Donald Trump’s name is on 17 golf properties around the world, and he claims to be a three handicap.
He was a skilled first baseman for the baseball team at the New York Military Academy in the early 1960s and also competed in basketball, football, soccer, bowling and wrestling. Years later, he owned a professional football team in the short-lived USFL and staged cycling and powerboat racing events.
He counts as friends Tom Brady, Bill Belichick, Jack Nicklaus and a host of the sports world’s biggest renegades, such as Mike Tyson, John Daly and Bobby Knight. He made millions off championship boxing fights at his Atlantic City property and in 2013 was inducted into the WWE’s hall of fame for his contributions to professional wrestling.
The president-elect is also an inimitable sports fan, and Trump will no doubt have some type of impact on the games Americans love to watch and play after moving into the White House on Jan. 20. The intersection of the presidency and the sports world, though, could be as unpredictable as every other facet of the impending Trump administration. How exactly that relationship manifests itself will be ceremonial (think: first pitches on Opening Day), political (will some athletes boycott White House visits?) and practical (could Trump play a role in bringing international events to American soil — or other sporting events to properties that bear his name)?
There already have been calls for professional golf tournaments to abandon Trump courses, and a handful of athletes have shunned Trump hotels. But Trump has also made an early effort to help lure the Olympics to the United States.
“I think we have a fan who will be in the White House after January 21st,” said Larry Probst, the U.S. Olympic Committee chair.
Trump will replace Barack Obama, an unabashed sports fan who attended basketball games, threw out first pitches and seemed to relish the championship teams that paraded through the White House. For many, he was the Sports Fan in Chief, even publicly filling out NCAA basketball tournament brackets every year on national television.
Trump takes office at a particularly unique time: In the next four years, the United States will make efforts to host both the Summer Olympics and possibly the World Cup. In his first weeks as president-elect, Trump chatted with Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti about the city’s bid to stage the 2024 Summer Games. At Garcetti’s urging, Trump then spoke with Thomas Bach, president of the International Olympic Committee — and even invited him to visit the White House. It was some high-profile schmoozing that U.S. Olympic officials feel could pay dividends down the road.
Obama similarly lent a hand with Chicago’s failed bid to host the 2016 Games, traveling in October 2009 to Copenhagen, where the IOC ultimately voted to instead award the Olympics to Rio de Janeiro. The president was heavily criticized by some, including Trump.
“He should have known the result before making such an embarrassing commitment,” Trump said during the presidential campaign. “We were laughed at all over the world, as we have been many, many times.”
Many sports officials are hesitant to talk publicly about the impact a Trump presidency might have. While there might have been some initial apprehension from the LA 2024 committee — Garcetti told the Associated Press in August that IOC members “would say, ‘Wait a second. Can we go to a country like that, where we’ve heard things that we take offense to?’ ” — U.S. Olympic officials apparently have warmed to the business magnate-turned-reality star.
Neither USOC nor LA 2024 officials have said whether they would lean on Trump to help publicly promote the bid or attend the IOC vote in September 2017 in Lima, Peru. Trump has not yet spoken with officials from the USOC, but Scott Blackmun, the organization’s CEO, said “we’re looking forward to a good dialogue with the White House.”
“I think the president-elect has more important things to do and more urgent things to do at the present time,” Blackmun said. “We certainly expect to be in touch with the White House in due time. I don’t think this is the right time.”
The U.S. Soccer Federation is currently weighing whether to bid on hosting the 2026 World Cup, either on its own or possibly in conjunction with a neighboring country. Earlier this year, the organization’s president, Sunil Gulati, acknowledged that co-hosting the tournament alongside Mexico “would be a little trickier” with Trump in the White House.
A few days after Trump won the election, Gulati told reporters that “we’ll work with whoever is in the White House, in this case President-elect Trump and his team, if we decide to bid. Or in any other areas that matter to us.
“A bid, if it should happen, relies critically on cooperation with the government in a lot of areas. And we look forward to working with the president-elect,” he said. “He’s an avid sports fan, and we’ll wait and see if we bid and what the rules of engagement are.”
Many of the president’s interactions with the sports world are, of course, ceremonial: phone calls after championships, opening the doors to the White House for title-winning teams, tossing a baseball on Opening Day. Trump already has some practice. He has thrown out first pitches at Yankee Stadium, Fenway Park, Wrigley Field — even a minor league All-Star Game in Somerset, N.J. He has hosted several athletes for rounds of golf at his clubs. And he has regularly congratulated championship teams via Twitter.
Obama seemed to especially enjoy this part of his presidency — when his job brought him in contact with the nation’s top athletes or the championship teams that visited Washington. He’d praise and tease the athletic stars, accepting their personalized jerseys and trinkets of appreciation.
Filling out an NCAA basketball tournament bracket for television cameras became an annual tradition of sorts, and two of those brackets are now property of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.
“The bracket idea worked because President Obama follows basketball and is passionate about the sport,” said ESPN’s Andy Katz, who conceived the idea when Obama was still a U.S. senator. “He wasn’t as dialed in to every player or team but had conversational knowledge to offer his own analysis on the NCAA tournament for the men’s and women’s game. Baracketology was a success because it was clear he was a fan of the sport and the NCAA tournament, like millions of other Americans.”
No decisions have yet been made on whether Trump will follow suit, but an ESPN spokesman said “at the appropriate time, we will extend an invitation to the White House to offer to continue it.”
Over the course of eight years, Obama hosted championship teams of all stripes — from Olympians to professionals. Already analysts are predicting that some athletes might pass on the invitation during Trump’s tenure as White House tenant.
“Mark my words, there will be players that decline the opportunity to visit the White House under his presidency,” former NBA star Jalen Rose said on ESPN’s “NBA Countdown.”
The last title team to pass through 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. during the Obama presidency was the Cleveland Cavaliers. LeBron James, who campaigned for Hillary Clinton, said he didn’t know whether he would want to return with Trump in office.
“We’ll have to cross that road, I guess,” he told reporters. “We’ll see. I would love to have to cross that road.”
On a smaller scale, some players have already managed to show their disapproval for the incoming president. Since the election, at least four NBA teams have changed their regular travel plans and opted out of Trump-branded hotels. A fifth — the Cavaliers — also saw several of its players, including James, switch to a different hotel in New York.
“I’m really proud we won’t be staying there because I couldn’t be comfortable being around him and his businesses,” Bucks forward Jabari Parker told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
The Los Angeles Lakers changed hotels ahead of a game at the Brooklyn Nets. The Los Angeles Times reported that the change wasn’t a political statement but rather was made to steer clear of any possible protests that might break out at a Trump-branded property.
“I’ve been really proud of our own players and the players around the league, that they’re attuned to what’s going on and they’re going to stand up for their values,” Detroit Pistons Coach Stan Van Gundy told reporters. His team didn’t publicly boycott Trump hotels, he said, because they were never scheduled to stay in them in the first place.
While Obama took office as a basketball enthusiast, Trump will immediately become one of the most avid golfers to occupy the White House. His deep-seated association with the game — not to mention his myriad business interests — have already become cause for concern, though.
In October, just a month before the election, a trio of Democratic senators sent a letter to Mike Davis urging the United States Golf Association executive director to move this year’s U.S. Women’s Open from Trump National in Bedminster, N.J.
“In declining future association with a brand that degrades women, the USGA and LPGA have an opportunity to make clear to the world, and most especially young Americans, that our nation will not tolerate nor do business with any company that condones or excuses action that constitutes sexual assault,” read the letter, which was signed by Sens. Robert P. Casey Jr. of Pennsylvania, Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut.
The USGA has no plans to move the tournament, but in October — amid headlines and news reports that focused on allegations of sexual abuse and inappropriate behavior by Trump — it rereleased a statement that it first issued in July. “During his presidential campaign, Mr. Trump has made some remarks that are at odds with our belief that golf should be welcoming and inclusive for all. We have reiterated for more than a year that we do not share his views, and that is still true,” the statement read.
Even before the election, the PGA Tour decided to relocate a long-standing South Florida tournament from Trump Doral to Mexico, but officials stressed that the decision was motivated by economic reasons and had nothing to do with politics.
“Some of the reaction revolves around the feeling that this is a political exercise and it is not that in any way, shape or form,” then-PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem told reporters at the time. “It is a sponsorship issue.”
Finchem, who retired and was replaced as commissioner by Jay Monahan on Sunday, said the Tour could return to Doral “when the time is right.”
One of Trump’s newest properties is Trump National in Loudoun County, outside Washington, D.C., which was renovated and re-branded after Trump purchased the property in 2009. The club is slated to host this year’s Senior PGA Championship, and the president-elect has long had his sights set on bigger events.
“I think I’ll get many, many tournaments, because I have the best product,” Trump told The Post in 2013. “Nobody has land like this.”
Golf officials won’t say whether Trump’s ascent to the White House makes it more or less likely they will do business with his golf properties. But Trump’s aim — whether it’s his golf courses, the USFL or an unorthodox presidential campaign — has always been to be associated with the best. It’s a pursuit that marries ambition with hope, the qualities shared by successful politicians and hungry sports fans alike.
“In a certain way, I think it’s pride,” Eric Trump, Donald Trump’s son, explained in 2013 about the company’s pursuit of a golf major for Trump National. “I think it’s the fruition of all your work coming together, and showing everybody: To get these tournaments, you have to be the best.”