[Web Special] Race, Teamwork, and the Rams

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There were two incidents in my football playing days that I thought of when I heard Rush Limbaugh was part of a group vying for ownership of the St. Louis Rams. One happened to me in high school, and the other in college.

It was a late fall game where Sidney High School was playing Walton. We were on the comeback and our coach, Mike Brazee, came into the huddle to tell us he would kiss the goal line if we punched it in. Our center was a guy that was openly hostile to me – I was the only black player on the team, maybe even the only black player in our Class C league of teams located in the foothills of the Catskills, in upstate New York. Our center was not only hostile: he was racist. In that moment, though, when the coach looked to me to punch the ball through the goal line, I recall him turning to me. In that instant there was nothing between us but camaraderie, teamwork and, dare I say: brotherhood. Football had brought us together. We had finally gotten on the same page, looked past our animosity and the racial barrier and saw one another as humans. (...continue reading)

That was the same message the NFL Players' Union had for the NFL owners and commissioner Roger Goddell in a letter yesterday, opposing the sale of the St. Louis Rams to Limbaugh's group:

DeMaurice Smith, executive director of the NFL Players Association, commented that “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."

Rush Limbaugh’s record is exactly the opposite of that.

Limbaugh's own site references a show from January 2007, during which Limbaugh said, "The NFL all too often looks like a game between the Bloods and the Crips without any weapons. There, I said it."

And of course, here is the famous quote from 2003, in which Limbaugh seemed to have personal emnity with Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb: (Limbaugh later resigned from ESPN's Sunday NFL Countdown over this remark.)

"The media has been very desirous that a black quarterback do well. There is a little hope invested in (Donovan) McNabb, and he got a lot of credit for the performance of this team that he didn't deserve."

The other incident, from my college days, revolves around an off-field incident. The University of Rhode Island basketball team was on the rise, with players like retired NBA guard Cuttino Mobley, Tyson Wheeler, and current NBA Champion and LA Laker Lamar Odom. At a March Madness preseason event televised on ESPN, a incident in the stands threatened to mar the day. I will not go into specifics – suffice to say it was ugly – but cooler heads eventually prevailed. The people responsible for causing the overtly racial disturbance were targeted by numerous campus activists, demanding they be removed from the school. I was serving as the VP of the Student Senate at the time and playing as a linebacker on the football team; I called upon other student athletes to come to our aid, to help give this issue some much-needed media exposure. Most of the other high-profile athletes backed away. Today, though, athletes are speaking up about the potential sale of the Rams.

That is what makes this "Rush, the Racist Radio Jock turned NFL owner" conversation so interesting: some NFL players are stepping up and saying something political. Gasp! We have all been long-accustomed to athletes being apolitical. Giants defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka recently declared himself:

"All I know is from the last comment I heard, he said in [President] Obama's America, white kids are getting beat up on the bus while black kids are chanting 'right on,'" Kiwanuka recently said in the New York Daily News. "I mean, I don't want anything to do with a team that he has any part of. He can do whatever he wants; it is a free country. But if it goes through, I can tell you where I am not going to play."

Rush will undoubtedly use this as a chance to show the “liberal” media is against him. In this instance you can add some linebackers, a defensive end, the NFL players union and scores of others throughout the nation.

Other commentators have correctly pointed out that Limbaugh is not all that different from other members of NFL owners' old-boy’s club, but none of them are so vocal about their opinions – none of them have a singular voice that moves masses. Another reality is that 65-70 percent of the players are in the NFL are black – their opinion matters, too.

Like that hostile center and I connecting when we saw one another not as black and white but as teammates, and back in Rhode Island when Lamar Odom stepped out of the shadows of the other marquee players and decided to join myself and the president of the student senate on the podium, speaking out against racism and discrimination of all kinds – we learn, time and time again, that sports have the ability to transform us. They have the ability to bring out the best in us, they allow us to be move psychological mountains. The University of Rhode Island eventually suspended the people responsible. Sidney, the small working class town in upstate New York, prevailed in that football game, and Coach Brazee kissed that goal line ... but only after we came together as a team.

Rush Limbaugh makes mountains of money. His multi-millions come, in my humble opinion, from peddling hatred and fear to the masses. Those tainted millions are dollars the NFL simply should learn how to go on without, because if players are expected to be role models - so should the owners.