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Goodell, Irsay against Limbaugh as Rams owner

11:05 AM, Oct 14, 2009   |    comments
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BOSTON -- Rush Limbaugh's bid to become part-owner of the St. Louis Rams could be sacked on the grounds of divisive conduct.

Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay declared Tuesday that he would not approve a sale of the Rams to a group including Limbaugh, while NFL commissioner Roger Goodell cast polarizing comments by the conservative commentator as a "negative" for the league.

Limbaugh revealed last week that he's part of a group headed by St. Louis Blues owner Dave Checketts seeking to buy the Rams. Just the prospect of that arrangement has drawn intense ire within league circles. Several African-American players, including New York Jets linebacker Bart Scott and New York Giants defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka, and NFL Players Association chief DeMaurice Smith, have voiced disapproval.

Outside the league, civil rights activists Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson also weighed in to underscore the political tones of an association with Limbaugh and urge the league to reject the bid.

"I would not be in favor of voting for him," said Irsay, adding that he might tap his former coach, current coach and the Colts' star defensive end - all of whom are African-American - for direction. "If it was put before me, I could ask Tony Dungy, Jim Caldwell and Dwight Freeney and consult with them and see what position they're coming from.

"Sometimes when there are comments made that are inappropriate, incendiary, insensitive ... it's bigger than football," Irsay added. "As a nation, we have to watch the words that we say."

Irsay maintains that owning an NFL franchise is a privilege that shouldn't be afforded Limbaugh.

"Sometimes," he said, "privileges are lost."

In 2003, Limbaugh resigned as an analyst on ESPN's Sunday NFL Countdown pre-game show after igniting controversy by contending that Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb was favored by media members because he is African-American.

"They are polarizing comments that we don't think reflect accurately on the NFL or our players," Goodell said. "Those comments ... are divisive. That's a negative thing for us."

According to a transcript posted on his website, on Jan. 19, 2007, Limbaugh said: "The NFL all too often looks like a game between the Bloods and the Crips without any weapons. There, I said it."

Goodell emphatically indicated that he would take issue if a team owner frequently made controversial comments about issues of politics and race.

"I have said many times before that we are all held to a higher standard here," Goodell said. "I think divisive comments are not what the NFL is all about. I would not want to see those kind of comments from people who are in a responsible position within the NFL. No. Absolutely not."

Three-fourths of the NFL's 32 owners must approve a sale. Irsay is the first to state publicly how he would vote. While candidates are sometimes rejected for financial reasons, bylaws allow owners to consider "the best interest of the NFL" in determining votes for franchise ownership.

In the Rams' case, talk is premature. The franchise is weighing several offers and Rams senior advisor John Shaw told owners Tuesday that there still isn't a full commitment to sell from an ownership group headed by principal Chip Rosenbloom and including his sister Lucia Rodriguez (who inherited stakes after the death of their mother, Georgia Frontiere, in 2008).

"You really need to be sure you've got meat on the bones - which is the dollars, the financials - before you start getting out here talking potential owners, much less celebrity types, much less controversial types," Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said.

"I think it's nice to fly under the radar coming into the NFL. That'd be my advice."

Irsay is concerned about the message the NFL would send by becoming a partner with Limbaugh.

"I would not feel comfortable," Irsay said. "It's bigger than the NFL. As a nation, as a world, we have to take this thing to a higher level."

Also at the NFL's owners' meetings:

* Goodell said the NFL presented the players union with a proposal for a new collective bargaining agreement when the two sides met two weeks ago, but would not divulge details of the key economic components. Union officials had expressed frustration for weeks that a proposal hadn't been made.

"We're looking and hoping to get a response on some of it when we meet in the next week or so," Goodell said. "We want an agreement as soon as possible."

Even so, Goodell said owners continue to prepare for an uncapped 2010 season. 

* Former Kansas City Chiefs running back Christian Okoye has been pushing for the NFL to stage a game in his native Nigeria. Goodell said there has been ongoing dialogue.

"It's something that holds some interest to us," Goodell said. "Not only because a number of players come from that area, but more importantly because there is a lot of interest in our game over there."

USA TODAY

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