BOSTON -- Rush Limbaugh's bid to buy the St. Louis Rams ran into opposition within the NFL on Tuesday, when Colts owner Jim Irsay vowed to vote against him and commissioner Roger Goodell said the conservative commentator's "divisive" comments would not be tolerated from any NFL insider.
"I, myself, couldn't even consider voting for him," Irsay said at an owners meetings. "When there are comments that have been made that are inappropriate, incendiary and insensitive ... our words do damage, and it's something that we don't need."
Limbaugh has long been a hero of conservatives and villain to the left, thriving on his place in the political spectrum while establishing himself as one of the most successful broadcasters in history. But the NFL tries to avoid controversy, as Limbaugh learned in 2003 when he was forced to resign from ESPN's Sunday Night Football broadcast after saying of Philadelphia's Donovan McNabb: "I think what we've had here is a little social concern in the NFL. The media has been very desirous that a black quarterback do well."
Goodell repeatedly distanced the league from Limbaugh's statements on Tuesday, calling them "polarizing comments that we don't think reflect accurately on the NFL or our players."
"I have said many times before that we are all held to a higher standard here," the commissioner said. "I think divisive comments are not what the NFL is all about. I would not want to see those kind of comments from people who are in a responsible position within the NFL. No. Absolutely not."
According to transcripts posted on his Web site, in 2007 Limbaugh also said: "The NFL all too often looks like a game between the Bloods and the Crips without any weapons. There, I said it." That comment, and others, resurfaced this month when he revealed he is teaming with St. Louis Blues owner Dave Checketts to bid on the Rams.
In an e-mail to The Associated Press, Limbaugh said he was forced to respond because "the totally made-up and fabricated quotes attributed to me in recent media reports are outrageous and slanderous." He also noted that he would be a minority owner in the prospective group, adding he is from Missouri and was saddened when the Cardinals left for Arizona.
"I am happy to be involved in an effort to keep the Rams in St. Louis. I love the National Football League, I eagerly discuss it and promote it and I greatly admire the men who play in the league. They are the best at what they do," he wrote. "It is regrettable that something I have dreamed about for years has taken this course. But the fight is worth it to me. I love the National Football League."
The Rams updated the league on their potential sale on Tuesday but specific bidders were not discussed, Goodell said.
"They're not certain they are even sellers," New York Giants co-owner Steve Tisch said, adding that he expected a decision by the end of the season. "We can't speculate on potential owners because they have not brought up any names to put before ownership. It's out there, but without confirmation from the Rams or the Rosenbloom family, frankly, we don't know who the potential buyers are."
Patriots owner Robert Kraft referred questions about Limbaugh to the commissioner. Texans owner Bob McNair said anyone who meets the "normal criteria" is a candidate to own a team.
"But our vetting process is very thorough," he said.
Prominent blacks are already lining up against Limbaugh, including the Revs. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton. NFL Players Association head DeMaurice Smith, who is black, urged players to speak out against Limbaugh's bid, and several have already said they would not play for his team.
Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank echoed Goodell's comments and noted that the league and the union had a similar stance. Blank also said he wouldn't expect Limbaugh, if the deal went through, to tone down his lucrative radio show to avoid running afoul of the league.
"I find that highly unlikely," he said.
Prospective owners must be approved by 24 of the league's 32 teams. Irsay is the first owner who has stated unequivocally he would reject Limbaugh because he made a habit of "demonizing individuals."
"I met Rush only once. He seemed like a nice guy to me and all those kind of things," Irsay said. "It's bigger than the NFL. As a nation, and as a world, we've got to watch our words and our thoughts. They can do damage."