race-baiter was getting in their way of buying a team that employed a bunch of African-American millionaires. The guy who got rich talking trash learned that in pro sports, money talks and bullshit watches at home on TV like everyone else.
Winner: The Free Market
It’s going to be a bitter pill for right wingers to swallow, but they have to admit that in this case, their beloved free market sorted everything out.
Limbaugh is paid millions for his commentary: He said Pro Bowler Donovan McNabb is overrated because “the media has been very desirous that a black quarterback do well.” He’s compared NFL player conduct to “the Bloods and the Crips.”
But just like Limbaugh’s business depends on white male angst, football is a business that aggressively markets—and guards—a product dependent on black male talent. Limbaugh’s ouster wasn’t censorship. It was a cartel sensing they’d hitched their wagon to the wrong ass.
Winner: Rev. Al Sharpton
Michelle Malkin blames l’affaire Limbaugh on “race hustlers” like Rev. Al Sharpton. But the sometimes-overreaching Sharpton played this one just right. There were no fired-up sermons or demonstrations. He put pen to paper and made his case to the NFL that getting in bed with Limbaugh was bad business. He fought free speech with more free speech and got his way.
Sharpton didn’t lead a charge so much as distill what people were already thinking: Don’t let Limbaugh taint America’s favorite pastime. He stuck to one key point: Owning an NFL team isn’t a right; it’s a privilege. It’s the first time Sharpton successfully leveraged his newfound role—won by going silent in 2008—he’s the last celebrity civil rights spokesman standing in the Obama era.
Winner: Donovan McNabb
McNabb gets the last laugh on Limbaugh. Unlike his signature endorsement product, Campbell’s Chunky Soup, revenge is a dish best served cold.
After Rush tried to ridicule him, after shaking off bad-apple teammates like Terrell Owens, taking abuse from Philly fans and losing a Super Bowl, McNabb is, in addition to being rich, everything Rush is not: He’s loved by fans of all stripes, he’s universally respected, his reputation is clean, and he’s never let anyone break his cool. He’s the NFL’s version of President Barack Obama.
The loser, of course, is Limbaugh, who, by his own account, is “desirous” of owning an NFL franchise. Though his current contract is worth a reported $400 million, the same shock commentary that he’s used to propel himself to the top of the talk-radio universe is making NFL owners wary of jumping him in to their exclusive gang. They prefer their conservative white male privilege the old-fashioned way—nice and quiet.
As the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Jeff Schultz notes, NFL owners are about business. They have the most valuable product in professional sports, and they aren’t keen on damaging it. They’re not worried about a backlash from the so-called liberal media. They’re worried about selling tickets and renting skyboxes. Per Schultz, having a new owner “who was arrested for illegally obtaining, and then becoming addicted to, prescription painkillers and sang ‘Barack, The Magic Negro’ on his show” isn’t going to help them with fans or players when they get around to negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement.
But truth be told, the fans are losers here, too. It would have been perversely entertaining to watch a league that’s already called the “No Fun League” try to cope with the likes of Limbaugh.
Imagine black St. Louis fans wearing McNabb jerseys the first time that the Philadelphia Eagles come to town. Imagine the first black (or better yet, white …) free agent who takes less money on another team to avoid becoming a Limbaugh employee. And with their current winless record, it’s hard to do, but imagine the Rams winning the Super Bowl and Rush the Magic Owner taking that trip to the White House for a pat on the back from his biggest fan—Barack the Magic President.
David Swerdlick is a regular contributor to The Root. Follow him on Twitter.
David Swerdlick is an associate editor at The Root. Follow him on Twitter.