CNN's Cooper Brings on Sharpton on Limbaugh: NFL Needs 'Standards'

CNN's Anderson Cooper brought on Rev. Al Sharpton- a person with an actual racially-divisive past - on his program on Monday to expound on his argument that Rush Limbaugh is "divisive" and even "anti-NFL." Sharpton went so far as to claim that the issue of the talk show host's involvement in the purchase of the St. Louis Rams is "whether or not the NFL is going to have standards."

The leader of the National Action Network appeared 23 minutes into the 10 pm Eastern hour, along with former NFL player Eugene "Mercury" Morris, who was making his second appearance on CNN that day. Cooper first played a clip from Limbaugh's radio show where the conservative defended himself against his critics. Before introducing his guests, the anchor read an excerpt from Sharpton's letter to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell: "Rush Limbaugh has been divisive and anti-NFL on several occasions, with comments about NFL players, including Michael Vick and Donovan McNabb, and his recent statement that the NFL was beginning to look like a fight between the Crips and the Bloods without the weapons was disturbing."

Cooper then turned to his guests and asked Sharpton, "Why shouldn't Rush Limbaugh, like anybody else, be allowed to own a team, if he can afford it?" Instead of bringing up the race issue, as many of Limbaugh's critics have done in recent days, the black minister proposed a bizarre argument: "I think the question is whether or not the NFL is going to have standards. I think, when the Players Association came out this weekend and said that they objected because he was divisive...You have to have some standard to say, but, wait a minute, this guy has offended the people that generate the money."

Come again? Sharpton brings up "standards," and yet excoriates Limbaugh for rightly criticizing Michael Vick's indefensible abuse of dogs? Talk about stepping into the Twilight Zone.

The CNN anchor asked Morris for his take, and he repeated some of his arguments from his earlier appearance with Rick Sanchez, that Limbaugh shouldn't be prevented from making the purchase, and that the host "doesn't realize the hornet's nest that he's about to get into. So, I say let him go in there and see what it's like to actually have to deal with these same people who he's talking about."

Cooper then finally brought the race issue in his second question to Sharpton: "Do you believe Rush Limbaugh is racist?" He replied, "Race has nothing to do with it. He has offended the players, whether they be black or white. When you say these people are like Crips and Bloods without guns, I mean, nothing in my letter referred to race."

As Rush often says, "stop the tape!" Race has nothing to do with it, Rev. Sharpton? Then why do you bring up McNabb in your letter? Also, why were you so disturbed by Limbaugh's "Crips and Bloods" comments?

When the anchor went back to Morris to asked him about the importance of the relationship between the athletes and the owner, the former NFL star channeled Jimmy Carter's recent comments on critics of President Obama, and sprinkled in some amateur psychoanalysis of Limbaugh:

COOPER: I don't know much about how football teams work with the owners. In your experience, does it matter who the owner is, in terms of whether or not they have good relationships with the players?

MORRIS: I think back at- there was a time when that- when football reflected society. When I played in the '70s, it was an un- it was an unwritten thing that- it would be 75 percent of the players would be white and 25 percent of the players would be black, and that carried itself from George Halas all the way through the '70s. Now, when the need came for them to have more black ballplayers, there were no black quarterbacks when I played. There were no black centers when I played, because those were positions of power, and, at that particular time, in the undertow of things, the white society did not want a black man running things. But, for goodness' sake, we have got a president now who's the quarterback, and I think that that's what's bothering Limbaugh the most, is that the guy who is calling the shots here in this country is a black man. And so, how can I have some power? Well, let me buy some people, and then I can put who I want in there, rather than who's the best person there.

Cooper closed the segment by actually getting Sharpton to answer Limbaugh's criticism of the black minister's involvement in the controversy, putting his guest in a slightly uncomfortable position:

COOPER: I want to play for our viewers some of what he said today, actually, about you, Reverend Sharpton, getting involved in this.

LIMBAUGH: Now, this saddens me as well. This disappoints me. I know Reverend 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, the author of the Tawana Brawley hoax. I believe in freedom, second chances, and I also don't discriminate.

SHARPTON: Well, neither did I bring up his admitting drug use and other things when he remains on the air. We're not talking about being on the air. We're talking about whether or not he should own a team and make decisions for people that he has depicted as thugs and gangsters. Secondly, for him to have to go back 22 years to the Tawana Brawley case, I've done a lot more cases since then. I think it shows how desperate he is to really not deal with reality.

By that answer, Sharpton pretty much exposed his true character- someone who too often reaches for the lowest common denominator to fight a vendetta. It's a disgrace that CNN again brought on this divisive person as a guest.

-Matthew Balan is a news analyst at the Media Research Center.