Rush Limbaugh doesn’t support boycotts. Despite his shabby treatment this week by the sports press, the NFL, its players union, his prospective co-owner of the St. Louis Rams, and the professional race-baiters, Rush is sticking to his principles. No boycott. Still, many callers to his radio program are furious and say they’re planning to voluntarily renounce all involvement with the National Football League.
Is this a reasonable response to the controversy? Will anyone even know?
If you love pro football (as Rush does), giving up the games, even for a week or two, is a considerable sacrifice. If you just bought a big-screen high-definition TV or satellite package, you’ll also be giving up something for which you’ve paid. If you’ll be unloading your season tickets, you could be selling into a down market. That’s because you’re not the only one angry at the NFL this week.
This may be the worst public relations disaster to hit the league since — I was going to say since Pete Rozelle ordered games played after the JFK assassination, but much more recently we’ve had Michael Vick, Rae Carruth, Ray Lewis, and Plaxico Burress. Come to think of it, this league, and especially its players union, really shouldn’t be casting stones.
The underlying controversy never should have become a media football in the first place. In 2003 Rush suggested that the talents of Eagles star quarterback Donovan McNabb were exaggerated by a press eager to see a black quarterback succeed. Limbaugh’s cultural crime was speaking about race at all, even though the issue of black representation in the ranks of NFL field generals was longstanding. In the eyes of many fair-minded football fans, he simply misjudged a player’s talent and brought up race unnecessarily. For this cause alone, many will be unwilling to sacrifice four hours a week in front of an HD big screen with our gridiron favorites.
Dig a little deeper, however, and there is ample cause for protest. Unsubstantiated quotes about race dubiously attributed to Rush have been attached to the McNabb matter. Obama supporter and new players union chief DeMaurice Smith led the charge. Professional microphone magnets — race men Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton — have joined the media blitz to demonize Limbaugh, and the NFL has given him less protection than that afforded JaMarcus Russell by the Oakland Raiders offensive line.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell criticized Limbaugh’s six-year-old remarks and Rush’s partner in the venture, Dave Checketts, tossed him off the ownership team. This sort of caving to politically correct pressure is not something which conservatives tolerate easily.
Boycotting the NFL is not an easy choice for any man, no matter how committed to the conservative cause. Will anyone beyond your immediate circle even know? Yes, if you are in the Nielsen sample. Or, if you are a DirecTV HD DVR owner with an “active” button on your remote, you can see actual real-time measurements of total viewership leaders — a step beyond sampling which offers fascinating results. (For example, Fox News is often on the national top five list, but less often in the left coast Pacific time zone.)
So you no longer have to be in a Nielsen home to have your viewing habits count. A surer measurement of enduring collective action would be if NFL Sunday Ticket subscription renewals drop dramatically in 2010. Football ratings are watched closely, and if a substantial number of Rush’s listeners turn off the games, it will be noticed.
For real fans — especially those rooting for a contending team like my New York Giants — not watching is a lot harder than giving up sweets for Lent. Playoff-bound teams don’t come along every year. Generation-long gaps can appear, like everything between Y.A. Tittle and Lawrence Taylor.
Still, I’ve put my Giants cap up in the garage, next to the Law & Order ball cap I wore during the L.A. riots. Sunday’s Giants-Saints game is off the DVR “to-do” list. Watching the games this week would feel disloyal to a great broadcaster whose free speech is under attack by the left. I don’t know how long the feelings will last.
Perhaps the football commissioner will apologize for his one-sided remarks. Maybe some conservative NFL players will speak up in support of Rush. Because until there is some atonement, the NFL, one of the great brands in sports and media, will be tainted in my eyes.
And perhaps in yours, as well?