First of all let me state that the purpose of this thread is not to pontificate and hurl fireballs back and forth about Rush Limbaugh, Al Sharpton, Keith Olbermann, Glenn Beck et al. I am not going to convince people of the opposite political persuasion to my point of view and they certainly aren’t going to transform me. Rather I want to engage some of you in a colloquy about whether or not a person’s character or past statements should prohibit them from being an owner in a pro sports franchise.

In the current case the issue has been somewhat simplified because the ownership group is the one who dropped the controversial figure. My sense is that the decision was made largely because the prospective owners knew that this individual would make it awful hard to sign free agents and perhaps even high draft picks. In other words, the chemistry wasn’t right. But let us suppose that they had not made this decision – would the NFL owners have the right to vote down this ownership group on the basis of a controversial owner? This situation is a bit more murky than the situation that occurred in baseball with DiBartolo and the White Sox; Major League Baseball has a bonafide anti-trust exemption and is overseen by the US Congress.

The NFL on the other hand has an anti-trust exemption with respect to broadcasting – the Sports Broadcasting Act of 1961 allows the league an exemption that specifically applies to the right to negotiate multimedia contracts and does not cover the other aspects of how the league operates. This has been proven in the courts in cases such as USFL v. NFL in which the jury found that that the NFL was a “duly adjudicated illegal monopoly,” and further found that the NFL had willfully acquired and maintained monopoly status through predatory tactics. There is also speculation that the owners will challenge McNeil v. National Football League, a move that could cause the players association to challenge the league on anti-trust grounds.

My sense is that the owners of major sports leagues should be allowed to set rules as to whom they will allow and who they will not allow to become owners so long as those decisions don’t violate other laws with respect to discrimination on the basis of race, gender, creed or (increasingly) personal lifestyle preferences. With respect to the baseball instance, nothing was proven about Mr. DiBartolo to make him an “unsavory” character although most everybody knows how the DiBartolos made their money prior to the 49ers. Baseball, however has a specific anti-trust exemption and they are more or less free to use it as they choose.

And again, no soapbox speeches about Mr. Limbaugh and other political commentators, puh-leeze!  The question is about whether or not what individuals say or have said can preclude them from ownership, as well as other considerations.  And if no one else wishes to comment that is fine too.

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