No candidate in recent memory has racked up endorsements from the athletic world like Trump — by International Business Times' count he's locked up at least 36 people from pro sports, either with full endorsements or public comments that skated right up to the edge of an endorsement. And the names are formidable.
This unmatched support from the sporting world is the result of a confluence of factors working in Trump's favor, including the obvious facts that he has connections to the sports celebrity circuit and has long courted stars at his golf resorts. But sports and politics experts also point out that his brand of blustery machismo has appeal for athletes raised in locker rooms, and that he has largely racked up endorsements from people who already fit Trump's largest demographic — angry white men.
Here's a small sampling of Trump's sports supporters, with help from lists compiled by USA Today's For The Win and the Washington Post: Knight, Buffalo Bills coach Rex Ryan, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, UFC head Dana White, retired football coach Lou Holtz, Nascar CEO Brian France, NFL legend Mike Ditka, retired MLB player Johnny Damon, retired NBA player Dennis Rodman, retired boxer Mike Tyson, golfer John Daly and wrestler Hulk Hogan.
As Trump turns to the general election, he could lean even more on his stable of sports stars to energize his supporters. "[Athlete endorsements are] helpful in terms of legitimizing, particularly with his base voter, white working-class voters, and white working -class voters love sports," said Ford O’Connell, a political analyst and Republican strategist who worked on the 2008 John McCain presidential campaign.
Who knows what role, if any, sports-related endorsers will play come the general election, O’Connell said. At the very least, they bring media attention, something on which Trump has built his campaign.
"If it brings you one more vote, then it's helpful," O’Connell said.