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A Rush play by the NFL

The talk-radio firebrand gets more or less the bum's rush by a group bidding for the Rams.

October 15, 2009

The heirs of the late Georgia Rosenbloom Frontiere are ready to sell the St. Louis Rams, and a group led by Dave Checketts -- owner of the St. Louis Blues professional hockey team -- is eager to buy it. But the group's offer drew flak from players, the head of the players' union and even the commissioner of the National Football League. The problem wasn't Checketts, it was one of his partners: former ESPN football commentator (and conservative talk radio's firebrand in chief) Rush Limbaugh. So, in the hope of saving his bid, Checketts dropped Limbaugh from the team Wednesday and scrambled to find a backup.

Limbaugh blamed his troubles on an "ongoing effort by the left in this country ... to destroy conservatism, to prevent the mainstreaming of anyone who is prominent as a conservative." But if politics were the issue, the league might well have embraced Limbaugh. Owners, executives and players give far more to GOP candidates than to Democrats. Instead, the league's problem with El Rushbo appears to have been the incendiary, polarizing way in which he advances his views. The league's practice of sharing a crucial source of revenue -- broadcasting contracts -- makes owners unusually sensitive to controversial figures who might scare off fans or sponsors. Unless, of course, they can score touchdowns.

It's odd that a business built around a quintessentially American game -- teams of oversized men pounding each other senseless to promote the sale of cars, trucks and beer -- would be run more like a socialist collective than a free market. But that's how the major sports leagues function in this country, thanks to exemptions from antitrust laws. The share-the-wealth approach is particularly helpful to football teams in smaller markets, such as St. Louis. But the collaborative structure also means that anyone trying to buy or sell a team has to persuade owners of 24 of the league's 32 teams to approve the deal. The notion of owners sitting in judgment on their would-be competitors is richly ironic, given that their predecessors included unabashed gamblers and felons.

We don't like the idea of any business closing its doors to potential entrants based on the size of their mouth. We say that because we believe in free markets and free speech, although we also liked the thought of Limbaugh becoming so preoccupied with the woebegone Rams that he'd spend less time on-air. Still, we wonder why a rock-ribbed conservative would want to join a league with so little freedom and a team so dependent on income redistribution.

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