In a feature story for Bleacher Report Magazine, dozens of NFL players shared locker room anecdotes about the pall Donald Trump has cast on players’ relationships with teammates and coaches.
Unsurprisingly, the greatest friction has appeared along racial divides. White players who support Trump are reportedly avoiding political conversation with their black teammates, many of whom view Trump as anti-black. Political disagreements are nothing new in the NFL, but Donald Trump’s candidacy has triggered new levels of animosity.
Rex Ryan, the head coach for the Buffalo Bills, alienated some of his black players this spring after he appeared at a Trump campaign rally and spoke glowingly about Trump’s willingness to be openly racist on the campaign trail, suggesting it demonstrated “courage.”
So toxic is the mere thought of Donald Trump that at least one team is taking steps to prohibit all conversation about the failed businessman on team premises, according to the Bleacher Report article.
Of course, Trump has a strong legacy of ruining professional football. When he bought the New Jersey Generals, a marquee franchise of the now-defunct United States Football League in the 1980s, he quickly poured his own money into the team before deciding to pick a fight with the much larger National Football League by pressuring the USFL to move its season into direct competition with the NFL. A court battle ensued, and while the USFL won, a jury awarded the league just $3 in damages. Within the year, the USFL was gone, and executives blamed Trump.
That hasn’t stopped Trump from making direct appeals to some of the biggest sports stars. In addition to Rex Ryan, New England Patriots Quarterback Tom Brady has been supportive of Trump, as has legendary Chicago Bears Coach Mike Ditka, whom Trump tried—and failed—to recruit to give a speech at the Republican National Convention in August.
Trump has also tried to position himself as a friend to football. Back in July, after the Commission on Presidential Debates released its formal recommendation of three primetime general election debates, he criticized the CPD for scheduling the first two against NFL football games. Apparently, Trump’s thinking on competing directly with the NFL has evolved.
Most of the players Bleacher Report spoke with requested anonymity, for fear of retribution by their coaches, teammates, or team executives. The only player who spoke openly? Bills offensive lineman Richie Incognito, a rabid Trump supporter who you might remember from that time he was suspended by his old team for repeatedly calling teammates and fans the n-word.