Trump Hostile History With The NFL Goes Back A Lot Further Than You Think

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Donald Trump has recently received a lot of attention for his criticism of the National Football League (NFL), as the president has repeatedly condemned players for kneeling during the national anthem to protest racial injustice in the United States. Interestingly, this is not the first time Trump has criticized the NFL, its players, and its owners. Trump has a history of feuds with the NFL, something into which the timeline below will provide more insight — and perhaps event assist in explaining his current beef with the league.

Indeed, Trump's history with the NFL seems to be primarily characterized by a perpetual desire to become an NFL team owner, something which he seemingly considers a very prestigious position. However, he has repeatedly struggled to achieve this aim; longtime observers say that in his frustration and apparent continued attempts to secure team ownership, Trump has engaged in a variety of feuds and heated exchanges with the football league.

Thus, without further ado, the following is a timeline of the feuds and milestones in Trump's complicated relationship with the National Football League, the capstone of which is his current ongoing feud with the league regarding players taking a knee during the singing of the national anthem.

Early 1980s: Trump Wants In As An NFL Owner

As Newsweek reported, Trump has long desired to join the exclusive club of NFL team ownership. According to author author Jeff Pearlman, who wrote a book on the United States Football League (USFL), a rival league which Trump would eventually help start, Trump wanted to become an NFL owner for its prestige, saying "money, prestige, fame and fortune; building of the Trump name ... He’s the guy who covets what he doesn’t have. He’s a guy who sees — the NFL ownership is a ridiculously exclusive club."

Indeed, Trump started early in his quest for NFL ownership, with CNN reporting that, as part of a group, he tried to buy the then-Baltimore Colts — and had his offer rejected.

Moreover, unfortunately for Trump, he was just seemingly not wanted in the NFL ownership club. According to Pearlman, other NFL team owners simply were not interested in Trump joining their ranks, as they reportedly perceived him as ".. this New York, fast-talking, kind of con-man," something which, presumably, Trump did not appreciate.

1983: Trump Invests In The USFL

Trump invested in the USFL and took ownership of the New Jersey Generals, a New York City-area team. According to Fortune, during his tenure with the USFL, Trump pushed the league to compete with the NFL, vying for a fall game schedule that would conflict with the franchise's schedule as opposed to a spring one that would complement it.

Moreover, Trump and his co-owners also sued the USFL in an anti-trust lawsuit, saying that the league was restricting competition. The USFL won the suit, but only received a paltry $3 settlement. The league collapsed in 1985.

According to Pearlman, Trump had been indifferent about the league's success or lack thereof, having only tried to use it as a vehicle to obtain an NFL team, either through a possible NFL-USFL merger or an eventual USFL collapse. As Pearlman put it,

He wanted an NFL franchise and he saw this as a way to do it. He talked all happy-happy about the USFL and spring football until he got the team. And as soon as he got the team he was angling in every way possible to move them to fall to take on the NFL, so his team, somehow, would be absorbed by the NFL. His goal was to get in the NFL. If it took a merger, so be it. If it took the entire USFL collapsing and he gets an [NFL] team, that’s fine too.

1984: Trump Makes His Case To Pete Rozelle

According to Newsweek, during his tenure with the USFL, Trump reportedly held a "secret meeting" with the commissioner of the NFL at the time, Pete Rozelle, to express his extreme interest in owning an NFL team. According to Pearlman, Trump was shut down in no uncertain terms, with someone who was present at the Trump-Rozelle meeting telling Pearlman that Rozelle said,

You will never be an owner in the NFL. As long as I’m affiliated with the NFL or my family is affiliated with the NFL, you will never have a team in the NFL.

2013: Trump Opposes NFL Safety Restrictions

As CNN reported, in 2013, Trump chastised the NFL for implementing new safety restrictions designed to reduce the number of player concussions. Trump expressed his displeasure with this decision on Twitter, saying, "The NFL has just barred ball carriers from using helmet as contact. What is happening to the sport? The beginning of the end."

2014: Trump Tries (And Fails) To Buy The Buffalo Bills

In 2014, Trump tried (and failed) to become the owner of the Buffalo Bills, bidding $1 billion for the team that was eventually sold to Buffalo Sabres owner Terry Pegula.

As Fortune reported, after losing out on the Bills bid, Trump took to Twitter to again criticize the league, saying he was "glad I didn’t get the Bills" because of the league's "boring games, too many flags, too soft!"

2016: Candidate Trump Disses Kaepernick

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During a rally in Colorado in October of 2016, Trump, then the Republican nominee for president, discussed the NFL's "declining ratings," blaming "politics" and, particularly, Colin Kaepernick, the former 49ers quarterback who received much attention for deciding to kneel during the national anthem to protest racial injustice, for the league's diminished viewership. As Trump put it,

I don’t know if you know, but the NFL is way down in their ratings. Way down ... And you know why? Two reasons. Number one is, this politics they’re finding is a rougher game than football, and more exciting. Honestly, we’ve taken a lot of people away from the NFL. And the other reason is Kaepernick. Kaepernick.

2017: President Trump And His Administration Take Issue With Kneeling NFL Players

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Most recently, Trump, as president, has widely criticized both NFL players and team owners for players kneeling during the the national anthem to protest racial injustice. During a rally in Alabama in September, the president told the crowd that he believed players should be fired if they choose to kneel during the anthem. He also encouraged people to leave the stadium if players knelt. Moreover, in a later interview on Fox and Friends, Trump also criticized NFL owners for not taking action against kneeling players, saying "I think they are afraid of their players, if you want to know the truth, and I think it’s disgraceful.”

As president, Trump's remarks carry a lot more weight. Since his comments in September, he hasn't let up on the protests, instead taking to Twitter at least once a week to single out teams for their "disgraceful" kneeling. Even his vice president, Mike Pence, recently staged a walk-out during a game; many called it a stunt, one that reportedly cost nearly $250,000.

Overall, Trump clearly has a long and complicated history with the NFL, something which perhaps makes his current issues with the league a bit less surprising. Indeed, it will be interesting to see if Trump continues to condemn NFL players and owners or if he will soon move on to something else, as he has a tendency to do.