Back in the spring of 1986, the United States Football League sued the National Football League in what was one of the most publicized antitrust suits in modern history.
The upstart league, which had begun as a spring endeavor in 1983, was claiming that the NFL had ”willfully acquired and maintained a monopoly,” primarily by pressuring TV networks to stop dealing with the USFL. It was a riveting—though ultimately unsuccessful—argument, bolstered in part by the testimony of the owner of the New Jersey Generals.
His name: Donald Trump.
Speaking under oath, Trump testified that Pete Rozelle, the NFL’s commissioner, had promised him a franchise should he and the USFL not sue. Rozelle, for his part, testified that Trump had begged him for a team, even promising to ”find some stiff” to purchase the Generals.
It was riveting.
It was dramatic.
It was, on the part of Trump, complete and total crap.
I’ve interviewed people from the NFL and USFL about Trump, and nobody—nary a single person—believes that Rozelle offered him a franchise. The reasons are pretty obvious: A. Trump was an enormous pain in the ass; loathed by his USFL peers and the last type of guy the NFL wanted; B. Trump was not nearly as wealthy in 1986 as he is today; C. Rozelle didn’t have the authority to offer franchises; D. The NFL hated the USFL. Rozelle, more than anyone, h-a-t-e-d the USFL. He didn’t want to bring Trump (or any other owner) in the fold. No—he wanted to crush him.
Just yesterday I sat down with Jerry Argovitz, former owner of the Houston Gamblers and, briefly, Trump’s partner. I asked about the Trump-Rozelle agreement, to which Argovitz said, “I promise you, it was nonsense. There was no agreement. No way. That’s just Donald talking. He never even liked the USFL. He saw it as a way to get in the NFL. But that promise—bullshit.”
I know 30 years have passed, and the USFL is largely forgotten. But were I running for president against a man who both ruined a sports league and lied under oath, well, I might bring it up.