Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Political Football

Breaking off the music quote thing because this title works too well.

By now, we've all heard the story of Rush Limbaugh's failed bid to help take over the St. Louis Rams. Conservatives have tried to spin it as some sort of bias against conservatism in the NFL - as if 32 rich old white guys who once let notoriously bigoted asshat George Preston Marshall own a team could somehow have it in for right-wingers - and liberals have tried to claim a victory for race relations in sports (in a league that still has to require its teams to interview one minority candidate for its coaching jobs, lest all the coaches be white).

You're both wrong. It was a business decision. Dave Checketts, the leader of the group seeking to take over the Rams, needed money. Limbaugh has gobs of it and is from the vague St. Louis area. Makes sense. But when Checketts saw the backlash, what he saw weren't pangs of guilt over associating with a supposed racist. He saw dollar signs flying away. He saw good players refusing to play for his team because of their perception of its ownership. He saw liberal fans (probably a good chunk of St. Louis' fan base) refusing to give money to the team because of Limbaugh. And Checketts realized that he could make more money without Limbaugh than he could with him aboard. Simple as that. We can argue until the cows come home about whether Limbaugh is really racist or whether it's fair to view him as such, but it doesn't matter. In the end, the road from sports to politics runs only one way - high-profile political figures simply aren't going to fly in a business that, by its nature, has to accommodate people from all over the political spectrum. It simply wouldn't do to have half your fan base hate the owner of the team.

Which brings us to our second item today, which is Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder's evolution from incompetent to evil. My beloved 'Skins are already in the aforementioned unenviable situation, except instead of having half the fan base hate the owner, in this case it's more like 75-80%. Many (myself included) blame Snyder and his organization's mismanagement of the team for the fact that the 'Skins haven't won the NFC East since 1999 - all three other teams have won at least once since then - and haven't hosted a playoff game since '99 as well, one of the longest droughts in the NFL. (In fact, when Dan Brown's most recent novel, set in Washington, came out, the D.C. sports community widely lampooned it for being set on a day when the Redskins were playing a playoff game at home. We can deal with the crazy conspiracy theory stuff, but a 'Skins home playoff game? That's too much to believe.)

Anyway, such dissatisfaction among sports fans - ever the expressive lot - are bound to lead to shenanigans at games. Signs, T-shirts, and chants decrying Snyder's ownership have begun to proliferate at 'Skins home games. So what's Snyder's reaction? He bans all signs, and has security throw out people who have the temerity to bring signs critical of Snyder. Mr. Irrelevant has one over-the-top example (bonus: fans chanting "Free Speech!" as he's being escorted out - does this happen in other cities?). Dan Steinberg has a few others.

Snyder's weak reasoning for banning signs is that they could cause injury and obstruct others' views - but if those were really reasons for banning signs it would have been done long ago. Furthermore, Steinberg's chatters report that security threw people out for chanting and wearing T-shirts. Deadspin has more if you trust them. Anecdata isn't the most trustworthy thing in the world, but it does point to a culture of discouraging dissent that Snyder has instituted at FedEx Field. If it sounds dictatorial to you, you're not the only one - The New Yorker's Steve Coll compares Snyder's reign to Zimbabwe.

Snyder, of course, can do what he wants with his property. But it does seem to suggest something that's occurring to a greater extent in our culture. Our public figures are unwilling, for the most part, to listen to people who criticize them. Admitting error has become a sign of weakness rather than of strength, and so people like Snyder who want to continue to appear "strong" can't change course. The only option, in their mind, is to control the message, and that means crackdowns on dissent in the stands.

(Fascinating side note - when the 'Skins played the Chiefs two weekends ago, the Kansas City Star refused to print the name of the team, which many Native Americans find offensive, referring to them instead as "the Washington football team." One advantage to the 'Skins' shittiness is that the row over the team's name hasn't been all that serious since the last Super Bowl. Once the 'Skins are healthy again, we're going to have to confront that name)


Montana said...

So Rusky gets punked because he does not fact check? Wow, what a surprised.

Oh, and when contronted that he was punked, he defended himself by saying "we stand by the fabricated quote because we know Obama thinks it anyway" (He does this all the time)

After so many years of mis-labeling and mis-characterizing others he gets smacked down by the NFL "Not For Limbaugh". Way to go NFL, Great job!

truthbeforedishonor said...

Montana said, referring to Rush Limbaugh: "Oh, and when contronted that he was punked, he defended himself by saying 'we stand by the fabricated quote because we know Obama thinks it anyway' (He does this all the time)"

First, he does not "do this all the time" and second, he was repeating exactly the same thing the mainstream media said about him when they found out those "quotes" were fraudulent. Figures someone didn't catch onto that.

And this snark about Rush not having sway with "32 rich white guys?" Jeff, you're better than that. And that whole "bigoted" angle? You really should do some research on that one. I can help you there. Check out my article, Democrat Civil Rights History, which is full of linkage.

You should also note the head of the NFLPA is a Democrat, has or had a head-cheese position in his local Democrat Party, worked with the Obama staff before Obama was sworn in.

The problem with the Rush thing is too many people were working with the anti-Rush libelous machine and too many others were cowed by that machine. It doesn't take much research to see that.

Again, Jeff, you're better than to throw "32 white guys" into the fray like that.

truthbeforedishonor said...

If you were to examine the time-line I provided (thru a black blogger) and place the bigoted owner selection within that timeline, you might have a different understanding of things.


Jeff said...

John - first, it's hard to deny that Marshall was a bigot, even for his time. His Redskins were the last team to integrate, and he did so kicking and screaming.

Second, my point with the "32 rich white guys" thing was that Limbaugh wasn't going to be rejected by the owners on the basis of his conservatism. Seems to me that football owners would be a conservative lot, since they come from a demographic most likely to be conservative (rich, white). I'm just lampooning the idea that pro football owners, of all people, would have it in for someone because of their right-wing political views.

To be fair, though, football owners do have varied political giving patterns. This is a fun list of campaign contributions given by sports figures. Looks like Bob Kraft, the Glazers, and Irsay are Democrats, Jerry Jones, Al Davis, and Dan Snyder are Republicans, and I didn't really recognize a whole lot of other names. Players and coaches are on the list too, and looks like they're giving across the board as well. But that just means that pro football owners aren't gonna be turning someone away for their politics.

Mike said...

I'm confused. You say Rush was ousted due not directly to his political beliefs but rather due to his political beliefs causing dismay among fans and players and potentially taking money away from the team. It almost sounds like you're trying to say the system works. (My analysis of the Don Imus debacle a few years ago springs to mind. Forgive the self-promotion.)

Anyway, I think the real point here is that Snyder has got to go.

Miguel said...

high-profile political figures simply aren't going to fly in a business that, by its nature, has to accommodate people from all over the political spectrum.

Unless your name happens to be Keith Olbermann. Strange the media never made a peep about Olbermann being featured prominently on SNF despite his antics on his political show.

Jeff said...

Miguel, that's a good point, but Olbermann was a sportscaster first and a political figure later. I think that gives him a little extra leeway with sports fans. It'd be like if Steve Largent came back and wanted to coach/own the Seahawks or something. He was pretty hard-right, but his status as having been a football person first would make that not matter, and liberals would happily go to see Largent's team play. With Limbaugh, he's never been a football guy, he's always been a politics guy, and being successful requires dissociating that in people's minds.

Now there'll come a time, I think, when Olbermann will be more associated with "Countdown" than with his old ESPN days/new NBC gig among sports fans. At that point, he'll hurt NBC's ratings enough where he'll have to go. In fact, he was noticeably missing from MNF's halftime show this week...

truthbeforedishonor said...

Rush was actually a baseball guy before he was a politics guy. KC Royals, if I remember correctly.

But, back to that "rich white men" thing. Bill Gates, George Soros, most of Hollywood, most of the federal government qualify as rich white guys. But they don't qualify as conservative by any stretch. And, had you followed my link, you would have seen a 150-ish year history (replete with links) of the Democrat Party doing its best to prevent Republican Party advances in making blacks equal persons in this country. You would have also seen that today there are liberals who proudly declare non-whites are traitors to their race if they vote Republican. Now, that is racist!

lsmsrbls said...

Won't someone think of the rich white guys? Life must be so hard for them, being all maligned on the internet.