When it comes to Donald Trump and sports, the focus is typically on golf, and rightly so: Trump owns 17 golf courses around the world and is an avid golfer. But many people may not know that Trump once owned a football team.
In 1983, he purchased the New Jersey Generals, part of the USFL (United States Football League). Trump recruited star players like Herschel Walker and Doug Flutie, but then led a group of USFL owners in suing the NFL. That did not go well; by 1985, the USFL had died. (A former NFL executive has bought the rights and wants to bring it back to life as a development league.)
Now Trump is causing trouble for the NFL again. In the past two weeks, the public’s rapt attention on his campaign, as well as his own public comments about the league’s rules and some of its stars, have had a negative impact on the NFL. Here are three examples.
1. Presidential debates damaged NFL ratings
The two debates between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have unquestionably had a negative impact on NFL ratings, though exactly how much of an impact is uncertain. The debates are what the NFL blamed in an internal memo and in a subsequent public statement: “The dip in ratings over the first month of the season is likely due to a confluence of factors headlined by the attention around our presidential election, which is unprecedented.”
Trump, for his part, knew that scheduling the first two debates opposite NFL games would be bad for someone, but maybe he underestimated how much interest there would be in the debates. He told ABC News in July, after the debate schedule came out, “I don’t think we should be against the NFL.” The New Orleans Saints vs Atlanta Falcons game on Sept. 26, the night of the first presidential debate, was the lowest-rated Monday Night Football game ever; the New York Giants vs Green Bay Packers game on Oct. 9, the night of the second debate, was the lowest-rated Sunday Night Football game since October 2013. (For much more on the possible reasons for the NFL ratings decline, see this story.)
Luckily for the NFL, the third and final Trump-Clinton debate is on a Wednesday.
2. Trump has claimed NFL quarterbacks as friends
Over the years, Trump has often tweeted about the NFL, appearing to give live commentary as he watches a game. He has tweeted frequently about many of the league’s quarterbacks.
Tony Romo just made a great play-Giants are getting killed!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 9, 2013
But his comments about New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, in particular, have become candy for the media. He has written many tweets praising Tom Brady, and has said publicly that he and Brady are close. At a rally in New Hampshire last week, he again called Brady a “great friend” of his. One year ago, Brady was pressed by media for keeping a Trump “Make America Great Again” hat in his locker at Gillette stadium. Brady didn’t deny it: he said Trump sent him the hat through Patriots owner Robert Kraft, and added, “He always gives me a call and different types of motivational speeches at different times. So now that he’s running for president, he sent me a hat.” He would not say whether he would vote for Trump.
Now his association with Trump has returned again to bite Brady, in his very first week back in action after a four-game suspension over the “Deflategate” scandal. On Wednesday, at a Patriots press conference, a reporter asked Brady, “You have kids of your own… How would you respond if your kids heard Donald Trump’s version of ‘locker room talk?'” Brady smiled, said, “Thank you guys, have a good day,” and walked off. The non-response was met with widespread criticism. The negative association was the last thing Brady needed at the outset of his return.
Brady isn’t the only quarterback whom Trump has fingered as an ally. At a rally in Pittsburgh last week, Trump boasted to the crowd, “Big Ben is a friend of mine. We play golf together.” Roethlisberger has not denied the golfing story, but back in June, after Trump told the crowd at a Virginia rally that Roethlisberger would be speaking on his behalf at the Republican convention, Roethlisberger told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that it wasn’t true.
3. Trump criticizes the NFL’s concussion rules
In the strangest example yet of Trump’s campaign touching the NFL, at a campaign rally in Florida this week, Trump criticized the NFL’s approach to concussions—not for doing too little, as many people complain, but for doing too much.
After a woman in the crowd fainted and then recovered, Trump, in observation, told the crowd, “The woman was out cold and now she’s coming back. See? We don’t go by these new and very much softer NFL rules. 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!”
As Shalise Manza Young of Yahoo Sports writes, “Former and even current players dealing with the aftereffects of concussion might disagree.” The league’s new protocol is that if a player has been in a helmet-to-helmet collision, he must come off the field for an examination by a neutral doctor. Teams that don’t follow the protocol can be fined by the league. Some have still argued that the process doesn’t do enough to make players safe.
In this instance, Trump may have hurt himself more than the NFL, since the league has been knocked for years for not doing enough to treat head injuries, and Trump is arguing that it does too much. Time magazine called Trump’s remarks “dangerous.” Still, it was yet another non-positive round of PR for the league, prompted by the Republican nominee.
Daniel Roberts is a writer at Yahoo Finance, covering sports business and technology. Follow him on Twitter at @readDanwrite.