Sports at its best should be a reprieve from the things in our life that divide us. So when sports and politics collide, things turn ugly very quickly. That happened this week with the news that first Rush Limbaugh was in an ownership group that wanted to buy the St Louis Rams, and then the news that he was dropped from the group.
I don't normally go on ESPN.com's message boards, but I was curious to see what the people thought of the situation. After reading about 250 comments, I came to the conclusion that the people on that board had lost their collective minds.
Since the post has undoubtedly reached over 2,000 comments, I felt that me adding my voice to the insanity wouldn't do much good. This, however, is a perfect forum for me to discuss a few issues about the story that came up in the comments that I read.
Firstly, and most importantly, this is not an issue of free speech. The First Amendment protects individuals from government intervention in their speech. But in this case, neither the government nor the NFL is attempting the censor Rush Limbaugh.
Secondly, I don't think that Rush Limbaugh is a racist. What he is and has always been is a race/political/gender-baiter. He says what will get a rise out of his audience. It's how he made his fortune and why he is constantly in the news.
Which leads me to my third point. The NFL is the most stringent sports league when it comes to its image. That's why Roger Goodell was hired to be an iron-fisted commissioner. The league likes to "protect the shield," and Rush Limbaugh is the last thing they want in the league to disrupt that.
It's not that he is conservative—it couldn't be, because the overwhelming majority of the owners in the league are conservative. It's that he is a loudmouth race-baiter. The two are absolutely mutually exclusive.
Fourth, you can not compare Michael Vick being allowed to play in the league to this situation. Many people seem to forget that Vick paid his dues to society for 18 months in federal prison. That's the way our country works. You commit a crime, you go to prison, and your debt is paid. Period.
I understand why people get so emotional about the story, but perspective is needed. The NFL does not need Rush Limbaugh or anyone of his ilk; conservative, liberal or otherwise.