NFL Players executive director DeMaurice Smith on Saturday made a move to solidify the union against a bid by conservative talk show radio host Rush Limbaugh as part of a group that aims to purchase the St. Louis Rams.
In an e-mail to the union's executive committee on Saturday specifically addressing Limbaugh's bid, Smith said, "I've spoken to the Commissioner [Roger Goodell] and I understand that this ownership consideration is in the early stages. But sport in America is at its best when it unifies, gives all of us reason to cheer, and when it transcends. Our sport does exactly that when it overcomes division and rejects discrimination and hatred."
Limbaugh and St. Louis Blues owner Dave Checketts are among six potential ownership groups that have discussed buying the Rams. League sources say the current sale price has ranged from $700-to-$750 million but that there did not appear to be an imminent transaction.
On Sunday, Smith briefly elaborated, "This communication is more about what we stand for than the reality of our role in any franchise sale. While it's true the subject matter was related [to Limbaugh's bid], I do understand that the NFL does not present ownership bids to me or the NFLPA. I encourage our players to express their views."
At least seven NFL players have publicly opposed Limbaugh's interest in purchasing the Rams with Checketts. In Smith's communication Saturday with his executive committee, the union leader encouraged players to speak their mind on all matters, including Limbaugh's bid.
"I have asked our players to embrace their roles not only in the game of football but also as players and partners in the business of the NFL," said Smith in the e-mail. "They risk everything to play this game, they understand that risk and they live with that risk and its consequences for the rest of their life. We also know that there is an ugly part of history and we will not risk going backwards, giving up, giving in or lying down to it.
"Our men are strong and proud sons, fathers, spouses and I am proud when they stand up, understand this is their profession and speak with candor and blunt honesty about how they feel."
Limbaugh has expressed a number of controversial racial ideas in the past. For example, he suggested that Gen. Colin Powell supported Barack Obama's presidential candidacy simply because he was black, and he also stated that the media wants black quarterbacks to do well and that Donovan McNabb doesn't deserve much of the credit he has received for the Eagles' success.
Among the half-dozen interested buyers of the Rams, there are strong African-American ownership groups interested in buying the Rams, including businessmen Donald Watkins and Dave Steward.
The league has maintained it does not publicly address potential franchise sales. All transactions, when formally presented after a thorough background check, are decided by the 32 owners by vote.
Chris Mortensen is ESPN's senior NFL analyst.