The League

Michael Oriard

Michael Oriard

An English professor at Oregon State University and the author of several books on football, including Brand NFL Making and Selling America's Favorite Sport and The End of Autumn Reflections on My Life in Football

A Bad Fit


So, an icon of the radical Right wants to own an NFL franchise. Forty years ago it might have seemed a perfect fit. Richard Nixon was courting his "silent majority" in part through his very public enthusiasm for football. Conservative champions of football proclaimed it a bastion of traditional values against the outrages of hippies, black militants, and anti-war protestors -- "the kooks, the crumb-bums, and the Commies," as Max Rafferty, the superintendent of public instruction in California under Governor Ronald Reagan, memorably put it. Not to be outdone, from the radical Left came the charge that football was fundamentally fascist and imperialistic -- an expression of the mindset that led to our misguided venture in Southeast Asia.

That was then, this is now. The NFL and conservative icons no longer seem a natural fit, and the truth is that they never were. (Football over the years has meant pretty much whatever we have wanted or needed it to mean at the time.) Despite baseball's much-celebrated pastoralism and football's violence -- baseball inspires poets, football supposedly inspires men who like to paint their faces and get in fights -- football is no more conservative than baseball (or basketball, soccer, golf, tennis, or any other sport). All sports are "conservative" in the sense that they are fundamentally Darwinian, with winners and losers, but beyond that basic fact sports are too layered to be squeezed into crude Red State or Blue State stereotypes.

The NFL came of age during the era when football was aligned with tradition and anti-radicalism, and Pete Rozelle aggressively promoted that relationship. Air Force flyovers and superpatriotic pre-game and half-time shows became essential elements of the Super Bowl spectacle at a time when they placed the National Football League on one side of a gaping political and cultural divide. But military displays have largely disappeared from the Super Bowl in the last few year -- or more precisely, when a majority of the American public turned against our misguided venture in Iraq. The NFL is no longer interested in staking out a political position; it wants to embrace everyone and offend no one. That's good for business.

NFL fans love or hate Jerry Jones (as they loved or hated Al Davis back when he mattered), but on football terms. They don't love or hate him for his views on immigration, the torture of prisoners, or the current resident of the White House. Love and hate are both good for the NFL, but only on football terms.

Which brings us to Rush Limbaugh. Has any NFL owner ever publicly wished the President of the United States to fail? As careful as the NFL is to select only sponsors whose brands enhance or complement its own, I have a hard time imagining that it would want to entangle its brand with Rush Limbaugh's. Limbaugh is a divisive rather than uniting figure; the NFL is all about coming together behind the teams and the league. On ESPN in 2003 Limbaugh accused the sports media of a kind of affirmative action in giving Donovan McNabb too much credit for the Eagles' success. The NFL is two-thirds African-American on the field and struggles to get at least a little bit closer to that mark on the sidelines and in the front office.

Aside from the collision of brands, imagine the practical consequences of Limbaugh's running the Rams. I would not foresee any free agent stars signing with the Rams for the chance to play for the scourge of wimpy liberals, but I can imagine that some would sign with anyone but St. Louis because of him. Whose coaching staff and front office would receive more scrutiny, and more criticism for any perceived failure to honor the spirit of the Rooney Rule? Limbaugh's bid would have to be accepted not just by the Rams' current ownership but also by the rest of the league's owners. It's hard to imagine them wanting the distractions that Limbaugh would bring.

On the other hand, it is also hard to believe that Limbaugh would have gotten this far without having sounded out the commissioner and some of the current owners. The only terms that I can imagine that would make his bid acceptable, would be some kind of agreement not to embarrass the league or embroil it in controversy. Presumably, this would include giving up his role as conservative provocateur. Like Democrats going to war, wouldn't it be something if Limbaugh became the owner of the most diverse franchise in the NFL in order to prove that he's not what he's assumed to be?

I still can't see it happening.

By Michael Oriard  |  October 7, 2009; 3:46 AM ET  | Category:  Philadelphia Eagles , St. Louis Rams Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Well at least we wouldn't have to worry about the Rams drafting or trading for a good black quarterback, because they are all over-rated like D. McNabb. Also any venture that will sap R.L.'s resources is a psoitive for me, but again I'm not sure that he would have winning teams given his belief in the inherent inferiority of non-White Americans. You ain't gonna get too far with that business model!

Posted by: youngj1 | October 7, 2009 8:18 AM

I find this editorial refreshingly naive. It's all about money. Rush has lots of it. The NFL doesn't care if they embrace Rush's brand or if it enhances the NFL.

Let's face it. The NFL has chosen to draft athletes rather than sportsmen for years. Men who are ruthless and super athletic but lack basic decency. If the NFL valued people and brands that enchance their franchises there would be no place for Michael Vick.

Football and sports in general don't teach ethics and honor, they teach Darwinism. Survival of the fastest, strongest, and meanest. Would fans pay to see a team admit they were offsides? Would fans pay to see a football player who humbly crossed the goal line rather than do a "Hey! Look at me and how bad I am, you losers" dance in the end zone.

Once upon a time that behavior would have been punished but now it's celebrated.

Mr. Oriard, thanks for assuming there is still some sense of decency in football. I feel like an old aunt, chuckling at her idealistic nephew.

Posted by: arancia12 | October 7, 2009 9:33 AM


Do you know what you are saying? You are going to censor a person in America from pursuing private gain due to them being conservative?

Limbaugh has already had the government used against him, as the state of new york continues to harrass him with tax agents. If you really cared about people, you would agree that this is abuse of power and denounce it.

This is example of how American's freedom is eroding due to political-correctness and the socialism that obamacons are promoting.

Shame on you. I hope that one day, after the obama socialist regime fails, you will still have the freedom to think the way you want, and pursue happiness. Obviously, this is not the case at this moment in America.

Posted by: jim000122 | October 7, 2009 9:44 AM

I suppose then, you must believe that Jerry Jones (Owner of the Cowboys) is not a divisive figure prone to strong, controversial statements and decisions? Grow up, personal opinion of owners doesn't matter, what matters are wins.

Posted by: SUMB44 | October 7, 2009 10:32 AM

Rush is used to tauting the Free Speech line, and he feeds his own free speech to his ditto-heads, and he is beloved. Good for him, espcially since it makes him much $$$. So, as a RAMs owner, if he decides to fiddle with player and coach selection, he will indeed fail, thus turning some ditto-heads RAMs fans into Rush-haters. This is a VERY GOOD thing! The more Rush-haters there are, the better. So...let him buy the RAMs and screw up and alienate people.

Posted by: schaeffz | October 7, 2009 10:41 AM

If he is in any way connected with the team,.... I will have the same policy for the Rams as a do for the Eagles after hiring Mike Vick: Never will one of their games be watched in my home.
Some of you may not agree with this but this is how I keep my conscious clear.

Posted by: witchofwestghent | October 7, 2009 11:12 AM

When he loses he can blame it on Obama, somehow.

Posted by: VegasJim | October 7, 2009 11:19 AM

So now a shill for the Republicans is the "radical right"? The paranoia of the hysterical left is comical. And yes, that includes an ivory tower professor from a 3rd rate cow college like Oregon State.

As is the double-standard for political types being involved with the NFL. I don't remember a similar uproar over the humorless, vicious, far left Keith Olbermann.

Posted by: otismcwrong | October 12, 2009 11:21 PM

So now a shill for the Republicans is the "radical right"? The paranoia of the hysterical left is comical. And yes, that includes an ivory tower professor from a 3rd rate cow college like Oregon State.

As is the double-standard for political types being involved with the NFL. I don't remember a similar uproar over the humorless, vicious, far left Keith Olbermann.

Posted by: otismcwrong | October 12, 2009 11:23 PM

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