Like many other men of great accomplishment, Donald Trump has a skill for massaging reality to make his accomplishments seem greater, and to make his failures seem minor, or nonexistent.
Trump’s latest effort at revisionist history comes from his effort to distance himself from the USFL, the one-time competitor to the NFL in which Trump owned a team and pushed for a move from a spring schedule to in-season competition with the NFL.
As he tries to buy the Bills — or at least as he tries to siphon some free publicity for the five-letter brand — Trump shrugs at his role in the demise of the USFL and lawsuit against the NFL.
“When I came into the USFL, it was failing,” Trump told Tim Graham of the Buffalo News. “It was ready to close.”
That doesn’t change the fact that Trump had a major role in the events that failed to reverse the league’s failure.
“I had said, ‘If football was meant to be played in the spring, then God wouldn’t have invented baseball.’ I didn’t believe in spring football, and I wanted to play in the fall. I wanted to go up against the NFL, but with respect.”
Trump also tries to distance himself from the antitrust litigation against the NFL.
“I didn’t bring the lawsuit,” Trump said. “The lawsuit was brought by the league.”
With all due respect, that’s a crock. The league is made up of its owners. And if Trump, who never has been shy about speaking his mind, disagreed with the lawsuit, he would have said so. Loudly. And, if the other owners had ignored him privately, he would have made his case publicly. He possibly would have sued them to stop them from suing the NFL.
Then came the classic Trump-being-Trump moment.
“And we won the lawsuit,” he said.
Yeah, they won the lawsuit. They secured a verdict of $1 (tripled to $3), since while the USFL was able to prove that the NFL had violated antitrust laws, the USFL failed to prove any financial damages.
Trump’s far better play (if he’s serious about buying the Bills) would have been to say that the USFL experience happened 30 years ago, and that much has changed. Indeed, most of the teams have been sold since 1986, to owners who had no role in the NFL when the USFL was fighting it.
And Trump likewise should have mentioned that the AFL and NFL once went to war for the hearts and minds of American sports fans, and that they quickly decided it was in their mutual interests to come together as one.
“I think I’d be a great owner,” Trump added. “I have great respect for the NFL, great respect for the Commissioner, Roger Goodell. I think he’s terrific. And I think they have a respect for me.”
They may have a respect for Trump. But respecting him and trusting him are two different things. Wanting to do business with him as a partner takes trust and respect to an even higher level.
To get there, Trump should study how other new owners have in recent years managed to ingratiate themselves to the NFL. Few have done so via interviews aimed at touting credentials and/or currying favor with a nervous fan base.
Our guess? Trump’s interest will at best provide some leverage for the late Ralph Wilson’s family in negotiations with the actual purchaser. And if in the end Trump emerges from the process with some free publicity, so be it.
After all, Trump’s name was mentioned 18 times in this article alone. Actually, 19.