by Michael Franzese
Like everyone else who is a fan of the NFL, I have heard of the recent firestorm over Rush Limbaugh being ousted by Roger Goodell in his bid to become part owner of the St Louis Rams. Apparently Limbaugh has been accused of being racist in some way towards African American players.
I listen to Limbaugh’s radio show quite a bit and as a result I know he is a huge fan of the NFL. That’s the very reason why these charges of racism just don’t sit well with me. Common sense alone would lead a reasonable person to question how such a huge fan of the NFL, or of any professional sport for that matter, could be racist towards the very players whose tremendous talents and athleticism create the excitement that contributes to one’s being such a huge fan of the sport. It’s just not logical. There is no denying that Limbaugh is a lightning rod for controversy. There is also no denying that he makes statements that some people might find offensive. Even he doesn’t deny that. But to charge him with racism towards the very players he loves to watch and was willing to invest his money in, just doesn’t make sense.
Although I might not agree with Mr. Goodell’s decision to deny Limbaugh ownership of the St Louis Rams, I do believe he has every right to deny a person’s bid for ownership of a team if he feels that person’s ownership would not serve the best interests of the NFL. However, I am concerned about some of the information he might have relied on to arrive at his decision to deny Limbaugh’s bid, particularly, a letter he received from the Reverend Al Sharpton. Apparently, Reverend Al asked Goodell to deny Limbaugh ownership of the Rams on the basis of remarks he might have made “that unfairly castigated NFL players.” Now I don’t know Limbaugh personally. What I know about him I know from listening to his radio show and that’s why I don’t buy these charges of racism. On the other hand, I do know the Reverend Al Sharpton. Matter of fact, at one time, I knew the Reverend Al quite well. Let me tell you about it:
For those of you who are unfamiliar with my background, I was once a caporegime (captain) in the Colombo organized crime family, one of the five La Cosa Nostra families headquartered in New York. My story has been well documented over the years in government reports as well as in the media. I became a “made” member of the family in 1975. My father, Sonny Franzese, was at one time the underboss of the family. In 1985 I pled guilty to racketeering in federal court and sentenced to 10 years in prison. I have since walked away from that life. The fact that I have been successful in doing so and manage to stay alive has been the subject of several books and television shows and covered extensively in the media.
In the early 1980’s, while an acting Capo in the Colombo family, I was introduced to Reverend Al Sharpton by Julie and Roy Rifkin, two brothers who owned an R & B record label in NYC called Spring records. The Rifkins would hire the Reverend Al to steer black recording artists to sign with their label. He wasn’t in the best financial condition at the time and offered his services to me should I ever need someone with influence in the black community. He told me he was a person to be trusted and that he was a close associate of Genovese family capo, Danny Pagano. I told him I would keep that in mind. As it turns out, I would later reach out to the Reverend Al to arrange a meeting for me with Don King to discuss doing some co-promotions with two aspiring fight promoters with whom I had recently become involved. Before approaching Sharpton, I did contact Pagano and asked him about the Reverend. He told me that Sharpton was “a gun for hire” and would deliver his people to me for a price; in the same way he delivered black artists to the record labels. I later met with Sharpton, introduced him to the two fight promoters and told him to arrange a meeting with Don King.
I made it very clear to the Reverend that the two promoters claimed they were former drug dealers and that if a deal with King came together, he would get a cut of whatever money was earned as a result of the co-promotions with King. It was several months before a meeting actually took place with King.
I wanted enough time to check the promoters out before introducing them to King. During that time, Sharpton met with the promoters on his own on several occasions. Their names were Victor Guerrero and Reggie Barret. As it turns out, I later found out Guerrero was actually FBI special agent, Victor Quintano and Reggie Barret was a convicted felon acting as an informant selected by the feds to go undercover for his knowledge of the fight business. He was a one-time associate of Muhammad Ali’s. The FBI was conducting a sting operation into corruption in professional boxing and myself and Don King became the targets.
It is well documented by the FBI both on audio and video surveillance tapes, and later reported in several media outlets (HBO’s Real Sports, NY Newsday, NY Daily News….) that Sharpton had several conversations with the agents concerning illicit business dealings. I’ll leave it at that, since the purpose of this communication is not to pour salt on the wounds of the Reverend Al, but rather to address the sincerity of the allegations he made concerning Limbaugh and his alleged racism towards African American NFL players. In that regard, let me relate the following:
In 1983, I was in control of the security guards union owned by Colombo family associate, Daniel Cunningham. We had decided to attempt to unionize the security guards in all of the hotels in Atlantic City. In accordance with mob protocol I met with then Philadelphia mob boss Nicky Scarfa who had had control of much of the mob business in Atlantic City and told him of my plans to unionize the guards. Scarfa gave me his blessings and told me to be prepared to play hardball with the hotel management. He told me to have picketers in front of the hotel day and night until management caved in to the union’s demands to organize their guards. I contacted the Reverend Al and told him of my plans and that I would need picketers in front of the hotel. His response to me was, “For the right price, I will have 10 busloads of the nastiest looking n*****’s slamming the front doors of those hotels day and night.” Daniel Cunningham later became a government informant and told the FBI of my involvement with him and the guards union. The matter later became a count in a federal racketeering indictment I was charged with in 1985.
As a result of my experiences with the Reverend Al and with those of others I knew who dealt with him extensively in the 1980’s, I seriously question his sincerity when claiming to stand up for the rights of African American’s that he exploited for a price. I have no problem what-so-ever confronting the Reverend Al with what I have relayed herein. It’s all a matter of record.
If Commissioner Goodell was influenced in any way by the contents of the Reverend Al’s letter in arriving at his decision to deny Limbaugh ownership of the St Louis Rams, I suggest he seriously reconsider his position. Claims of racism are serious and divisive and should never be lodged in an effort to advance one’s personal agenda. The Reverend Al has been doing this for long enough. Most African Americans are aware of his motives. He doesn’t speak for them, and that includes those African Americans who play in the NFL.
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Tags: Al Sharpton, Colombo, Danny Pagano, Don King, Genovese family, Julie and Roy Rifkin, La Cosa Nostra, NFL, race, racism, Roger Goodell, Rush Limbaugh, Sonny Franzese, Spring records, St. Louis Rams
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