With the NFL playoffs kicking off over the weekend, there was no shortage of hot football takes. But, even in the world of sports, nobody has takes quite like Donald Trump.
At a rally in Reno, Nevada in front of 2,000 supporters, the Republican presidential candidate said that America’s most popular sport has become “too soft,” accused referees for throwing flags only to impress their wives, and claimed the game had simply become boring.
“It’s a Sunday, who the hell wants to watch these crummy games?” he asked, the day after 27.51 million people watched the Pittsburgh Steelers beat the Cincinnati Bengals in a violent, out-of-control wildcard game. Then, he diverted a speech about Iraq and how he would Make America Great Again by really and truly going there.
“[Okay], let me go there for a second,” he said, in a speech transcribed by the Washington Post:
What I just said about a game — so I’m watching a game yesterday. What used to be considered a great tackle, a violent head-on [tackle], a violent — if that was done by Dick Butkus, they’d say he’s the greatest player. If that were done by Lawrence Taylor — it was done by Lawrence Taylor and Dick Butkus and Ray Nitschke, right? Ray Nitschke — you used to see these tackles and it was incredible to watch, right?
Now they tackle. ‘Oh, head-on-head collision, 15 yards.’ The whole game is all screwed up. You say, ‘Wow, what a tackle.’ Bing. Flag. Football has become soft. Football has become soft. Now, I’ll be criticized for that. They’ll say, ‘Oh, isn’t that terrible.’ But football has become soft like our country has become soft. [Applause]
Of course, Trump didn’t provide any context as to why those “violent head-on” tackles are now penalized. It’s because research has shown that these hits present a great risk of concussions, spinal injury, or even death. Plus, we now know that repetitive head trauma leads to the chronic brain disease CTE, which causes memory loss, mood swings, and severe depression. A recent study found CTE in the brains of 87 of 91 deceased NFL players, and it has led to the tragic early deaths of such greats as Junior Seau, Mike Webster, and Justin Strzelczyk.
And even though football has changed its rules to discourage helmet-to-helmet hits, the sport is still nowhere hear “soft” or even safe. There were 350 players listed on NFL injury reports during the final week of the season. Official injury reports from this weekend’s games aren’t available yet, but it’s already known that Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger sprained the AC joint in his right shoulder, while star wide receiver Antonio Brown suffered a concussion on a brutal helmet-to-helmet hit by Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict.
Still, that’s just not enough carnage for the former reality television host.
It’s become weak and you know what? It’s going to affect the NFL. I don’t even watch it as much anymore. It’s going to affect the NFL. I don’t watch it. The referees, they want to all throw flags so their wives see them at home. ‘Oh, there’s my husband.’ [Laughter] It’s true. ‘He just broke up — he just gave a 15-yard penalty on one of the most beautiful tackles made this year.’ Right?
Trump might not be watching the NFL, but plenty of other people are. Sports Illustrated’s Richard Deitsch reported that ratings actually increased for all of the NFL games on Fox, NBC, CBS, and NFL Network this season. “Is there a ceiling on NFL ratings?” Deitsch wrote. “I don’t think so in the near-term.”
Of course, Trump — who didn’t clarify what motivation Sarah Thomas, the NFL’s first female referee, had for throwing flags — could still find something to love about football: his good friend, Tom Brady.
“It’s boring — although I love Tom Brady. I gotta tell you,” he said. “I do love Tom. He’s a great guy. But it’s different. But it’s become soft and our country has become soft.”