Election of Donald Trump Deepening Racial Divide in NFL Locker Rooms

Mike FreemanNFL National Lead WriterNovember 10, 2016

Republican presidential elect Donald Trump (L) gives a speech next to his Vice President elect Mike Pence (R) during election night at the New York Hilton Midtown in New York on November 9, 2016. 
Trump stunned America and the world Wednesday, riding a wave of populist resentment to defeat Hillary Clinton in the race to become the 45th president of the United States. / AFP / MANDEL NGAN        (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
MANDEL NGAN/Getty Images

"One of the greatest days of my life," a white offensive lineman from the AFC told B/R. 

"Easily one of the worst days of my life," said a black offensive lineman, also from the AFC. "It's like my dog died. Worse." 

The reaction from NFL players to me in the wake of Donald Trump's election as the nation's 45th president was swift and long-lasting. It carried through election night, into the next morning, and throughout Wednesday. Over two dozen players expressed themselves in numerous complex thoughts, simple outbursts and heated arguments with me.

The general feeling among the six white players with whom B/R communicated was that the Trump election was good for the country and happened because Americans wanted change and a fixing of economic issues.

In sharp contrast, eight black players I spoke with expressed the sentiment that the Trump election was one of the ugliest moments in American history and was about white America wanting to keep blacks, and other people of color, as one black player said, "in our place."

The comments from both groups of players were at times raw, angry, introspective and dizzying, even more so than for a similar Trump story I wrote before the election.

In all my conversations, the most striking aspect was the difference in how black players and white players viewed Trump. It was as if they were talking about two different people, a phenomenon that likely mirrors the American electorate. 

Take, for example, how two white players felt the election of Trump would help bring players closer to fans and maybe even reverse the recent ratings decline.

"Trump is creating a more blue-collar America," said a special teams player, "and at its core, our sport is a blue-collar sport."

Meanwhile, several black players expressed a different view of some fans. They felt those who voted for Trump would root for them on Sundays, but once the games ended, those fans wouldn't, as one player stated, "give them a bucket to piss in."

Bill Belichick raised the ire of some players in the NFL with his letter of support to Donald Trump.
Bill Belichick raised the ire of some players in the NFL with his letter of support to Donald Trump.Jim Rogash/Getty Images

Perhaps most importantly, players on both sides of the Trump aisle insist that NFL locker rooms remain divided over Trump and have seen that chasm grow in the wake of the election.

It's impossible to tell how accurate this view is, but it continues to be something mentioned to me.

What's certain is I have never seen NFL players both so happy and infuriated at the same time. I've never seen players this fired up over anything that wasn't related to a work stoppage or Roger Goodell.

There was definitely some locker room polarization when Barack Obama was first elected president in 2008, but the dynamics were different. The player base is approximately 70 percent black, and most of the black electorate backed Obama.

Exit polling by NBC this year showed that 89 percent of black voters were either concerned or scared if Trump were to win. My guess is those percentages would hold up, or be close, in NFL locker rooms. 

"If you voted for Trump," said one AFC offensive starter, "I don't trust you."

"Black players are constantly playing the race card [when it comes to Trump]," a white NFC player said. "This election had nothing to do with race."

He wasn't alone in his views.

US Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton makes a concession speech after being defeated by Republican president-elect Donald Trump in New York on November 9, 2016. / AFP / JEWEL SAMAD        (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Imag
JEWEL SAMAD/Getty Images

"Hillary Clinton was a terrible candidate," another white player said. "That's why she lost, not because of race."

Other white players said Trump won because of the increase in Obamacare premiums and Supreme Court appointments.

All of the white players, in fact, said Trump's election had nothing to do with race. White players who voted for Trump, or knew people who did, in fact, were furious with the notion they or Trump supporters were racist.

All of the black players, on the other hand, said Trump's election was mostly, if not all, about race.

Several black players with whom B/R spoke saved some of their anger for Patriots coach Bill Belichick, who wrote a letter of support to Trump, who then read the letter at a rally on the eve of the election. Belichick defended writing the note, saying it wasn't politically motivated and was penned because Trump was a friend.

But some of the black players I spoke with said they didn't understand how black players on the Patriots weren't enraged with Belichick. Or with Tom Brady, who Trump said supported his candidacy.

"Very disappointed in [Belichick]," one player said. "I thought he was better than that."

(One aside: In my time covering the league, Belichick has been one of the most open-minded men I've ever known. Yet in various front offices around the league, there was surprise he so publicly endorsed Trump.)

In the end, maybe everyone should heed the words of former NFL offensive lineman Damien Woody, who tweeted some pretty good advice this week:

    

Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @mikefreemanNFL.