What I admire about the National Football League is the constant pace of innovation. Instant replay. The zone blitz. The Wildcat offense. And now, at long last, standards for NFL owners.
This last one was invented just last week, when the league pressured a group trying to buy the St. Louis Rams to drop conservative talk-radio host Rush Limbaugh from its ranks for what NFL commissioner Roger Goodell called "divisive" and "negative" commentary. "We are all held to a higher standard here," Goodell added.
Presumably Goodell was using the phrase higher standard with a certain flexibility, since the NFL counts any number of rapists, cokeheads and serial dog-torturers among its players. But let's be fair: Those are players. There are a very limited number of guys who can thread a ball 50 yards downfield through two defensive backs to a wide receiver, so you don't want to set the behavioral bar too high.
But Goodell has apparently realized that the world is full of half-wit millionaires willing to spend a fortune in order to hang around locker rooms sniffing jocks, so the league can afford to be somewhat choosy. Here's a list of directives from the NFL office governing the future behavior of owners:• There can't be any episodes of The Sopranos based on your life. Investigative reporter Dan Moldea's 1988 book Interference: How Organized Crime Influences Professional Football said at least 26 NFL owners had documented ties to the Mafia or big-time gambling. Carroll Rosenbloom, who first owned the Colts and later the Rams, gambled so promiscuously with such a rough crowd that when he drowned while swimming in the ocean in 1979, it was widely believed he'd been murdered by disgruntled Mafia chums.
• Don't leave Super Bowl tickets lying around in your purse. Rosenbloom's ex-showgirl wife Georgia inherited the Rams when he died. The next season, when her team played in the Super Bowl, Georgia's new husband (No. 7, in case you were counting) Dominic Frontiere illegally scalped as many as 16,000 tickets. He wound up in jail; Georgia, who explained she just thought those tickets got lost in the sofa cushions or something, went on her merry way.
• Do not ask female reporters if they think that's a pistol in your pocket, or . . . When his players were accused of flashing Boston Herald reporter Lisa Olson in their locker room in 1990, classy Patriots owner Victor Kiam gave a wee hint of where they might have gotten the idea. "What do the Iraqis have in common with Lisa Olson?" Kiam cracked. "They've both seen Patriot missiles up close."
• Fergie, no pets for you. Hip-hop singer Fergie, part of our proud new class of celebrity part-owners of the Dolphins, admits to past fascination with the drugs Ecstasy and crystal meth, though she grew annoyed with a London Sunday Times reporter who asked if it was true she once got so wasted on meth that she spent eight hours talking to a hamster. "It wasn't a hamster, it was a hamper," she insisted.
• And Fergie, lay in a supply of Depends. She says the Ecstasy and meth are behind her, but the singer -- perhaps because it was unfortunately recorded for posterity on YouTube -- admits to getting so drunk before going on stage at a show a couple of years ago that she wet herself while dancing.
• And Fergie -- you again! -- try some lyrics that rhyme June-moon-spoon. Among Fergie's more infamous songs recorded with the Black Eyed Peas is one called My Humps, which goes: I'ma get get get get you drunk/Get you love drunk off my hump -- well, you get the drift.
• JLo, stay off the phone with Rush. What got Limbaugh in trouble were purportedly racist comments that mostly turned out to be Internet fabrications. In the most inflammatory of those proven to be accurate, Limbaugh is complaining about flamboyant on-field celebrations during football games. "The NFL," he says, "all too often looks like a game between the Bloods and the Crips without any weapons."
Compare that to I'm Real, a song recorded in 2001 by another new Dolphins part-owner, Jennifer Lopez. It used the N-word so wantonly (not to mention a word for lady parts that will get you slapped if you speak it outside a locker room) that it led to a boycott of her album, serious enough that JLo went on the Today show to defend herself. Calling use of the N-word racist was "really absurd," Lopez said. I guess the NFL agrees.