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Rush, the Rams, and a Pinch of Racism: An LSAT Analysis

So I am still waiting for my LSAT score. That means that I have been wasting a large (larger, I guess I should say) amount of time on the Internet.

A couple of days ago, I came across this whole mess with Rush Limbaugh. The infamous, conservative political commentator is part of an investment group that is vying to purchase the St. Louis Rams, an NFL franchise. (Actually, I am not even sure that the Rams qualify as a CFL franchise with their play this year.)

Since the news broke, there has been a ton of news coverage and not everyone is a fan of Limbaugh joining the ranks of NFL ownership. A number of other NFL owners have spoken out against Limbaugh and the head of the players union has made it clear that the players are not in favor. Limbaugh, however, has recently stated that he is not going to exit quietly.

Here is the problem with Mr. Limbaugh. Various incidents in the past have led to some people painting him as a bit of a racist. And, well, the NFL has a lot of black players. And by a lot, I mean pretty much all of them, aside from a few corn-fed boys from Iowa (oh, and the damn Manning brothers).

Most specifically, Limbaugh made a pointed comment about Donovan McNabb back in 2003 while working for ESPN’s Sunday Night Football: “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.” Not cool.

It has also been claimed in transcripts that Limbaugh made the following comment in 2007: “The NFL all too often looks like a game between the Bloods and the Crips without any weapons. There, I said it.” Even less cool. Limbaugh claims this quote is fabricated.

These comments are the basis for much of the opposition to Limbaugh’s bid to purchase an NFL franchise. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell recently spoke out on the issue. Without clearly stating that he did not want to see Limbaugh in an ownership position, Goodell stated that the league is held to a “higher standard” and that he would not want to see such “divisive comments” from someone involved in the league. Pretty clear which way he is leaning.

So that got me thinking. But when I start thinking, I normally start thinking about the LSAT. So here is the question:

If the opposition to Rush Limbaugh’s ownership bid were given as an LSAT question, would they have a valid objection?

Now, before I tell you my answer, and before anyone gets upset with me, let me make a few things very clear:

    1.      I really dislike Rush Limbaugh.
    2.      I really like the NFL.
    3.      If I were an owner of an NFL team, I would never vote for him to become a co-owner.

However, part of the LSAT is putting all of these biases aside. So here I go. Basically the argument goes like this:

Rush Limbaugh has made various comments in the past of a racial nature that have offended a large number of people, including NFL players. The NFL is an organization that, like it or not, has a large role in shaping the lives of the youth of America. Through the comments that he has made, Limbaugh has shown himself to be racially insensitive. Also, several owners and players have voiced their objections to his bid. Thus, he is unsuitable to own an NFL franchise.

Drum roll please…. Does that constitute a valid argument?

I have bad news for the NFL. On the LSAT, this is a terribly flawed argument. I can spot at least five fallacies that are committed in the argument above.

1.      Ad hominem

When you want to defeat someone’s argument on the LSAT, you have to attack the argument. If you want to falsify a theory, you have to go straight after the theory. There are no sneak attacks allowed. You can’t bring up a person’s sexual indiscretions, joke about their mom, or remind people that they once lied to a police officer as a teenager. Here, the real issue is whether Rush Limbaugh is qualified to be an owner of an NFL franchise. The relevant issues would revolve around his knowledge of the sport and business acumen. Unfortunately, the incendiary comments that he made do not fit into either of these categories.

2.      Basing a conclusion on what people say

“You look great in that dress.”
“I swear, he is just a friend and we were checking out the scenery.”
“I just got tested.”

Sorry to bring back a slew of bad memories, but we have all been burned by statements like these in the past. Well, the LSAT does not let you make that mistake. Basing a conclusion on what people say or claim is a big fallacy. Politicians lie, friends don’t follow through, and family members cannot be trusted on this exam. So here, while we might have rather compelling evidence that Limbaugh made certain statements, that is not adequate proof that he actually believes those things to be true. When he was a commentator on ESPN, he could have made the statement about Donovan McNabb solely to stir up controversy. Not likely, but a fallacy nonetheless.

3.      Small sample size #1

We have all said a couple stupid things in life. Just take a moment to consider what a soundtrack of your life might sound like if you were followed around all day. Not pretty. Lots of famous people have said really stupid things, but we cannot jump to conclusions based on a few, isolated instances.

“The internet is a great way to get on the net.” —Bob Dole
“I go out with friends, but I don’t have time to get in trouble.” —Britney Spears
“Any time Detroit scores more than 100 points and holds the other team below 100 points they almost always win.” —Doug Collins

You see, everyone can slip up from time to time. So making the jump from the premise that Limbaugh has made a few racially insensitive comments to the conclusion that he is racially insensitive is a definite fallacy on the LSAT.

4.      Sample size #2

As of now, all we know is that “several” owners and players have voiced an opposition to Limbaugh. However, this does not give us an adequate basis to determine how the league as a whole feels about the issue. It could be the case that many owners and players support Limbaugh (although I wouldn’t bet on it) or perhaps they just do not care either way. And this is clearly a sample that could be biased. Just because Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco tend to voice their opinion the loudest, that does not mean that it deserves more weight than other opinions.

5.      Temporal

The final issue here is a temporal one. You see, people have this frustrating tendency to change their mind. A few years back, Michael Vick was a rising star in the NFL and very popular with fans, even those with pets. A few years back, the Rams were actually a good football team, starring the likes of Kurt Warner and Marshall Faulk. But things change. And people can change too. Your girlfriend might learn that the middle of Sportscenter is not the best time for a conversation. Or your boyfriend might learn to put the damn toilet seat down. On the LSAT, what was true in the past need not be true now and definitely no indication of what will be true in the future. So even if Limbaugh really was sincere in expressing those comments years ago, that does not necessarily imply that he feels that way now.

It pains me to write some of these things, but this illustrates one of the tricks of the LSAT. In everyday life, I believe the vast majority of people believe that there is more than ample evidence to veto Limbaugh’s bid. But on the LSAT, common sense can be your enemy.

Update: this morning, Limbaugh was dropped from the ownership group to buy the Rams. Rumor has it that Britney Spears was thrilled.