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Rush to judgment

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Rush to judgment

Derailing of Limbaugh's NFL bid was not really about race

Talk radio giant Rush Limbaugh announced recently his interest in being part owner of an NFL franchise. Howls of protest ensued.

"I, myself, couldn't even consider voting for him (to become an owner)," said Colts owner Jim Irsay, charging that Limbaugh "demonizes individuals with his commentary."

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell echoed that sentiment, accusing Limbaugh of making "polarizing" and "divisive" comments and suggesting that no such person belongs in a "responsible position within the NFL."

Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson got into the game, too, sending a letter to the NFL outlining why the league should never allow Limbaugh to join its exclusive club of owners. The reason, as Jackson put it: Limbaugh has made his money "appealing to the fears of whites."

Many left-leaning columnists throughout the country are piling on. Carol Slezak of the Chicago Sun-Times opened her recent voyage into thoughtfulness with the refrain: "Rush Limbaugh is a meathead." She went on to ponder how strange it is "that a man who never has a good word to say about African Americans would want to become part of the NFL, where the majority of players are black."

For all the fuss, you might mistake the issue for something that matters. Why exactly do so many care whether Limbaugh invests a small chunk of his massive fortune in the NFL?

The most common reason given stems from comments Limbaugh made in 2003 during his brief stint as an analyst for ESPN. The offense? He accused sports media of overrating the Eagles' Donovan McNabb in hopes of seeing a black quarterback succeed.

ESPN promptly forced Limbaugh to resign. Never mind that what he said was quite likely true. Never mind that many other sports commentators agreed with the statement, and never lost their jobs. If writer Allen Barra, author of the 2003 Slate column "Rush Limbaugh Was Right," were to throw his name into an NFL ownership bid, Jackson and Sharpton wouldn't so much as peek over the walls of their ivory towers.

In reality, the opposition to Limbaugh's entrée to the NFL has nothing to do with six-year-old comments and everything to do with politics. As is so often the case in today's world of partisan shrillness, political conflict has turned personal. Limbaugh's critics don't merely disagree with his positions. They despise him.

Calls in question

Blaming referees for a loss is unbecoming. It smacks of sour grapes and immaturity. But when the head of officiating admits that the men in zebra stripes blew it, what remedy is left for a losing team? That's what the Arkansas Razorbacks want to know after their improbable upset bid against the top-ranked Florida Gators Oct. 17 flipped to a 23-20 loss thanks to a rash of questionable calls.

Trailing 20-13 in the fourth quarter, the Gators got significant help on a pair of calls that vaulted them down the field for a game-tying score. In one especially egregious call, the referee flagged Razorbacks defensive lineman Malcolm Sheppard for taking on a Florida blocker with a clean shoulder hit. In watching the replay, CBS broadcaster Gary Danielson responded with disbelief to the personal foul penalty: "What's he supposed to do; the guy was going to try to block him?"

Under national scrutiny, head of SEC officiating Rogers Redding admitted that the call was a mistake, no consolation for the Razorbacks, who surrendered the game-tying touchdown on the ensuing play. In the final penalty tally, the Razorbacks were flagged 10 times for 92 yards, while the Gators received three penalties for 16 yards. That discrepancy combined with video evidence sparked debate over whether the NCAA should begin using a national docket of referees. The crew Saturday hailed from the SEC, a conference that stands to benefit from having Florida remain atop the national rankings.