By Peter Roff, Thomas Jefferson Street blog
Washington lawyer DeMaurice Smith wants talk radio's Rush Limbaugh to fail.
Smith, the executive director of the National Football League Players' Association, is trying to make America's football players part of an effort to oppose a bid by Limbaugh and others to purchase the St. Louis Rams football franchise.
In an e-mail to the union's executive committee, ESPN reported Sunday, Smith said he had spoken to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell about the possibility of the league awarding the franchise to Limbaugh and his co-bidders, raising concerns about it while using the language of Limbaugh's political opponents in describing him by implication as a divisive figure who stands for "discrimination and hatred."
It is, to say the least, unusual for a players' union official to take a public position on who should or should not be allowed to purchase a team. Picking a fight with Rush Limbaugh, a Missouri native and self-described football fanatic whose daily radio broadcast has millions of listeners is an activity that doesn't appear to be in the best interests of the sport or the players whom Smith represents. On its face it seems more about political activism than labor relations.
While Smith may be new to football, he's an old political hand—and a well connected one. As the Associated Press reported, Smith was "an NFL outsider" who had no labor law experience to speak of when he was unanimously elected to head the union. What he did have was "ties to President Barack Obama" and a previous working relationship with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, for whom he worked as a counsel during the Clinton administration when Holder was deputy U.S. attorney general.
Is this simply coincidental? Smith's previous political relationships and his current political allegiances—he is listed as a contributor to Barack Obama's 2008 presidential campaign—may have nothing at all to do with his picking a public fight with the guy the White House likes to complain about the most. But it sure is curious.
On the other hand, Limbaugh bashing is not new. Back in May, amid the continuing controversy over Limbaugh's remark that he wanted President Obama "to fail" in his efforts to expand the social welfare state, former Clinton pollster Stan Greenberg released a poll purporting to show the radio broadcaster was a drag on the GOP.
Thinking this was the basis of a winning political strategy—and with Obama at a better than 70 percent approval rating at the time perhaps it was—it was off to the races for every Democrat from the White House on down to see who could throw Limbaugh's name around the most. Now that Obama's numbers are out of the stratosphere things are arguably different.
Enter Smith, who has opened up a race-baiting effort to keep Limbaugh's name in the headlines in a most unproductive way. It's fair to ask how such an effort is in the best interests of football, the players and the fans.