President Donald Trump's war of words against the NFL and its players has stolen headlines over the last week for all the wrong reasons - and now we may know where the tension all began.

Trump used a speech during a rally in Alabama to urge the NFL's owners to fire any player who kneels during the national anthem.

"Wouldn't you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, 'Get that son of a b***h off the field right now. Out! He's fired. He's fired!'"

His words sparked hundreds of players and officials to link arms, take a knee and some to remain in the locker room during the national anthem.

Advertisement

As the games unfolded, Trump again lashed the league in a tirade on Twitter.

His Twitter barbs haven't been reserved for just the NFL as he also took aim at Stephen Curry and the NBA champion Golden State Warriors.

The bad news for Trump is that despite his position as the most powerful man in the free world, his words seem to have united athletes, owners and officials against him.

After his tirade, the number of players who protested in the NFL skyrocketed from single figures into the hundreds and even spilt over into the MLB. NBA players from LeBron James to Ben Simmons also spoke out.

San Francisco 49ers safety Eric Reid (35) kneels in front of teammates during the national anthem before an NFL football game against the Carolina Panthers. Photo / AP
San Francisco 49ers safety Eric Reid (35) kneels in front of teammates during the national anthem before an NFL football game against the Carolina Panthers. Photo / AP
The Dallas Cowboys take a knee prior to the national anthem prior to an NFL football game against the Arizona Cardinals. Photo / AP
The Dallas Cowboys take a knee prior to the national anthem prior to an NFL football game against the Arizona Cardinals. Photo / AP

As players around the United States continue to come together against the opinions of their President, plenty of questions are being raised about the commander-in-chief's use of Twitter. Could his thumb war all stem from a simple rejection?

TRUMP'S UNREQUITED NFL LOVE

A story that not many people would know about the President is that he has tried, and failed, many times in the past to join the elusive ranks of NFL owners.

His desire to join the NFL began in the early 1980s with the now defunct United States Football League, a competition that originally ran during the NFL's off-season.

After initially deciding against joining the venture, Trump brought in when J. Walter Duncan put up the New Jersey Generals for sale and sold them for NZ$10.8 million.

Then-New Jersey Generals owner Donald Trump, left, shakes hands with Herschel Walker at a press conference in New York, after agreeing on a 4-year contract. Photo / AP
Then-New Jersey Generals owner Donald Trump, left, shakes hands with Herschel Walker at a press conference in New York, after agreeing on a 4-year contract. Photo / AP

But the goalposts never shifted for Trump. He wanted to be a part of the NFL owners' fraternity and saw the USFL as his way in.

Jeff Pearlman, author of upcoming USFL book The Useless, revealed how Trump put his cards on the table in his first owners meeting with the USFL. "I didn't enter this league to stay in the spring," Trump said. "We're moving to fall."

A change in seasons would have put the USFL in direct competition with the NFL - and drew the ire of one owner in particular.

John Bassett was the owner of the Tampa Bay Bandits and having had experience with owning sports teams, knew it would be the wrong choice to move in on the NFL's territory. His patience with Trump eventually wore thin, leading to this scathing letter.

After three seasons, the league decided to make the switch, a kill or be killed move. Trump also drove a decision for the USFL to sue the NFL in an antitrust lawsuit for being an unlawful monopoly.

Despite the USFL winning the lawsuit and the NFL being found guilty of violating an antitrust law, the damages awarded to the USFL were a miserly US$3 and with that, the USFL - and Trump's Generals - collapsed under a mountain of debt.

FAILED ATTEMPT AFTER FAILED ATTEMPT

Trump's interest in securing a piece of the NFL pie didn't die there - but continued to go unfulfilled.

He failed in an attempt to buy the Indianapolis Colts in 1981 and passed on the Dallas Cowboys in 1984 - a critical mistake.

Trump wasn't exactly being welcomed with open arms, either. As Pearlman explained in an interview with Newsweek, NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle couldn't have been any more unequivocal in his stance on the high-flying businessman, telling Trump at a meeting in New York in 1984: "You will never be an owner in the NFL. As long as I'm affiliated with the NFL or my family is affiliated with the NFL, you will never have a team in the NFL."

But Trump still had other opportunities. In 1988, the New England Patriots went on sale after the Sullivan family couldn't maintain payments for the team. Trump was given the first chance to bid on the team.

Ultimately deciding that the inherited debt was too great of a risk, he passed. Today the Patriots are valued at NZ$2.8 billion, making them the second most valuable team in pro football.

Sixteen years later Trump was back at the bidders desk when he chased the Buffalo Bills in 2014. His low-ball offer of $900 million was surpassed by Terry and Kim Pegula who bid NZ$1.5b, a then NFL record.

Given all that history, is it any surprise Trump is happily targeting the NFL, its owners and its players now he's President?

Is Trump acting out because he simply can't have the one thing he wants, to be an NFL owner?