Perhaps it should come as no surprise that President-elect Donald Trump, sports fan, owner of 17 golf courses, and former owner of a USFL football team, is repeatedly looking to the sports world for cabinet positions and ambassador appointees.
From baseball manager Bobby Valentine to current sports team owners Woody Johnson and Vincent Viola, Trump appears to be plucking people from the sports world more than any president-elect before.
Many of the sports figures he has tapped, or is rumored to be considering, have never held political office. But that, too, should probably come as no surprise, since Trump himself has never held political office.
And it isn’t just his cabinet appointments. Trump’s campaign repeatedly bumped up against pro sports (especially the NFL) in surprising ways, and since getting elected he has continued to use sports as a political vehicle. Last weekend, Trump attended the Army-Navy football game in Baltimore and stepped into the CBS broadcast booth, saying that he attended the game because “I just love the armed forces.”
What does all of this mean for sports in general, or for the sports leagues associated with the people he chooses? Perhaps nothing apart from another sign that Trump, a reality TV star, appreciates and rewards celebrity, and plans to run the country like a sports manager runs a team. But it’s worth highlighting as yet another example of how the Trump administration is already shaping up to be unlike any the country has ever seen.
Here’s a running list of the ways in which Trump is planning a “sporty” presidency. Yahoo Finance will continue to update this post as the roster grows; it was last updated on Jan. 18, 2017.
Linda McMahon (WWE)
Trump has officially tapped Linda McMahon, a woman he originally knows through his connection to wrestling, as head of the Small Business Administration. Some critics have pointed out that WWE isn’t exactly an example of a small business, since it is the result of a number of tie-ups. McMahon cofounded Worldwide Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) with her husband Vince McMahon in 1979, originally as Titan Sports; Titan eventually merged with the WWF and Capitol Wrestling, which McMahon bought from his father in 1982. WWE went public on the NYSE in 1999, and its stock (WWE) is up 24% in the past year.
Linda McMahon left WWE in 2009 to run for senate in Connecticut, but lost; she again ran in 2012 and secured the Republican nomination, but again lost. Trump, meanwhile, has appeared at a number of WWE events, and has even gotten in the ring. As Rolling Stone wrote, “The road to the White House began at WrestleMania.”
Todd Ricketts (MLB)
Trump has officially named Todd Ricketts of the Chicago Cubs-owning Ricketts family, his deputy secretary of commerce. It appears a lot has changed since February, when Trump tweeted that the Ricketts family “have a lot to hide.” At that time, Tom Ricketts, Todd’s brother, told the media, “It’s a little surreal when Donald Trump threatens your mom.”
I hear the Rickets family, who own the Chicago Cubs, are secretly spending $'s against me. They better be careful, they have a lot to hide!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 22, 2016
Todd Ricketts also helped create the #NeverTrump movement, before ultimately switching allegiances and helping his father, Joe Ricketts, create the pro-Trump super-PAC, Future 45. It’s unclear if Todd Ricketts will relinquish his involvement in the Cubs as part of his new position.
Bobby Valentine (MLB)
Trump is reportedly considering former New York Mets and Boston Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine as ambassador to Japan.
Valentine is currently the athletic director at Sacred Heart University in Connecticut, and has some actual experience in public office: in 2011, he was director of public safety and health for the city of Stamford, Conn., where he also owns a sports bar that bears his name.
Trump, a Mets fan, once considered buying the Mets when the team was in dire financial straits.
Woody Johnson (NFL)
On the day before his inauguration, Trump officially tapped New York Jets owner Woody Johnson as ambassador to the UK. Last January, Trump mocked Johnson on Twitter, saying that if Johnson had worked on Trump’s campaign instead of Jeb Bush’s, his team would have made the NFL playoffs. By November of this year, things had changed: Johnson became a major donor to the Trump campaign.
As NFL.com has reported, Johnson will likely have to put someone else in charge of the team, and would leave the many NFL committees he sits on.
Vincent Viola (NHL)
Trump has officially nominated Vincent Viola as his secretary of the US Army. Viola is an Army veteran and graduate of West Point, where he played on the sprint football team. He founded Virtu Financial, the only publicly traded high-frequency trading firm, in 2008 and is now its chairman. He is also the current owner of the Florida Panthers. Like Johnson with the Jets, Viola will likely need to step away from his NHL ownership duties if he serves on Trump’s cabinet.
Betsy DeVos (NBA)
Trump’s pick for education secretary is the chair of the Michigan Republican Party, a billionaire, and the daughter-in-law of Richard DeVos, a cofounder of Amway and the owner of the Orlando Magic. The NBA’s official media guide lists Betsy DeVos as a part owner of the team, and the Magic play in a stadium named for Amway. Betsy’s brother-in-law Daniel DeVos is chairman of the team.
Trump and the NFL
The NFL’s primetime (Thursday, Sunday and Monday nights) television ratings have been down this season almost every week compared to last year, and the league cited the distraction of the election as the biggest cause. Trump agreed, and also blamed Colin Kaepernick’s protests, saying at a rally in October: “Honestly, we’ve taken a lot of people away from the NFL… The other reason is Kaepernick.”
But since the election has ended, the NFL’s ratings still haven’t recovered, and Trump has appeared to taunt the league for its problems. At a victory rally earlier this month, Trump told the crowd, “Look at the NFL. Well, now they should start recovering. But their ratings were so far down. And you know what the reason was? This. Because this business is tougher than the NFL. The people liked it.”
At a rally in Colorado, Donald Trump says politics and Colin Kaepernick are the reason for NFL ratings drop https://t.co/yTGaiSNZuk
— CNN (@CNN) October 30, 2016
Stealing television viewership from the NFL is not the only way Trump’s political rise has touched on the league. Along the way, he also called out star players like Ben Roethlisberger and Tom Brady as supporters. Brady confirmed his friendship with Trump but would not say if he voted for him, and Brady’s coach, Bill Belichick, confirmed he wrote Trump an encouraging letter on the eve of the election. Buffalo Bills coach Rex Ryan came out in support of Trump.
According to Bleacher Report, Trump’s campaign and election victory have divided NFL locker rooms. Trump is “tearing the NFL apart,” the sports site wrote. Earlier this month, when some scrawled racist graffiti on the home of New York Giants player Nikita Whitlock, his Giants teammate Victor Cruz blamed Trump and the election, telling the media, “I think there’s a specific mindset that comes with supporting a guy like Donald Trump and supporting what he stands for, and there’s a certain type of person that comes with that.”
Bleacher Report determined, in a casual poll of 21 white NFL players, that all 21 planned to vote for Trump. Only 2 of 22 black NFL players planned to vote for Trump.
Golf courses as business hubs
Trump has always used golf as a business tool (he told Fortune last year that Obama “should play golf with people he wants to make agreements with”) but now he has stepped up that practice by holding some of his cabinet interviews at his course in Bedminster, N.J., which inextricably ties his courses to his presidency.
The president-elect has said that his children will take over operations of his extensive golf business, but many in the golf world still see a potential conflict in holding professional golf tournaments at a Trump-owned course. As of now, three big tournaments in the next five years are scheduled for Trump courses, including the 2017 Senior PGA Championship and the 2017 US Women’s Open. Might golf governing bodies feel pressured to pull the events?
Either way, look for golf, and Trump’s major position in the sport, to continue being a talking point among the potential conflicts in his presidency.
Sports figures on the campaign trail
During his campaign, Trump picked up public endorsements from many sports figures who carry real sway in their home states or among their fans.
Former Indiana University basketball coach Bobby Knight, former Purdue University basketball coach Gene Heady, and former Notre Dame football coach Lou Holtz: All are Indiana sports legends and many believed their backing helped Trump secure the state (along with it being Mike Pence’s home state).
Golf legend Jack Nicklaus supported Trump, and told Yahoo Finance, “I think he’s going to make a tremendous impact on the world of golf as he goes forward.” Pro golfers like Jim Furyk and Pat Perez also told Yahoo Finance they believe Trump has been positive for the sport, but did not say if they’d be voting for him.
Brian France, CEO of Nascar, came out in support of Trump, as did UFC president Dana White. The former wrestler Hulk Hogan was a vocal Trump supporter, as was the billionaire venture capitalist Peter Thiel, who financed Hogan’s lawsuit against gossip news site Gawker. (Yet another sports wrinkle there for Trump: Thiel made the ceremonial first move on behalf of Russian chess player Sergey Karjakin at the Chess World Championship in New York this month.)
— Daniel Roberts (@readDanwrite) November 30, 2016
Meanwhile, on Sunday, former baseball star Jose Canseco tweeted at Trump, “good pick on bobby for Japan. I would be open to Ambassador of Cuba job or Fed Chair.” At this point, it may not be out of the question.
Daniel Roberts is a writer at Yahoo Finance, covering sports business and technology. Follow him on Twitter at @readDanwrite.