Plenty of sports fans across the United States of America have enjoyed the Wild Card Round of the 2016 NFL playoffs, but one presidential candidate has a particular complaint.
According to Jenna Johnson of the Washington Post, "Donald Trump says NFL referees throw flags to impress their wives watching at home. 'It has become soft, and our country has become soft.'"
Trump made his comments during a campaign rally Sunday. Michael David Smith of NBC Sports' Pro Football Talk added additional context:
"Who wants to watch these crummy games?" Trump said, adding that the NFL has outlawed "what used to be considered a great tackle, head-on and violent," in the days of Dick Butkus, Lawrence Taylor and Ray Nitschke.
Trump said he loves his friend Tom Brady but otherwise isn’t much interested in today’s NFL. At a time when the league is attempting to address concussions in part because of political pressure from elected officials who view the game as too dangerous, the leader in the Republican presidential primary polls believes the game was better before.
Trump’s comments came in the aftermath of Saturday’s postseason clash between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Cincinnati Bengals. The Steelers won the game on a field goal in the waning moments after the Bengals committed multiple personal fouls on Pittsburgh’s final drive.
While it takes a questionable perspective to criticize an official for throwing a flag on an obvious penalty that injured a player in the open field, referees have been a major storyline all season. In fact, Chris Chase of USA Today wrote an article in November titled “How to fix the NFL's horrible officiating” after a number of controversies.
Chase pointed to a Monday night contest between the New England Patriots and Buffalo Bills that saw a potential Danny Amendola touchdown taken off the board for an inadvertent whistle and the clock tick off after Buffalo wideout Sammy Watkins went out of bounds on the final play.
There was also a missed illegal batting in a Week 4 Monday Night Football game between the Detroit Lions and the Seattle Seahawks, and the officials failed to control or eject Carolina Panthers cornerback Josh Norman and New York Giants receiver Odell Beckham Jr. when they went back and forth in their Week 15 matchup.
Criticism of the officials has almost been universal among football fans this season, but Kevin McGuire of NBC Sports' College Football Talk didn’t want to hear it from this particular source:
Donald Trump ruined the USFL, so let’s not get too carried away with his thoughts on the sport, OK?— Kevin McGuire (@KevinOnCFB) January 10, 2016
McGuire was referring to the fall of the now-defunct United States Football League. Back in 2009, the Yahoo Sports blog Shutdown Corner recapped an ESPN 30 for 30 about the league and noted “filmmaker Mike Tollin seemed easily able to find a lot of people who agreed that Trump's greed and ego were the primary reasons for the USFL's death.”
Tommy Craggs of Deadspin added more on the subject at the time: "Trump owned the New Jersey Generals from 1984 to 1985 and by most any reckoning was responsible for the league's heedless and ultimately fatal attempt to move its schedule from spring to fall and compete head-to-head with the NFL. The death of the USFL was Trump's folly."
Trump’s experience in football may be questionable at best, but he is running for president in the 2016 election and is no stranger to controversial stands. He rarely holds back his opinion, whether it is his stance on immigration, his willingness to criticize fellow candidates in the Republican Party or now the NFL’s officiating.
It's safe to say he probably won’t be asking any of the “soft” NFL referees to be his running mate if he advances to the general election.