The NFL: Land of the Caligulas
What happens when a political reporter does a book about the NFL? You read plenty about his favorite team, the New England Patriots, his man crush, Tom Brady, the eclectic group of grown children who own the teams-- ”the Membership” and, of course, Donald Trump.
Mark Leibovich generally spills his ink and sarcasm at the The New York Times Magazine and wrote a wonderfully dishy book about Washington D.C. entitled “This Town.” His “Big Game: The NFL in Dangerous Times” repeats his “This Town” playbook: Lots of juicy and laugh-out-loud snarky nuggets.
If you wonder why Donald Trump constantly picks on the NFL with its kneeling players and lower ratings, Leibovich has the answer, contrary to Washington Post reviewer Joe Nocera’s view that the author “has nothing to say.”
It is “the Membership,” who are the “puffed-up billionaires who own the store,” writes Leibovich. “These are the freaks, the club that Trump couldn’t crack.” On the next page, the author refers to the Membership as “bespoke Caligulas.” He goes on about how much TV time the owners receive as “presiding plutocrats.”
Leibovich doesn’t stop poking “this freakish assembly.” Meanwhile, another part of the book is a love letter to Tom Brady, Robert Kraft, and the Patriots. The author is from Boston after all. Paper and packaging magnate Kraft bought the team in 1994, besting other suitors including Mr. Trump.
Who knew the Patriots are the favorite team of the Alt-right? Richard Spencer says Tom Brady is an “Aryan Avatar,” plus the Pats are “consistently NFL’s whitest team,” with caucasian wide receivers no less.
The book has plenty about deflategate, concussions, the evils of Commissioner Roger Goodell, and hatred of the Washington Redskins and its owner Daniel Snyder. The author is from Boston after all.
Hall of Fame owner Jerry “how ‘bout them Cowboys” Jones and his constant companion, a tumbler full of Johnny Walker Blue, has a prominent role in the league and the book. It sounds as if the Blue gets the best of Jones, who launches into incoherent rants at owner’s meetings, including immortal words such as, “But stadiums are about television rights. Do you think these networks pay these rights fees to broke dicks? With their ass hanging out?”
I understand Jerry: bread and circuses don’t come cheap.
Jones made his money in petroleum. “Eighty-five percent of everything he does in oil and gas will lose money,” Leibovich writes. “It has made Jones less fearful of failure, he said.” The socialist kibbutz that is the NFL is a stressless money-printer for the Cowboy owner.
So back in 1984, with Pete Rozelle as commissioner of the league, the current White House occupant managed to get a meeting with Rozelle and made the pitch to be an owner. “They [Rozelle and the NFL brass] just saw him as this scumbag huckster,” Leibovich quotes Jeff Pearlman as saying. “He was this New York, fast-talking, kind of con man.”
Unlike the rest of us, the Membership, at the time, got a peek at the Donald’s finances. Leibovich writes,
Trump did not come close to passing muster with the Membership. He was, for starters, not considered sufficiently solvent or transparent to proffer a serious bid. Football owners, as it turns out, get a much closer look ar a candidate’s finances than electorates do.
Trump would try again to join the Membership in 2014, pursuing an unsuccessful purchase of the Buffalo Bills.
The Raiders move to Las Vegas is mentioned, with $750 million in taxpayer funds for owner Mark Davis who “surprises people if he can roll out of bed and put on his pants,” according to another in the Membership.
It’s thought that Barack Obama motivated Donald Trump to run for President with his caustic remarks about the Donald at the 2011 White House Correspondents’ Association dinner.
Maybe. But, if the Membership had just cut the New York con man a break and let him buy a team and fleece taxpayers, Trump might have been content to hang out with the other Caligulas and rake in real money.