The “rush” to judgment by Dave Checketts and the potential ownership group trying to purchase the St. Louis Rams was certainly swift and decisive. In the face of a swirl of negative attention this week, Checketts bailed on Rush Limbaugh.
In the end, this “Limbaugh episode” brought out some emotions that -- depending on one’s view of things -- were either raw and bubbling under the surface or were simply politically correct, something Limbaugh certainly is not.
Players immediately came forward to say they would not play for him, with the inference being that the Rams would become a team that would have to overpay to sign free-agents, assuming they would be willing to play there at all.As to that argument, well, no. It’s nice that Bart Scott, who just received the largest contract ever given to a linebacker, could say that he would never play for Limbaugh. However, like Scott, who shunned his old team to go for the bigger deal with the Jets, players want to go where there is (1) money and (2) opportunity. Having recruited players to Green Bay -- certainly not the most geographically desirable place to live for young black players -- for nine years, I found that the way to overcome any problems with location was simple: Show them the money.
Do we really think that Jason Brown, who on Feb. 28 received by far the largest contract ever given to a center (five years, $37.5 million, with $20 million guaranteed), would not have signed with the Rams if Limbaugh were part of the ownership group? Please.
Reggie White was the first premier free agent in the NFL and was recruited by multiple teams. As we know, he signed with the Packers, who were offering considerably more than other teams. In 2006, I recruited Charles Woodson to come to the Packers so hard I felt like the Green Bay Chamber of Commerce. In the end, the financial package ruled the day. Terrell Owens went to Buffalo this spring for one reason: an offer superior than anyone else offered. Players would have gone to the Rams with or without Limbaugh in the ownership group. They follow the money.
On the ownership side, Colts owner Jim Irsay denounced the potential bid, delivering the first shot across the bow to Checketts, as if to say, “Don’t expect my vote in your attempt to get two-thirds of the clubs to support your bid.” And Commissioner Roger Goodell chimed in with a more moderate, although impactful, comment: “We’re all held to a high standard here, and I think divisive comments are not what we’re all about, so I would not want to see those comments from people who are in responsible positions in the NFL. No, absolutely not.’’
Translation: We have one of the most respected brands in all of sports and business. We are in a challenging environment for fans and sponsors, and the last thing we need is a polarizing figure to potentially tarnish our brand.
And, of course, the usual suspects -- Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton -- took their place on the bully pulpit with outrage, leading a chorus of boos against Checketts for including Limbaugh and setting the stage for further action if the process moved forward.
Faced with an onslaught of negativity from players, owners, the NFL, community leaders, fans and media, Checketts buckled to the mounting pressure and released Limbaugh from his ownership team, setting him free to pursue other interests should he so desire, and removing a potential obstacle in the bid to purchase the Rams.
The lingering question I have after this little episode: What was Checketts thinking? Did he think this would be kept quiet by Limbaugh? Did he think this polarizing figure would not affect his bid? Did he not foresee the issue of race coming front and center with the addition of Limbaugh?
In the end, the NFL did what it had to do -- through its discouraging comments about the bid -- to protect the brand. Checketts did what he had to do to protect his attempt to buy the Rams. And Limbaugh will continue to do what he does, with a profile raised even higher through another immersion -- however brief and uneventful -- into the consciousness of NFL fans everywhere.
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