President-Elect Donald Trump: What Impact Will He Have in the Locker Rooms of the NBA and NFL?

Celebs Ringside at Floyd Mayweather vs Arturo Gatti - WBC Lightweight Title Fight - June 25, 2005
Friends Tom Brady and Donald Trump
  • 70% of NFL players are black.
  • 74% of NBA players are black.
  • 88% of blacks voted for Clinton.
  • 8% of blacks voted for Trump.

With the ouster of the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, Donald Sterling, two years ago, and the more visible acts of support for causes like Black Lives Matter, the NBA appears to have more of an activist bent than most North American sports leagues. Thus, the reaction by NBA players and coaches to the election of Donald Trump for the presidency of the United States has been more predictable.

Gregg Popovich, one of the most successful coaches in NBA history, had this to say: “Right now I’m just trying to formulate thoughts. It’s too early. I’m just sick to my stomach. Not basically because the Republicans won or anything, but the disgusting tenure and tone and all of the comments that have been xenophobic, homophobic, racist, misogynistic.”

Then there was 5-time NBA champion and coach of the champion Golden State Warriors in 2015, Steve Kerr, who spoke out in frustration recently.

… all of a sudden you’re faced with the reality that the man who’s gonna lead you has routinely used racist, misogynist, insulting words. That’s a tough one. That’s a tough one. I wish him well. I hope he’s a good president. I have no idea what kind of president he’ll be because he hasn’t said anything about what he’s going to do. We don’t know. But it’s tough when you want there to be some respect and dignity, and there hasn’t been any. And then you walk into a room with your daughter and your wife who have basically been insulted by his comments and they’re distraught. Then you walk in and see the faces of your players, most of them who have been insulted directly as minorities, it’s very shocking. It really is.

Coach Kerr openly stated the million dollar question in team sports – how does a coach coach a team of whites, blacks and hispanics who are united by team purpose, but possibly divided by national purpose?

The NFL has a similar ratio of black players to the NBA. But the press has reported more comments from coaches in support of President-Elect Trump, compared to the NFL. Certainly, the most famous case is the coach of the New England Patriots, Bill Belichick, who tends to be tightlipped about anything he believes not relevant to his football team, and play on the field. And yet, Trump quoted a letter from Belichick to Trump on the eve of the presidential election, clearly seeing an opportunity to get more votes in the New England states.

My guess is Belichick would have preferred to keep the contents of his letter quiet, but when confronted, he did explain his relationship with Trump at a news conference. “Our friendship goes back many years. Anybody who spends more than five minutes with me knows I’m not a political person. My comments are not politically motivated. I have a friendship with Donald.”

The New England Patriots’ organization is famous for the strict control it imposes on its players in regards to talking with the press, and very little has been heard from the players, except for their star quarterback, Tom Brady, who is also known as a long-time personal friend of Donald Trump.

In terms of football, the words of Belichick and Brady are the most important on the team. But when your coach, your star quarterback and even the owner of the team are friends of Trump, what impact will this have on the team fabric, likely made up of a number of players who view Trump as a racist?

rex-ryan-and-donald-trump
Rex Ryan and Donald Trump

The Buffalo Bills are not the New England Patriots. The Bill’s head coach, Rex Ryan, has openly supported Trump, even giving speeches for Trump at rallies in Buffalo.

“There’s so many things I admire about Mr. Trump, but one thing I really admire about him is—you know what—he’ll say what’s on his mind,” Ryan said in this Bleacher Report article. “And so many times, you’ll see people—a lot of people—want to say the same thing. But there’s a big difference: They don’t have the courage to say it. They all think it, but they don’t have the courage to say it. And Donald Trump certainly has the courage to say it.”

When Ryan was the coach of the New York Jets, my hometown team, it was clear that Ryan was seen as a player’s coach, the kind of guy you would run through the wall for. But supporting Trump may have an impact on team dynamics. In that same Bleacher Report article, a couple of Bills’ players were quoted anonymously that their coach’s comments did not sit well with them.

“Rex is such an open-minded guy, a really good person,” said the player, who asked not to be identified, fearing repercussions from the Bills. “But the fact he could back someone as closed-minded as Trump genuinely shocked me.” The player, who is black, emphasized that teammates’ frustration with their coach’s public endorsement was not universal. But in private discussions, he said, “Some of the African-American players on the team weren’t happy about Rex doing that.”

Indeed, said another black player on the Bills who requested anonymity to speak freely about tensions swirling with a combination of protests led by Colin Kaepernick and a combustible candidate: “I see Trump as someone who is hostile to people of color, and the fact that Rex supports him made me look at him completely differently, and not in a positive way.”

What’s interesting, although predictable perhaps, was the reaction of a particular player on the team, Richie Incognito. “I think that he can help this nation get back to a world superpower,” Incognito told B/R’s Tyler Dunne. “Where I think he could help is putting us first again and having that—it’s my mentality, too—having that tough attitude where you put America first and everyone’s thinking we’re the greatest nation in the world. Don’t mess with America. That toughness is where I identify with him.”

Incognito, a Caucasian, was suspended from his former team, the Miami Dolphins, after being identified as one of three harassers of a black teammate, Jonathan Martin, who asked to leave the team. It appears that Incognito’s bullying of Martin was incessant and racist, and included members of Martin’s family.

In the end, those who oppose Trump have had to come to grips with reality.

Doc Rivers, the head coach of the Los Angeles Clippers, said in this article that we need to accept and then take action, not just complain.

Listen, Donald Trump is going to be fine, all right, as president. That’s something I never thought I’d have to say, honestly. But at the end of the day he will be because I just believe America overall works. There’s a Congress and a Senate and it’s gonna work out. But if you don’t like it, you have two years from now to change it. Not (to change the) president, but you can change the Congress and you can change the Senate. So if you don’t like it, change it. And you change it by either running for office or voting… Don’t get mad — go do something.