Donald Trump loves sport, but does sport love Donald Trump?
The US president sees some good hombres and bad hombres even in the sports world
Paul Ryan presents Donald Trump with a Green Bay Packers jersey during a Thank You Tour 2016 rally in West Allis, Wisconsin. Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images
Like it or not, sport and politics mix. They always have and they always will. Sportspeople have, over time, used their positions to speak out against political regimes and perhaps we might in the future see a statement of defiance against the presidency of Donald Trump.
Something along the lines of the moment when Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised black-gloved fists at the 1986 Olympics in Mexico City as a gesture of power towards the persecuted black population of America is not out of the question.
Or are we already moving closer to the 21st century equivalent of that 1986 moment?
After their stunning comeback to win a fifth Super Bowl title in Houston, six New England Patriots players have now passed up the traditional invitation to meet the president at the White House.
Devin McCourty became the first when he said that he “would not feel accepted” in 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue because of what he described as Trump’s “many strong opinions and prejudices.”
Since then five of his teammates have followed McCourty’s lead, while quarterback Tom Brady continues to awkwardly dodge questions of his friendship with the president. Before Trump’s foray into politics, Brady, along with Patriots coach Bill Belichick and owner Robert Kraft, had no qualms about discussing their mutual friendship with the then reality TV star.
However, since the 70-year-old felt the need to grace the White House with his presence, the Super Bowl’s Most Valuable Player has gone quiet on their relationship. In September 2015 one of Trump’s ‘Make America Great Again’ red caps appeared on a shelf behind Brady in an interview and he also said that it would be great if Trump was to become president as there “would be a putting green on the lawn of the White House.”
Brady – an avid golfer himself who has played with Rory McIlroy at Augusta – was not to know that there has in fact been a putting green on the White House lawn since 1954 when Dwight Eisenhower had one installed. However, seeing as the quarterback missed his side’s visit in 2015 during Barack Obama’s presidency due to “family commitments” he may not have been aware of it. The fact that he was spotted on the day shopping for a watch in New York cast a doubt over the importance of those family commitments.
The 39-year-old continued his line of dodging questions about the new president after this year’s Super Bowl win having previously said that his wife Gisele Bundchen – who has recently used Twitter to criticise the president – warned him to stop talking politics on the record.
Given Trump’s history of association with various sports it is understandably risky territory for sportspeople to venture into.
I mean, not saying that the political system in Northern Ireland is too strong at the moment either. It is ... it’s shocking
The 45th president owns 17 golf course around the world – including Trump National Bedminster which will host this year’s Women’s US Open and the 2022 US PGA Championship, as well as Turnberry in Scotland which features on the British Open rota – previously bought the United States Football League franchise before destroying it in a legal battle with the NFL, hosted a number of boxing matches at his hotels in Atlantic City and is a member of the WWE Hall of Fame. Indeed he appointed Linda McMahon, the former president of WWE, as the head of America’s Small Business Administration.
Given that wrestling and golf in particular now have a direct line to the White House it would be foolish for anyone involved to speak ill of the president.
Last year Rory McIlroy was understandably coy in his response when asked about Trump’s campaign.
‘’He’s not going to be the leader of my country,’’ McIlroy said.
‘’Look, it really doesn’t bother me too much. I’ve been following it. I really thought I knew what politics were until I started to watch some of these presidential debates. I mean, not saying that the political system in Northern Ireland is too strong at the moment either. It is ... it’s shocking.
‘’Look, I can’t vote. And if I were to vote, I’m not sure I would want to vote for any of the candidates.”
Trump, don’t forget, had the four-time major winner’s three iron pulled from the bottom of a lake at Doral after McIlroy flung it into the water in disgust two years ago. The club is now on the wall of the clubhouse in the resort owned by Trump. A resort which had its long association with the PGA Tour ended last year when it was decided that the WGC Cadillac Championship would, ironically, be moved to Mexico.
In response to that news McIlroy said that they would all just have to “climb over the wall.”
Tiger Woods’s strategy has also proved to be quite neutral, despite the fact that the former world number one played a round of golf with the president just before Christmas at Trump International in Palm Beach, Florida.
Afterwards Woods would only comment on the “impressive” play of his partner who claims to have a handicap of three and is the winner of “a number of club championships.”
Woods’ caution in associating too closely with the president was seen last week when spokesman Glenn Greenspan said that “Tiger is not in partnership with Mr. Trump or his organisation and stating otherwise is absolutely wrong. Tiger Woods Design’s contract and obligation is to the developer, Damac Properties. Our association ends there. I can’t put it any clearer that Tiger Woods Design does not have an agreement with Mr. Trump.”
That is despite the fact that Woods is designing a course at Trump’s newest Dubai resort – Trump World Golf Club – which is due to open next year.
It’s fair to say that the reaction of Woods’ camp flies in the face of what the president’s son Eric said in an interview last year.
“My father and Tiger have been friends for a long time,” he told Golf.com. “They’ve been very, very close. When you combine Trump and Tiger, it’s a match made in heaven. It’s a very amazing combination.”
“He’s turning America upside-down, he’s awakening the country,” Nicklaus said. “We need a lot of that.”
The 18-time major winner went on to say that Trump isn’t as politically correct or polished as he should be, but believes that will improve over time.
“He’s not stupid. He didn’t get to where he’s at because he’s dumb.”
Last the weekend Trump treated Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to a round at his Palm Beach course and they were joined by South African player Ernie Els.
On his website Els has a section which classes Trump as a “friend”, describing him as “the most recognised businessman in the world, and the Trump brand is readily acknowledged as representing the gold standard around the globe.”
On the other side of the fence it’s hard to find many who are vocal in criticism of the new president. Perhaps the biggest name to speak out against Trump’s controversial travel ban for people from seven predominantly Muslim countries is Cleveland Cavaliers basketball player LeBron James.
I only hoped that President Trump would be different than the campaigner Trump
James recently received the NAACP’s Jackie Robinson Sports Award for contributions in the pursuit of social justice, civil rights and community involvement and said afterwards that “diversity is what makes this country so great. We should all continue to speak up and fight for ideas that bring people together regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, religious beliefs or any other differences.”
He added: “I am not in favour of this policy or any policy that divides and excludes people. I stand with the many, many Americans who believe this does not represent what the United States is all about. And we should continue to speak out about it.”
US soccer captain Michael Bradley is another that has expressed his dissatisfaction at the measure, saying he is “sad and embarrassed.”
“I only hoped that President Trump would be different than the campaigner Trump. That the xenophobic, misogynistic and narcissistic rhetoric would be replaced with a more humble and measured approach to leading our country. I was wrong. And the Muslim ban is just the latest example of someone who couldn’t be more out of touch with our country and the right way to move forward.”
The World Cup qualifier between Mexico and the US was marred by anti-Trump protests outside the ground in November as fans of both sides united in their displeasure at his recent election.
British athlete Mo Farah, who was born in Somalia (one of the countries on the banned list), previously feared that he would not be able to return to his wife and children in the US before Trump made it clear that the ban did not include UK nationals.
Trump’s love of combat sport is obvious in his associations with boxing and wrestling so it is no surprise that MMA features high on his list. Indeed the New Jersey State Martial Arts Hall of Fame is graced with his presence.
The president was reported to be interested in attending UFC 205 in New York last November to see Conor McGregor beat Eddie Alvarez and add a lightweight title to his featherweight belt.
In the end he did not appear but the organisation’s president Dana White has long been a supporter of Trump and said last year that he would vote for him.
It’s certainly the sport that best suits the president’s brash outbursts and disregard for political correctness, summed up in the fact that he and McGregor could probably be combined in one of those ‘who said it?’ quizzes.
The Dubliner’s line last year about “some lady that deep down doesn’t give a f**k about what I’m doing but just wants some sound bites so she can get maybe get her tight little ass a nice raise,” particularly stands out while his assertion at a press conference with Jose Aldo in Rio de that “if this was a different time, I would invade his favela on horseback, and would kill anyone who wasn’t fit to work,” could easily pass as a Trumpism.
When quizzed on Trump’s election November however McGregor was firmly on the fence in his own unique way, saying that he doesn’t “give a bollocks.”
While McGregor’s comments probably sum up how a lot of sportspeople feel about Trump’s presidency, it could well be that in years to come the six Patriots players who refused to go to the White House are remembered as the first to rail against ‘the Donald’ or, as he might put it himself, the first “bad hombres” of the sports world.