Rush Limbaugh meets Reggie Fowler

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Last week Rush Limbaugh, right-wing talk show host and race-baiting provocateur was dropped from an investor’s group that was going to buy the St. Louis Rams football team.
The sports and mainstream press dissected the story for a week and Rush himself has played martyr on his radio program claiming he was denied the chance to buy the team due to left-wing politics in “Obama’s America.” It seemed pretty clear to me why Rush Limbaugh wouldn’t be allowed to become a partial owner of the team, and that put a smile on my face. Finally, the NFL owners seem to be putting business before race and politics, and perhaps by denying Rush Limbaugh they’ve slightly made up for the sin they committed against Reggie Fowler.

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Who was Reggie fowler? He’s a name that was strangely missing from the Rush Limbaugh discussion in the press, which is amazing since his attempt to become the majority owner of the Minnesota Vikings in 2003 was the last time there was a major ruckus about ownership in the NFL. Reggie Fowler was a millionaire businessman from Tucson, Ariz. Among many other ventures he owned Spiral Inc, a company that made disposable containers for restaurants around the country. The owner of the Minnesota Vikings, Red McCombs was desperate to sell his team to a qualified buyer after several false starts in the late 1990s. Fowler seemed like a perfect fit, his company reported over $300 million in profits in 2004, he’d put together a team of experienced investors and personally convinced McCombs and the citizens of Minnesota that he’d keep the team in the state rather than move to Los Angeles for a new stadium. Seemed like a done deal right?

Not so fast America. Did I forget to mention that Reggie Fowler would’ve been the first African-American majority owner of an NFL franchise in modern history? No matter what the right would like to believe, green does not always trump Black. The process to buy an NFL franchise is the epitome of the Old Boys Network and Fowler, despite his financial prowess just didn’t kiss enough of the right behinds to get his bid approved. To buy an NFL franchise you have to first put up about 40 percent of the total cost of the team (in the case of the Vikings it was $625 million) then you must prove you have enough money to buy out your next two largest investors if they back out of the deal. After that, the process gets really murky. Even if you have the money and get approved by the team owner, 24 of the 32 NFL franchise owners must vote to let you into their little club. The poll tax and literary tests had nothing on how the NFL operates.

Apparently several other NFL franchise owners demanded to see and review Fowler’s finances and he refused. He claimed that some of the other owners were business competitors and that since he was approved by the Vikings owners he had no obligation to give up sensitive information about his business to nosy outsiders. That didn’t go over too well, and when it became clear that despite his money that he wouldn’t get enough votes, Fowler became a minority partner in his OWN investors group and let another man who he brought into the deal become majority owner of the team.

So if Reggie Fowler, who had been vetted by a team owner, had quantifiable wealth and never did anything to offend players or fan wasn’t accepted into the club of NFL owners, Rush has nothing to complain about. He’s made a nice living from running his mouth and bringing attention to himself. Some people love him, others find him offensive, but his statements about race and Black athletes in particular make him a lightening rod that most businessmen would shy away from. Don’t take my word for it, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said so himself: “This thing is not just about money. We’re selecting a partner, and that’s a very important decision for an owner.”

Wait—that was his public statement in 2005 to justify denying Reggie Fowler after some NFL finance committee members didn’t bother to show up to review Fowler’s application. I’m sure they applied the same principle to Rush Limbaugh. He should take solace in the fact that now he, like Reggie Fowler, can consider himself part of the victimized millionaires club, I’m sure that will garner him a lot of sympathy among NFL fans.

(Dr. Jason Johnson is an associate professor at Hiram College in Ohio.)

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