Not that I’m blaming author Jeff Pearlman, author of Football For a Buck: The Crazy Rise and Crazier Demise of the USFL, which is about the short-lived US Football League from 1983 to 1987. What’s remarkable in the book is how much Donald Trump fucked up the USFL–in short, he tanked it. Trump did so in a way that would reveal his future failings.
Trump never wanted to be a USFL owner, he wanted to be an NFL owner, and he was willing to destroy the USFL to become one. The USFL was created to be a spring football league that was more fun and wackier than the No Fun League–two point conversions, player stories were centered, crazy offenses–and initially had no intention of trying to compete with the NFL during the fall. Trump changed all that, and between a combination of lies and bullying managed to convince the other owners to move to a fall schedule in 1986, which led to the rapid demise of the USFL, despite expert advice that described in detail just how stupid that strategy was (that it was delivered by a woman in the mid-1980s probably didn’t help the case, unfortunately).
While Trump was making a big show about being a USFL owner, he had secret meetings with the NFL, where he tried to talk his way into the NFL. This was based on utter narcissistic delusion: NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle told him flatly, “Mr. Trump, as long as I or my heirs are involved in the NFL, you will never be a franchise owner in the league.” (Trump claims this isn’t true, but he lies about everything else, so why believe his take?). Before there was Nancy Pelosi, there was Pete Rozelle, I guess.
He also helped create a massive run up in the salary structure, which led to most teams losing money. The only good football decision he made–everyone agreed he knew nothing about the game–was to tell his coach to run Herschel Walker more. Because he was paying Walker too much to do too little. Everything else, Trump fucked up. Everything.
So there’s self-aggrandizement at the expense of others. He’s Trump! (and there are some great anecdotes). But what destroyed the league was the anti-trust lawsuit–and the strategy that Trump forced the USFL to take. Put simply, Trump made this about him, rather than arguing legitimate anti-trust grounds, while playing up the ‘mom-and-pop’ aspect of the league. Trump came across as such an asshole (surprising, I know) that the jury decided in favor of the USFL (the evidence for anti-competitive behavior was overwhelming), but only awarded $1. No, that’s not a typo. That’s how much of a dick Trump was.
I’ll be the first to admit I didn’t figure this out when it mattered, but in hindsight, Democrats should have played this up. It sounds somewhat trivial, but Americans understand football, even if they’re not fans. It’s easy to explain to people just how bad a businessman is, how much of a bullshit artist he is, and how much of a fucked up narcissist* he is through this story. Sure, the other owners did stupid things too, including the original sin of league expansion, which allowed Trump in at all. But anyone familiar with Trump’s role in the USFL’s demise wouldn’t have bought the lies and all of The Apprentice crapola.
Anyway, it’s a very good book.
*One little vignette: visitors to Trump were first required to sit in a room and watch a film about how amazing he is.