Tuesday, October 13, 2009

On Rush

Let me just say this up front: I do not have any particular affinity for Rush Limbaugh, nor do I bother channeling seething hatred for him. I think he is a brilliant provocateur who has skillfully amassed a fortune in money and prescription drugs by promoting a crazed and borderline racist ideology to a segment of society that feels frustrated and marginalized. I find him regularly disgusting, I find him occasionally entertaining when I am trying to stay awake while piloting a rental car on Route 80 past Lock Haven, and beyond that, I try not to think about him at all. I refuse to believe that his most radical opinions connect with the majority of Americans, and I am convinced that the only reason he remains a relevant figure is because he has an uncanny ability to bait his critics and tormentors until they feel the need to slap him back, thereby giving the cable news networks reason to promote his agenda. Which is why I think all this uproar over Limbaugh potentially becoming an owner of the St. Louis Rams is completely misguided. Which is why, in a way, the best thing that could happen for reasonable Americans who have grown tired of Limbaugh's schtick is for Limbaugh to become an NFL owner.

Those of us who follow football recognize that there is a long history of idiots and blowhards owning professional franchises. From 1946 until the early 1960's, George Preston Marshall, the owner of the Washington Redskins, refused to integrate his squad. He was a terrible person, and he set his own franchise back by several decades, and that's the thing: Terrible people who own sports teams are exposed in inexorable ways; their crimes are generally considered unforgivable, even in death. People might understand (and even forgive) if you channel your venom in an attempt to destroy a political agenda (see: Atwater, Lee*); they do not forgive if you ruin their favorite sporting franchise. (And if you don't believe me, walk into a bar in Cleveland and proclaim that you are related to Art Modell.) Bad owners do not win forgiveness over time; bad owners are forever reviled, and it seems quite clear, given that certain NFL players have already begun to protest Limbaugh's potential involvement, given that he only lasted several weeks on ESPN before his own views sunk him, that his tenure would be destined to failure.

Of course, the experts at the National Review seem to think otherwise...He knows how hard it is, and he probably understands that while every loud-mouthed fan in American thinks he could do a better job of running a professional football team than the people who actually do it, there is a deep art to putting together a winning team, writes Geoffrey Norman, who goes so far to predict that Limbaugh's Rams would play "hard-nosed, fundamental football." If Norman is somehow correct, and if Limbaugh is willing to hide behind the scenes, then there is nothing to worry about; then perhaps Limbaugh deserves credit for being willing to subordinate himself. But this man is not suited to silence. He has made his career as a loudmouth; I doubt he'll be able to muzzle himself completely, and when he does speak up, it will be ugly, and it could ruin him. If Limbaugh destroys an NFL team merely by being around them, there is no easy deflection of blame, no faulting the mainstream media or the Democratic party. There is only Rush to blame, now and forever, and for many of us, that might not be such a terrible thing.

*Seriously, if you haven't watched that Lee Atwater documentary, it's great, and explains a lot about the Limbaugh milieu, and the reasons for the gaping political divide of the past two decades.

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