October 14, 2009

If conservative radio commentator Rush Limbaugh ever had much of a chance to be a minority owner in a successful bid to buy the NFL's St. Louis Rams, it is now over, two league sources have confirmed to SI.com.

In a statement released Wednesday evening by St. Louis Blues chairman Dave Checketts -- who is heading the group that hopes to buy the Rams -- he announced Limbaugh's official exit from the bid. It is believed that Limbaugh's controversial participation would have doomed the group's effort in the eyes of NFL owners. League sources told SI.com that Limbaugh's candidacy in any Rams bid had "zero chance'' of being approved by the league's owners. In his statement, Checketts said Limbaugh's participation had become "a complication and a distraction'' to the group's efforts.

According to league sources, Limbaugh comes with too much troubling baggage in terms of his outspoken views that often intersect the divisive issues of politics and race in America. In a time when the NFL is hoping to have complete uniformity among its team owners in anticipation of the tough collective bargaining negotiations to come with the players union, there was little interest within the league to associate with an owner who is paid to give his highly charged opinions on the radio for hours each week.

"The league would be on pins and needles for three hours a day, five days a week,'' one league source said. "The NFL isn't interested in having its own Mark Cuban situation, where [the Dallas Mavericks owner] is fined for something he said, but then pays the fine, moves on and doesn't care what he says the next time either. The league wants the focus to always be on the game, not the opinions of any particular owner.''

One league source told SI.com that Checketts group was never completely configured any way, and that Limbaugh's participation was never set in stone. In that sense, when word surfaced that he would potentially hold minority ownership in the Rams, it was viewed as a trial balloon of sorts that never advanced much past the potential stage. Checketts is said to be seeking to replace Limbaugh's financial participation with other interested parties.

There was swift reaction to the idea of Limbaugh being involved in NFL ownership, and much of it was not favorable. NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith last weekend sent a letter to the group's board urging players to voice their opinion of Limbaugh's participation. And on Tuesday, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell made it clear that Limbaugh would face a high bar regarding approval of his potential stake in the Rams.

"Divisive comments are not what the NFL is all about,'' Goodell said at a two-day NFL owners meeting in Boston. "I've said many times before, we're all held to a high standard here. I would not want to see those comments coming from people who are in a responsible position in the NFL -- absolutely not.''

Goodell's strong comments were not just a message of sensitivity to the players in regards to Limbaugh's controversial reputation. One league source said it was a message to the league's entire customer base that the NFL would not be welcoming to a multi-platformed media figure who has a history of troubling and at times racially inflaming comments.

Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay on Tuesday predicted that Limbaugh's potential ownership would face stiff opposition within the league, and said he could never vote to approve such a group. A league source went even further Wednesday, telling SI.com that even with Limbaugh no longer involved, Checketts' ownership group from here on out would face questions regarding the wisdom of having associated itself with such a divisive presence in the first place. The source said Limbaugh within the league was seen as "a drain on anyone else in the group who might have legitimacy.''

Another league source voiced puzzlement over Checketts not discerning the potential backlash of Limbaugh's participation in his group in advance of the news becoming public. "I would have assumed he would have run it up the flagpole with the league before it became known,'' a league source said. "Then a tepid response would have told him where things stood.''

Others within the league believe that Limbaugh may have viewed his participation in Checketts group as nothing more than a dose of free publicity for the radio host, no matter the outcome or the response to his involvement. "There was no downside in any of this for him,'' a league source said. "He gets a week of free publicity, and in the end, he'll frame his rejection to his benefit.''

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