Donald Trump: A sports fan for whom winning is everything

There was a spot the other day on NPR about our new president’s unique speaking style. In the report, a gent from Iowa says Donald Trump sounds “more like a football coach” than a traditional politician. The segment included this keeper from the campaign trail: “I always joke. I say, `We want to see win, win, win. Constant winning.’ And you'll see, if I'm president. And you say, `Please, Mr. President, we're winning too much. We can't stand it anymore. Can't we have a loss?’ And I'll say, `No, we're going to keep winning, winning, winning because we're going to make America great again.’” So watch out, Washington Generals. In the Trump era, your days as losers are numbered.

Trump’s a sports guy. Football, baseball, boxing, golf, you name it. Anything with a winner and a loser. In 1984 and ’85, he owned a USFL team, the New Jersey Generals. The team didn’t win every game but did go 25-11 over those two seasons. Then the league went bust. It’s easy to imagine Trump in his New Jersey owner’s box, or any owner’s box. (Trump has appointed his friend Woody Johnson, owner of the New York Jets, as the U.S. ambassador to the United Kingdom.) At sporting events, Trump doesn't exactly blend. During the 2009 U.S. Open at Bethpage Black on Long Island, when no normal person could park within two miles of the first tee, Trump drove his Bentley right to the clubhouse and parked it there. Over the years, Trump has often been ringside for various bright-light fights at his Atlantic City casinos. But take Trump out of his uniform—the big blue suit, the long red tie—and you will find someone even more familiar: the win-crazy, lunch-bucket sports fan. He’s a world-class populist.

I’ve spent some time with Trump. He once asked me what I thought “about this whole steroid thing” in baseball. I gave some high-minded, low-energy NPRish answer about the medical and ethical dangers of steroids. Trump listened—he’s a good listener—and said, “I do not care. I just want to see them hit the long ball.” Millions of people agree with him. More home runs=more wins.

Of course, Donald Trump is not just another Sunday-on-the-Barcalounger sports fan. He’s got all manner of sporting figures, A-list and otherwise, on his phone. Phil Mickelson. Eli Manning. Pat O’Brien. Some years ago, while I was playing golf with Trump, he walked down a fairway talking on his phone to Natalie Gulbis, the LPGA golfer and onetime Sports Illustrated swimsuit model. He said he had read in the New York Post that Ben Roethlisberger had dumped her. “I never want to read that again,” Trump told her. “From now on I want to read that you dumped him. You don't get dumped.” Why? Because winners don’t get dumped!

Matters of the heart, of course, cannot be tabulated in win-loss columns or summed-up with a score. Sports are far neater that way. Usually, anyway. A decade ago, I was writing a long SI story about Trump and his golf courses. Trump called one day and told me about a 68 he said he had shot at Bel-Air Country Club in Los Angeles. “Check it out,” he said. He said he had played with Al Michaels “and two real-estate guys.” I called one of the real-estate guys. How did Trump play, I asked. “Good,” the guy said. “Did he break 80?” The real-estate man said he couldn't say that, that you couldn’t put a number on the score, as Trump took all the usual liberties common among everyday golfers: mulligans, gimmes, improved lies, etc. Still, he had played well. I left the whole Bel-Air score business out of my story. When it came out, Trump said, “You wrote it with a lot of like. I cannot say love as there is nothing homosexual going on here. But why did you not include my score of 68 at the fabulous Bel-Air course?” I told Trump what the real-estate guy had told me. Trump said, “Michael, I shot 68 and you should have put it in the paper.”

Long before Trump was a win-win-win presidential candidate, there was Al Davis. (“Just win, baby.”) There was Charlie Sheen. (“Winning!”) But all those two did was win three Super Bowls and an American League pennant in a Hollywood movie. Trump, as an untested rookie, won the presidency. Did Donald Trump shoot 68 that day at the Bel-Air, 10 years ago, Al Michaels and two real-estate guys presiding, as he said he did? Not likely. Still, on Friday he was inaugurated as the 45th president of the United States. That is an actual fact.

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