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Football’s heartland sends NFL a presidential message

Posted Nov 13, 2016

Last week, the American electorate chose for its 45th president a man who has promised to build a wall to stop the influx of people from Mexico.

Next week, the NFL will play another foreign regular season game in its latest step in the expansion of its own horizon - the Raiders versus the Texans in Mexico.

The timing is a sweet irony but also worthy of a stock take as to the intentions of the NFL in its future outside of its own borders.

I was struck while following the election through the night as to the influence - ultimately decisive - on the race for the White House of the heartlands of football.

Ohio. Pennsylvania. Michigan. Wisconsin. One after another the towns and counties that formed the early impressions of the sport marched to the beat of Donald Trump's drum and carried him all the way to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Trump, of course, has a previous affinity with football. He owned the New Jersey Generals of the USFL more than 30 years ago and was instrumental in convincing fellow owners to try switching from a spring season to the fall to put the league in direct competition with the NFL. It was a move designed to force NFL owners to agree to a merger similar to the one with the AFL two decades earlier.

The NFL lost the ensuing anti-trust court case with the USFL although effectively won the financial award by being fined just one dollar, trebled to three dollars under anti-trust law as the USFL collapsed.

Trump moved on to fry bigger fish and make plenty of money but it is not the way he was treated by the NFL back then that could have implications for football but rather the policies he promised on the campaign trail.

The country has voted for an administration that wants to turn inwards and, in Trump's own words, "put America first".

Nowhere was that more relevant during the election than in those blue-collar areas of Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan where professional football was born and where now citizens want all aspects of America to think of home long before being troubled about things abroad.

Trump's policy direction will apply in particular to trade deals made with other countries. Some countries are going to find a belligerent America imposing import tariffs at such a high level that they will find it difficult to send their goods there. In retaliation, those countries are likely to penalise American business in their nations with punitive rates.

For example, if the USA imposes import taxes of 45 per cent on goods from China and Mexico then those places are unlikely to look favourably on the NFL or NBA - both of whom are looking overseas - when it comes to giving them tax breaks for bringing business to those places.

London mayor Sadiq Khan has made it known that the capital is "open for business" following the Brexit vote. That certainly applies when it comes to the city's relationship with the NFL and you would imagine that any trade deal between the UK and USA would be a mutually-amicable one, although at this stage, who knows.

But there is no doubt that the NFL will be watching with keen interest what happens next with American foreign relations and trade deals. London could have an open-arms policy for the NFL but the league may be impacted by other factors closer to home.

Whether in limited areas or on a wider scale, Trump's campaign promises, if fulfilled, could give the league serious pause for thought when it comes to its longer-term global plans.

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Seattle players and coaches spent last week's build-up to the meeting with the Patriots downplaying their crushing Super Bowl loss against New England the last time the teams met almost two years ago.

There were not many fans who bought their "it's in the past" attitude.

We know the truth from generations of past players, who will tell you later, perhaps even in retirement, just how much they wanted a certain win.

The Seahawks' impressive victory on the road on Sunday night however, not only offered a small piece of revenge and satisfaction, but it laid down a significant marker for a potential next meeting - February 5 in Houston, the Super Bowl.

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NFL teams spend all week putting in a game plan, running plays at walking pace time and again so that they have them precision-practiced come game time.

At 0-10 and just six games from equalling the worst NFL season ever, the Cleveland Browns perhaps need to practise longer and harder than most.

Whatever their problems are this season, they could not have been better exhibited than at the start of last Thursday's loss against Baltimore.

The Ravens fielded the opening kickoff and were preparing to run the first play of the game when Cleveland called time out. Their defense had 12 men on the field. The game was only five seconds old.

When you can't even get the right personnel on the field for the first play, you really have discipline issues. At this rate, 0-16 should be a breeze.

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