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Goodell gets grilled on Limbaugh

As part of Wednesday’s House Judiciary Committee meeting that was, in theory, completely unrelated to the fitness of persons to own a chunk of an NFL team, one of the men who posed questions to Commissioner Roger Goodell took aim at the league’s position regarding Rush Limbaugh’s former membership in one of the groups attempting to buy a large chunk of the Rams.

In all fairness, another member of the Committee, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Tex.), opened the door with an indirect reference to Limbaugh. And so Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) pounced, questioning Goodell regarding the inconsistency between the perceived unfitness of Limbaugh and the approval of “Fergie” from the Black Eyed Peas and Jennifer Lopez to hold limited interests in the Miami Dolphins, despite the content of the lyrics of some of their songs.

The transcript of the remarks and a video clip of the question and answer session are available at Limbaugh’s web site.

King’s point is a valid one. If the NFL is going to wade into the murky and subjective process of deciding who should and shouldn’t have a seat at the table, it’s important to do so with a clear understanding of what does and doesn’t make a person fit or unfit to become a partial owner of a pro football franchise.

But we also think that King overplayed his position a bit by suggesting that the only potentially racially offensive comment Limbaugh ever made came in 2003, when Limbaugh said that the media has overrated Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb because it wants to see a black quarterback do well. King, who argued that the McNabb quote speaks to racist tendencies of the media and not Limbaugh, suggested that eight other quotes attributed to Limbaugh are “complete fabrications.”

King is incorrect. At least one of the statements -- and indeed one of the most potentially racist and offensive of the group -- is not a fabrication. Limbaugh said that, at times, the NFL looks like the Crips and the Bloods without weapons. Limbaugh admitted it on October 14, 2009, and he seemed to express some regret for saying it.

“I have the game on a pedestal,” Limbaugh said. “I have the people who play it on a pedestal. I don’t want that to change. So I was criticizing a mind-set that is destructive, and it was not helpful. It was not racial. Bloods and Crips makes it look racial, the way I chose to describe it. I could have perhaps chosen a different term.”

In response to King’s point, Goodell offered up an answer suggesting to us that Goodell simply wasn’t properly prepared to be asked about the likes of Limbaugh and Fergie.

“Let me try to take this in a couple of different directions,” Goodell said. “First off, my comments at the annual meeting were directed about specific comments [Limbaugh] made about Donovan McNabb; and I made the point, and I will make it again here today, that the NFL is about bringing people together, it’s about unity and that we do not -- we do not move towards divisive actions. And, in fact, our teams, I think, have demonstrated that both on and off the field. Nothing brings a team and a community together better than the NFL.”

Goodell didn’t address the question of whether lyrics from Fergie and Jennifer Lopez are “about unity” and bringing people together. It’s probably fair to assume that this issue wasn’t even a factor in the vetting process of these and the other new partial owners of the Dolphins. Steve Ross is trying to inject a “wow” factor into his new franchise, and he has targeted musicians and other celebrities toward this end. The specific things that helped make these folks sufficiently famous to add sizzle to the Fins likely weren’t closely reviewed. So it wasn’t an issue.

But it potentially becomes an issue when someone is excluded from ownership under a general character test that apparently wasn’t applied to Fergie and Lopez.

Limbaugh responded to yesterday’s developments by calling Goodell “a total weasel,” which likely won’t prompt the NFL to revisit its position regarding Limbaugh. Our view on the matter is that neither Goodell nor any of his handlers anticipated that a hearing on brain injuries would include questions about Limbaugh, and that Goodell was simply forced to squeeze out a little impromptu lemonade. Given the apparent lack of preparation, Goodell did the best that he could.

But Goodell (whose father was a U.S. Senator) or someone else in the upper reaches of the league office probably should have accounted for the possibly that politicians might behave like, well, politicians. For example, Goodell should have been ready to cite Limbaugh’s Crips and Bloods comment, which many would view as revealing an inherent race-baced mindset that no amount of post-hoc explanation by Limbaugh can erase.

Goodell also should have been prepared to explain that the use of language in song lyrics can be problematic only if the lyrics cause widespread controversy and division, and that none of the Dolphins’ minority owners has reached with the words they sing the level of notoriety that Limbaugh has achieved with the words he speaks.

It’s unknown whether this issue will again rear its head. If/when it does, we suspect that Goodell will be properly equipped to put the matter to bed, once and for all.