Professional comedian Rush Limbaugh announced about a week ago that he was partnering with Dave Checketts in an attempt to buy the St. Louis Rams football team. Since that time at least a half-dozen NFL players have stepped and publicly said that the oppose bringing Rush into the league. Several flatly stated that they would never play for a team owned by him because of his long record of bigoted comments.
Today the effort to stop him from entering the league got a whole lot more serious. The President of the NFL Players Union is now officially on the record as opposing the sale.
It's been almost 20 years since Michael Jordan decided not to do a commercial for the African-American Democrat who was nominated to run against Jesse Helms for his Senate seat. At the time, MJ explained his decision with the pithy and tremendously shallow remark that "Republicans buy sneakers too." Well, today's athlete is less willing to put up with bigotry or to remain on the political sidelines.
The first mention of this story that I came across was a quote from Mathias Kiwanuka, a member of the New York football Giants. ESPN reported this comment multiple times and I think it is worth posting in full here:
"All I know is from the last comment I heard, he said in (President) Obama's America, white kids are getting beat up on the bus while black kids are chanting 'right on,'" Kiwanuka told The Daily News. "I mean, I don't want anything to do with a team that he has any part of. He can do whatever he wants, it is a free country. But if it goes through, I can tell you where I am not going to play."
"I am not going to draw a conclusion from a person off of one comment, but when it is time after time after time and there's a consistent pattern of disrespect and just a complete misunderstanding of an entire culture that I am a part of, I can't respect him as a man."
I bolded the line about repeated comments because I think what's significant about this story is that it's not a typical tabloid story about one slip of the tongue. These NFL players have been aware of Rush's insensitivity for years. He was after all shamed into quitting a brief stint as an analyst for ESPN after saying that Donovan McNabb had been over rated by a press corps that was anxious to see a black quarterback succeed.
Almost 70% of the players in the NFL are black. They make an average (mean) salary of nearly $800,000 with a median of over one million. They increasingly understand that they game belongs to them-that it is their talent that makes all this money possible. And their union (for once) is encouraging them to take more ownership of every dimension of what the league does. As union executive director DeMaurice Smith puts it:
"I have asked our players to embrace their roles not only in the game of football but also as players and partners in the business of the NFL," said Smith. "They risk everything to play this game, they understand that risk and they live with that risk and its consequences for the rest of their life. We also 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. Our men are strong and proud sons, fathers, spouses and I am proud when they stand up, understand this is their profession and speak with candor and blunt honesty about how they feel."
Today is one of those days. Mr. Smith has conveyed the objections of his players to NFL Commissioner Roger Godell. "I understand that this ownership consideration is in the early stages. But sport in America is at its best when it unifies, gives all of us reason to cheer, and when it transcends. Our sport does exactly that when it overcomes division and rejects discrimination and hatred."
That is a powerful message and I'm really glad that Rush Limbaugh is hearing it. The league for its part will not comment on a pending sale of a franchise. But believe me, they can't ignore this when it comes from their players. Six other groups are bidding on the team, including at least one group led by African-American investors.
Rush will not get his pony this time. For once, someone stood up to him and said "Your money can not buy our respect."
This makes me proud to be an American and to be a football fan.