David Rothkopf

Why the big football story of the weekend had nothing to do with the World Cup

The Republican Party has, since the days of Ronald Reagan, prided itself as the party of lunch-bucket Americans and main-street values. And what could be more lunch bucket, more main street than the National Football League? So when the players of the NFL line up to oppose the bid for St. Louis Rams ownership of ...

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The Republican Party has, since the days of Ronald Reagan, prided itself as the party of lunch-bucket Americans and main-street values. And what could be more lunch bucket, more main street than the National Football League?

So when the players of the NFL line up to oppose the bid for St. Louis Rams ownership of alpha Republican Rush Limbaugh, it is more than just football news. It is a sign that the voice of America’s right-wing party has become odious precisely where it should be most embraced … particularly when the express reason for the players’ opposition is their discomfort with Limbaugh’s message of hatred, of his role as the Old Faithful of right-wing media bile.

One can only imagine how the former sportscaster Reagan would react to the news that his replacement as his party’s great communicator had become so offensive that he had put the players of the NFL on the defensive. The Reagan message was about broadening the Republican base, about building a new coalition. The Party of Limbaugh is about exclusion and anger … and it’s not sitting well with constituency after constituency.

Listen to the rationale offered by NFL Players Association Executive Director DeMaurice Smith in an e-mail to the executive committee of his union: “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.” Clearly, Smith believes that Limbaugh is representative of such discrimination and hatred and he is not alone. At least seven league players have already spoken out against the purchase, and with Smith’s encouragement you can only imagine there will be many more to come.

It’s no wonder when you consider that among Limbaugh’s most famous recent gaffes and offenses (and there are many even if you don’t include his drug abuse) was the statement that “the media” was rooting for black quarterbacks like Donovan McNabb to do well and therefore gave him more credit than he deserves. It’s not the only instance in which his racism has bubbled to the surface … and yet the party dares not repudiate him. The notion that the party of Lincoln has become the party of Limbaugh beggars the imagination.

Oh sure, we’ll no doubt hear from Limbaugh that the union represents millionaires and is hardly representative of the true “values” of its fans. But, it also represents a group of custodians of the NFL brand that happens to include a large number of empowered athletes of diverse backgrounds who actually have both the stature and the guts to stand up a guy who would instantly become the Marge Schott of football. (Schott was the racist owner of the Cincinnati Reds awhile back.)

To international observers, this is an important story because it underscores a little understood fact: Obama is much stronger than he may appear because his opposition is much weaker than it is either shrill or loud. Obama is about to win a victory in health care. Ridicule the Nobel Prize all you want (and it was ridiculous), it is hardly going to hurt. He will send at least some quantity of additional troops to Afghanistan and blunt critiques that he is not listening to his generals. And the Republicans have done nothing and are being led by people like Limbaugh who deepen divisions every time they open their mouths.

Limbaugh’s dittoheads will continue to howl at the moon and wish Dick Cheney was still the most powerful man on Earth … but this incident is just another example of why having lost their grip intellectually they are continuing to lose it politically. That’s why, while the world may have thought that all the important football news that was occurring this weekend had to do with World Cup qualifications, the biggest win for the people on the planet who wish to see unilateralism and America the bully consigned to the dustbin of history may have had to do with the strange American version of the sport … and it took place off the field thanks to athletes exercising not muscles but their right of free speech. 

Once again, it seems that old maxim of American football strategy is being proven true: The one sure way to success is to shut down the Rush.

William Thomas Cain/Getty Images

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