The National Football League players union seems on the verge of declaring its opposition to Rush Limbaugh acquiring a share in the ownership of the Los Angeles Rams franchise. Several players have said that they would refuse to play for the Rams if the group which includes Limbaugh manages to purchase the team. Their animosity stems from Limbaugh's short-lived tenure as a football commentator on ESPN a few years ago. He was driven from the airwaves after he claimed that the sports media showed favoritism toward Donovan McNabb, the quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles, whom Limbaugh considered overrated, because they wanted a black quarterback to succeed.
Our local Limbaugh fan, Mr. Right, is quick to clarify that his hero did not say that McNabb was an untalented or inferior player. He thinks that Rush (Limbaugh's fans are on a first-name basis with him) was correctly pointing out a "politically correct" tendency in the media to overvalue black players in order to create feel-good scenarios of achievement overcoming racism. Limbaugh's critics claim that he implicitly devalued McNabb and was saying that he only got recognition because of his skin color when he might not have deserved it otherwise. Inevitably, they accused Limbaugh of racism.
Limbaugh is used to this. NBC, accused of liberal bias itself, is making a big deal of giving Limbaugh air time today in an exclusive interview, during which he had this to say on the race issue: “There’s a cliché about conservatives: racist, sexist, bigot, homophobic. Now, you announce you’re a conservative, you’re automatically all those things to the critics. Even though you’re not, that’s what they say you are. They are the real racist, sexist, bigots and homophobes. They are the ones that look at people and see skin color, gender, sex orientation, victim, group."
This is an odd comment because critics presumably weren't judging Limbaugh by how he looks but by what he says. But he was trying to make the usual argument against "reverse racism," which is that liberals refuse to judge people as individuals according to the content of their character, but assign them to categories of victim or oppressor. This is the typical position of those who want an immediate transition from racism to color-blindness without any compensatory phase, and demand to be trusted unconditionally when they say they are unbigoted. They're bound to be disappointed, especially when, like Limbaugh, they're so transparently hostile to the idea that they are answerable to black people for their attitudes and for large parts of their nation's history. I'm not saying that the heritage of slavery and racism makes black people the unique moral arbiters of American politics, but just as it can't be up to blacks exclusively to say when the country has paid up its moral debts, it's not up to whites like Limbaugh exclusively to say so, either. And that's why he rubs so many black people the wrong way, I suspect: he speaks as if black people are still fundamentally accountable to white people as if they were still an alien element in the country that has to earn white approval before they're finally recognized as fully American. But black Americans no more have to prove their national or patriotic credentials to him than he must to them.
Having said all that, I think resistance to his having a share of ownership in a sports team is ridiculous. It's not as if he, as one partner among many, could render the Rams lily-white even if he wanted to -- and I doubt he would. Right now the Rams are a crap team, and if Rush Limbaugh wants to flush his hard-earned money down such a toilet, I don't see why anyone should object. And think of the satisfaction so many people would feel if Donovan McNabb is still playing when the Eagles get to play Limbaugh's Rams and throws five or six touchdown passes against them. Why would anyone deny themselves that experience for petty political reasons?