The Revs. Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson attacked the bid by Rush Limbaugh to buy the St. Louis Rams on Monday, saying the conservative radio host's track record on race should exclude him from owning an NFL team.
Sharpton sent a letter to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, arguing that Limbaugh has been divisive and "anti-NFL" in some of his comments.
Jackson said in a telephone interview that Limbaugh had made his wealth "appealing to the fears of whites" with an unending line of insults against blacks and other minorities.
"The National Football League has set high standards for racial justice and inclusion," Jackson said. "He should not have the privilege of owning an NFL franchise _ and it is a privilege." The civil rights leader said he's had contact with numerous players and ex-players concerned about the bid.
Limbaugh shot back at Sharpton on his radio show.
"Now, this saddens me as well this disappoints me," he said. "I know Rev. Sharpton. Sharpton is better than this. He knows better than this. You know, I didn't judge Al Sharpton's fitness to be in radio when he wanted to earn an honest living for once, given his well-documented past as the author of the Tawana Brawley hoax. I believe in freedom and I also don't discriminate."
Limbaugh said last week that he is teaming up with St. Louis Blues hockey team owner Dave Checketts in a bid to buy the Rams. He has declined to discuss details of the offer, citing a confidentiality agreement.
In 2003, Limbaugh worked briefly on ESPN's NFL pregame show. He resigned after saying Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb was overrated because the media wanted to see a black quarterback succeed.
Transcripts posted on the radio host's Web site also say that on a January 2007 show, Limbaugh commented: "The NFL all too often looks like a game between the Bloods and the Crips without any weapons. There, I said it."
Asked about Limbaugh's bid to purchase the winless Rams, McNabb said: "If he's rewarded to buy them, congratulations to him. But I won't be in St. Louis any time soon."
NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said the league is aware of the concerns voiced by Sharpton and Jackson.
"It is very early in the process and no transfer of ownership of the Rams has been presented to the league for review," Aiello said.
The latest complaints came a day after executive director of the NFL Players Association, DeMaurice Smith, urged players to speak out against 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," Smith said in a statement Sunday. "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."
Players on the 0-5 Rams, who were routed by the Minnesota Vikings 38-10 on Sunday, tried to distance themselves from the controversy.
"I'm paying attention, but I'm not even touching that one," running back Steven Jackson said. "Because if I start touching it I might go somewhere I don't want to go."
Defensive end Chris Long said he just heard Monday that Limbaugh was part of a group seeking to purchase the team. His reaction: "Oh, is that the guy on the radio?"
Reminded of Limbaugh's statements about McNabb, Long seemed to disapprove while adding he didn't care who owned the team.
"I mean, those weren't great comments at all," Long said. "But it's not my job to really comment on that."
Defensive end Leonard Little, the last remaining player from the Rams' Super Bowl championship after the 1999 season, didn't want to talk about it.
"We've got a lot more things to worry about than who's going to be our owner," he said.