Is The NFL Nervous About Trump?

While I’m personally of the belief that football and politics probably shouldn’t mix I also think it’s incredibly interesting that our new presidential administration consists of not one, but two people who were involved in professional football leagues that attempted to compete with the NFL and (obviously) failed miserably.

Now, I admit it’s a bit of a stretch to include likely upcoming Administrator of the Small Business Administration Linda McMahon in this category, but at least some level of involvement with the WWE’s XFL venture is easily documented. This article, for instance, has a nice quote of her talking about how the WWE will, “stand committed to our long-term goal of making the XFL a viable brand of alternative football.” And then two months later the league was dead and the WWE was kind of fortunate to “only” lose a reported $35 million on the venture, thanks to their partnership with NBC. Obviously, success such as this makes her exceedingly qualified to head up the SBA.

But there’s no denying incoming President Trump’s involvement in the USFL. And many people are saying (well, HAVE said) that he was actually the driving force behind the league’s failure.

I won’t attempt to recap the USFL’s history here as ESPN has already done a wonderful job of that with the moderately exceptional 30 for 30 Small Potatoes: Who Killed the USFL? (available here for $1.99). I highly suggest taking the time to watch Small Potatoes in its entirety, but if you only have time for a short clip, check out below. Please enjoy a pre-candidate-for-president Trump demonstrating his signature maturity and grace in responding to criticism:

And to think there are concerns in regards to his temperament! He shows such poise, such, grace! Not surprisingly, Trump is not a fan of this documentary, writing to the director personally to tell him that it is, “a third rate documentary — and extremely dishonest (as you know)… P.S. You are a loser.”

In short though, basically Trump took over possibly the USFL’s most visible franchise (they signed Heisman Trophy winner Doug Flutie out of college!), did a horrible job, and ended up either greatly accelerating the league’s demise or directly sabotaging its chances of succeeding by making the incredibly poor decision to compete directly with the NFL by playing in the fall. Some speculate he was simply trying to force a merger with the NFL and make the owners a chunk of money, but regardless, this didn’t work.

He also sued the NFL for violating antitrust law and unlike the majority of his lawsuits, he actually won! Well, he technically won, but check out the results:

“a bothered and bewildered jury of five women and one man awarded damages of just $1 to the failing football league.

Damages in antitrust cases are tripled, so the award given to the USFL will actually amount to $3.”

Wow, $3! But this was 1986, so with inflation, that’s like $6.61 in 2017 dollars! This LA Times article from the time has more details, but at this point the USFL had lost hundreds of millions of dollars and was effectively already dead. An unexpected huge judgement in the USFL’s favor was their final, slim hope at survival. Trump’s schemes failed miserably; as NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle is quoted as saying, “They shot themselves in the foot.”

While others have made fun of Trump’s business acumen in exhaustive fashion, teasing him for hawking steaks and somehow managing to lose tons of money on casinos (which from a strictly gaming revenue standpoint should be essentially impossible), I don’t feel many people have expressed much concern regarding the fact that Trump very likely hates the NFL and his election cannot possibly have any positive effect on the league.

There have been a few hints that have lead me to this conclusion. First of all, Trump has already somewhat randomly criticized NFL concussion protocol, of all things. “We don’t go by these new and very much softer NFL rules,” he said after a supporter fainted at a rally, but later returned. “Concussion, oh! Oh! Got a little ding on the head, no, no, you can’t play for the rest of the season. Our people are tough!”

But I guess this makes sense, as I doubt Trump is particularly interested in mental health issues. You’ll also note that Trump never attended an NFL game during his campaign, but he did attend the Army vs. Navy college matchup. And at this point people probably forget that he falsely accused the NFL of sending him a letter about the debates competing with SNF and MNF.

But the biggest hint of Trump’s NFL hatred I think actually comes from the numerous examples and near flawless pattern of Trump harboring insane, long-standing grudges. He holds the best grudges, really terrific, the best. Recall his out-of-nowhere attack on Rosie O’Donnell stemming from comments she made in 2006 during the presidential debate or his public attack on Graydon Carter of Vanity Fair due at least partially to the fact that Graydon made fun about the size of Trump’s hands in the 1980s (more on that here). Sure, all this USFL stuff happened years ago too, but I think Trump has a world-class ability to recall these negative comments, losses, or bad press and feels the need to extract revenge — or at least rage against the “unfairness” — even decades later.

Given all this, I think it’s a pretty safe assumption to make that Trump is not much of an NFL fan. I really don’t think this is that controversial of an opinion, but if you disagree you’re no doubt squealing something like, “BUT TOM BRADY AND TRUMP ARE FRIENDS! TRUMP READ ALOUD AN ENDORSEMENT LETTER FROM BILL BELICHECK REMEMBER?? AND REX RYAN INTRODUCED HIM AT A RALLY!!” All that is true, but I’d counter Trump’s potential gripe is with the league itself, not the individual teams or players. And that the Patriots are evil and the worst, just throwing that thought out there as a Bills fan.

But what can Trump actually do to the NFL?

Hopefully, the answer is, “not much”, outside of perhaps a 3am tweet criticizing Roger Goodell at some point. And perhaps Trump can pull petty stunts like refusing to invite the Super Bowl winning team to the White House, although I predict that he may pre-emptively nix that tradition to prevent personal embarrassment when only two offensive linemen and the kickers show up. Before you scream, “THAT’S RACIST,” there’s been numerous articles on the subject, with this Bleacher Report  pre-election straw poll of 43 NFL players being perhaps the most telling:

  • 20 of 22 black NFL players plan to vote for Hillary Clinton.
  • 2 of 22 black NFL players plan to vote for Donald J. Trump.
  • 21 of 21 white NFL players plan to vote for Trump.

But you could also argue NFL locker rooms are probably only slightly more divided than many of our own workplaces and most players are probably too busy with game plans, injuries, and reading through suggestive DMs from Instagram “models” to get too involved with politics anyways. Regardless, I can definitely see a few scenarios where the winning team refuses to visit the White House. However, I think it depends on who wins. The Cowboys or Patriots would probably go. Seattle or the Raiders, maybe not. And you know Kaepernick would LOVE to have the opportunity to not participate, but I’m fairly sure this isn’t a problem he’ll ever have.

So thankfully, even if there is controversy or scandals regarding labor, concussions, or using taxpayer money for stadiums during his time in office, there doesn’t seem to be all that much Trump could do to get some sort of tangible revenge on the NFL and hurt the league.

And that’s a very good thing, because the last time he tried to meddle in football… well… the results were moderately catastrophic. Here’s hoping Trump learned a few lessons from the USFL and the US of A avoids a similar fate.