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Where are the Black NFL Owners?

Washington AFRO, Commentary, Perry Green Posted: Oct 22, 2009

(October 21, 2009) - Conservative political commentator Rush Limbaugh has dominated media headlines the last two weeks with his participation in a group interested in buying the National Football Leagues St. Louis Rams.

The highly controversial radio talk show host was a topic of discussion almost everywhere, until the group announced its plans to continue its bid for the owners box without him.

But theres one fact related to the Limbaugh/Rams story that hasnt been mentioned in many headlines.

According to an ESPN.com article, one of the six groups interested in buying the Rams is led by African-American businessman Donald Watkins.

While not a well-known name, Watkins has made a major imprint in the business world.

The AFRO has learned Watkins is one of the wealthiest Black people in the country. Although he may not be as popular as Oprah or former BET owner Bob Johnson, the Birmingham Business Journal once reported Watkins is believed to have a net-worth of nearly $2 billion dollars, although he has never discussed or confirmed how much money he has.

It's bad business to publicize your net worth because when you move to do the next deal, people know your limitations and you can't negotiate effectively, Watkins told CNNMoney.com.

The Birmingham, Ala,, native comes from a family of wealth in education. His father, Levi Watkins Sr., served as a longtime president of Alabama State University, while his eldest brother, Levi Jr., is an associate dean at Johns Hopkins University and a world renowned heart surgeon who performed the worlds first human implantation of an automatic heart defibrillator in 1980.

But Donald isnt short on achievements himself. Watkins won 40 of 41 cases as a lawyer representing the city of Birmingham during the 1980s and 1990s. CBS News reported in 2002 that Watkins earned $10 million during his years as a trial lawyer in the 90s, and invested much of his wealth into the energy technology industry. He also founded his own state-chartered, full-service bank in Alabama, and currently serves on the board of directors of State Mutual Insurance Company in Rome, Ga.

Watkins told CNN he dreamed of owning an American sports franchise for more than 20 years, and came close to purchasing the Minnesota Twins of Major League Baseball in 2002.

Watkins had big plans for the Twins, envisioning them to become the most dominate sports franchise of the future.

The Twins will become Americas team, Watkins said, according to a 2002 USATODAY article. We will market the team globally and dominate the sportPeople think the Yankees dominate now? Thats nothing compared to the way well dominate. Remember how John Wooden used to dominate with UCLA in the 60s? Minnesota will experience that same euphoria. Well be the Tiger Woods of baseball.

Yet according to the Birmingham Business Journal, Watkins passed on the opportunity of buying the Twins when his friend, Richard Scrushy, former CEO of HealthSouth Corp., faced a $2.7 billion fraud and conspiracy charge.

Scrushy was found not guilty, thanks to Watkins serving as his lead attorney. And now it appears the 62-year-old is ready to continue pursuing his dreams of becoming a major American sports franchise owner.

Any doubts about my ability to buy a team have been removed, Watkins told the BBJ in 2005. Since winning the Scrushy case, I have removed all questions about credentials and credibility.

But the last time a Black man came close to becoming an NFL majority owner he ended up settling for less. According to The Associated Press, in 2005, African-American businessman Reggie Fowler agreed to buy the Minnesota Vikings for $635 million, but had to settle as only a limited partner because he couldnt provide adequate proof of his financial stake in the ownership group. He took that role to avoid losing a $20 million deposit, and owns 40 percent.

German businessman Zygi Wilf and his family own the other 60 percent.

Fowler is one of three known African Americans who serve as limited partnership owners. In other sports arenas, tennis stars Venus and Serena Williams recently purchased a small percentage of the Miami Dolphins.

But how long will we have to wait before we see the first Black majority owner?

If Watkins credentials and credibility are as impeccable as his record suggests, it wont be long at all.

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