Trump and the NFL

Over the last month President Trump has been very critical of the National Football League (NFL) and its players for kneeling during the playing of the American national anthem before the start of games.

As usual, Trump has resorted to his favoured mode of attack, tweeting on everything related to the ongoing debate, from the owners inability to control the players to suggesting that the players be fired to criticising the owners for being afraid of the players to the tax breaks that the teams enjoy. What is the real story here? Is this really about Colin Kaepernick’s kneeling during the anthem, the players joining him in solidarity or Trump’s inability to become a member of one the most exclusive clubs in the United States of America – owner of an NFL franchise?

There are thirty-two NFL teams, and according to Forbes magazine, the average value of one of the teams is well over $2,000,000,000. The Dallas Cowboys, the most valuable franchise is estimated to be worth $4.8 billion, and the Buffalo Bills, at the bottom of the food chain is valued at $1.6 billion. The owners of NFL franchises are among the wealthiest individuals in the country and take great pride in their teams.

In 1983, Donald Trump bought the New Generals, a team in a new organisation, the United States Football League (USFL) which operated in the spring, as opposed to the NFL’s fall schedule. Trump paid $6 million for the franchise after the inaugural season, as its owner, Oklahoma oil tycoon Walter Duncan had grown tired of flying 2,000 miles to see his team play. At the time, the going rate for NFL teams was $80 million.

“I could have bought an NFL team if I wanted to…But I rather create something from scratch. I feel sorry for the poor guy who is going to buy the Dallas Cowboys. It is a no-win situation for him, because if he wins, well, so what, they’ve won through the years, and if he loses… he’ll be known to the world as a loser,” Trump was quoted as saying at the time.

In February, 1989, Jerry Jones bought the Dallas Cowboys for $140 million from HR Bright who claimed at the time that he was losing $1 million per month.

In its startup season, the New Jersey Generals had managed to lure arguably the best player in college football then, Herschel Walker away from the University of Georgia, although Walker, the incumbent Heisman Trophy winner (awarded to the best player in college football) still had one more year of eligibility at the university. The USFL, as opposed to the NFL, allowed the signing of underclassmen.

The new owner, Trump, signed Walker to an extension and then drew the ire of the NFL owners by starting a bidding war for the services of the best players. A year later, Trump snared another Heisman Trophy winner, the diminutive quarterback from Boston College, Doug Flutie. He tried to sign Lawrence Taylor, the premier defensive player in the NFL away from the New York Giants, forcing them to increase Taylor’s salary.

Trump also sought the services of Don Shula, the legendary coach of the Miami Dolphins of the NFL. The New Jersey Generals owner claimed that negotiations fell apart after Shula asked for a free apartment in Trump Tower while Shula retorted that he had backed out after Trump kept publicizing the negotiations.

In 1986, the impatient Trump convinced his fellow USFL owners to challenge the NFL by switching their spring league to a fall schedule, directly in opposition to the NFL’s. According to Trump’s plan, they sued the NFL, citing anti-trust violations, hoping to reap the windfall of hundreds of millions of dollars, just as Trump had predicted. He had persuaded the USFL owners that the NFL would be unable to pay, and offer to settle to a merger, easy membership to the club.

At trial, the NFL’s attorneys framed their case around Trump, claiming that the lawsuit was just a ploy to inveigle cheap entry to the NFL. The jury ruled in favour of the NFL, agreeing that they had violated antitrust laws but found that the financial troubles of the USFL were of their own making, since they had voluntarily moved their schedule to oppose the NFL’s own.

In antitrust cases, damages are tripled by law. The judge awarded the USFL the ransom sum of three dollars. Three dollars. The USFL was out of business. Trump lost US$22 million.

In 1988, Trump tried to join the NFL club, making an unsuccessful bid to buy the New England Patriots. In 2014 Trump claims he offered one billion dollars for the Buffalo Bills franchise which eventually was sold for US$1.4 billion to Terry Pegula.

During his campaign for the Oval Office, Trump disclosed to a reporter from the Associated Press (AP), “When I put in the bid for the Buffalo Bills, I was always a little concerned that the NFL would remember how I knocked the hell out of them.”

In the meantime, Trump has settled for something “a lot cheaper,” as he compared NFL ownership to the presidential campaign, according to the AP reporter.

And the poor guy who bought the Dallas Cowboys, Jerry Jones? Jones got heavily involved in managing the league, and thanks to enormous television contracts negotiated by its management team, the NFL is today one of the wealthiest sports leagues and the Cowboys are the most valuable franchise in all of sport.

The tweets will still emanate from Pennsylvania Avenue, the war of words will continue throughout the season which runs until the Super Bowl in February, and the winners might vote not to visit the White House ‒ sorry the invitation will be withdrawn.

In 2013, Trump criticised then President Obama for joining the debate over the name of the NFL Washington Redskins, tweeting that “our country has far bigger problems. Focus on them, not nonsense.”

Maybe when it comes to the NFL, the President should follow his own advice. Perhaps one day, the boys might even let him join the club.


In yesterday’s editorial ‘The Demico House vending strip’ it was stated that in 2011 the then Minister of Works, Robeson Benn had overturned a decision to end vending on the Demico strip.  Benn has since told Stabroek News that he did not overturn this decision as he did not condone pavement vending. He said the vendors in question were moved to the eastern edge along the car park in the area.

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