Here goes folks and I hope you enjoy.
Rose: Michael, thanks for doing this interview. I’ve known and followed you primarily over the years in connection with your career and activities as a trial lawyer in Los Angeles. But law is actually your second career and my research shows that you had a prior career some time ago as a sports agent on the national scene. How did you get into that career as a sports agent back when you were a 21 year old college student?
Trope: When I was in junior high and high school, I was always a big football and baseball fan. In football, it was primarily as a fan of college football, and I was a big USC Trojan fan starting back in junior high. I was attending USC and I was invited to a friend’s house to watch the Oklahoma Nebraska football game on November 25, 1971. They were the top two rated teams in the country and this was the premiere game of the year. Johnny Rodgers of Nebraska returned a punt for 72 yards and a touchdown which shifted the momentum in the game and Nebraska went on to win the game and the national championship. It was one of the most electrifying plays in college football. While everybody in the room at my buddy’s house were hooting and hollering, I jokingly said “hey, I’d sure like to be that guy’s agent.” Of course, everyone started laughing at me; like, “sure, the best college football player in America let some 20 year old punk be his agent”; ha ha. Well, that summer I bought a student standby airplane ticket to Lincoln Nebraska from Los Angeles, intent on meeting Johnny Rodgers and making a pitch to be his agent. I rented a car and drove to the college campus just as football practice was ending. Fortunately, Johnny Rodgers had not yet left the field because a large group of admirers had surrounded him seeking autographs. When he was finished I walked up to him and told him my name, that I was a senior at USC, and that I had come from Los Angeles to make a pitch to become his agent when he turned professional. He was a bit older than I was and looked at me with a grin but told me he would meet with me when he finished showering. That meeting led to a series of phone calls during his senior season, which was also my senior year at USC. At the end of the year, I traveled to Florida to watch him score four touchdowns and throw a pass for another against Notre Dame in the Orange Bowl. After the game, Rodgers made me his agent and thus began my career as a sports agent with a Heisman Trophy winner as my first client.
Rose: Wow. And you then were a sports agent for how long before you became a lawyer?
Trope: I was a sports agent for about twelve or thirteen years before I quit in 1985. During that time, I represented well over one hundred professional football players, including over 30 first round NFL picks, the overall pick twice, the recipients of seven Heisman trophies and three Heisman runner ups.
Rose: Ok. Now the primary reason I wanted to do this interview. I read the book you wrote about your days as a sports agent, Necessary Roughness which was published back in 1987, and I was very interested, for obvious reasons, in the first chapter of your book which is titled “LT and Trump, the Secret Deal”. In reading that chapter in your book, it appears that you had an interesting negotiation with Donald Trump back in 1984 that was pretty intense, when he was the owner of the New Jersey Generals, and you were representing NFL great Lawrence Taylor, of the New York Giants.
Trope: Well, yes. Lawrence was under contract with the Giants and his contract ran through the end of the 1986 season. I had negotiated Lawrence’s contract with the Giants when was a rookie. Then the USFL was created and was competing for talent against NFL teams. During that time period player salaries increased, and the deal that Lawrence had signed as a rookies, which looked pretty good at that time back in 1981, now was below market in 1984. He called me in January of 1984 and asked that I come back to New York and renegotiate his contract with the Giants. What I did not know, is that several weeks earlier Lawrence had signed a “futures” contract, in secret, with Donald Trump, to begin play with the Generals after his contract with the Giants would expire in 1986.
Rose: So you had no idea that Lawrence had signed with the Generals?
Trope: Correct. So I went back and met with George Young, who was the General Manager of the Giants back in 1984. He was a great man and one of the finest general managers in the NFL. Unfortunately he passed away back in 2001. He was named the NFL executive of the year five times. I was honored to be able to deal with him on many occasions for the NFL players that I was the agent for. In any event, I met with George and we crafted a potential new deal for Lawrence which would span the 1984-1989 seasons. It was a great deal and would make Lawrence the highest paid defensive player in NFL history as of that time.
Rose: But I thought you just told me that Lawrence had signed a deal with Trump’s team to begin in 1986? So how could he be under contract with two different football teams at the same time?
Trope: Well, here is what happened. I went back to Lawrence and showed him the deal sheet for the new proposed deal with the Giants, which included a one million dollar bonus—-which at that time in 1984 was huge. When he saw the proposed deal with the Giants, he then confided in me that he had signed a futures contract with Donald Trump and the Generals. As it turned out the Giants deal was for more money than the Trump deal. Trump had given him one million dollars up front to sign the futures contract, but the salaries were far below what the Giants were offering.
Rose: So, what happened?
Trope: Taylor instructed me to go meet with Donald Trump and try to negotiate a release from the contract that Taylor had signed with him, so that he could be in a position to legally sign a new contract with the Giants.
Rose: So, you then met with Trump? How did that take place?
Trope: Well, remember that back in 1984, Donald Trump was not a presidential nominee. Although he was a phenomenally successful businessman who had built many beautiful trophy building and owned a professional football team, and he was famous at the time, it was not like he had secret service protection, he was a private citizen. I remember I called his office at the Trump Tower, informed his secretary that I was the agent for Lawrence Taylor, and that it was urgent that I meet with him.
Rose: What happened next?
Trope: Well, it certainly was quite an impressive way to set the stage for a meeting after watching a slide show showing the hundreds of millions of dollars of real estate deals he had done. But don’t forget that back in 1984, I had negotiated player contracts with every team in the NFL and had dealt with the owners of these teams. Some of the richest men in America owned football teams, and so this introduction to Trump, although unique, was not shocking to me.
Rose: So, tell me about your initial meeting with Trump.
Trope: Sure. Trump was extraordinarily gracious. He told me how much he liked Lawrence and how much he looked forward to having him ultimately play for the Generals. It was at that time that I told him that there was a problem, that the Giants had made an offer to Taylor which was for far more money than the General’s deal, and in short, that the deal that Lawrence had signed with the General’s would make Lawrence a lame duck player who would be stuck in an under market value contract—and that this was no good for Lawrence. I then showed Trump the offer that the Giants had extended to Lawrence.
Rose: How did he respond?
Trope: He looked at what the Giants were willing to pay and at first he said something like “Wow, I got a really great deal when I signed Lawrence”. But then we had further discussion and Donald Trump told me that he did not want to prevent Lawrence from obtaining his full market value as a football player and only wanted what was best for Lawrence Taylor. At the same time he told me that he wanted his million dollars back, and a profit. It was agreed that I would go meet with the Giants and commence negotiations with the ultimate goal that Trump would get his money back and a profit, and that Taylor would then be clear to sign the contract with the Giants. To make a long story short, I wound up going back and forth between the Giants and Trump, and ultimately a deal was concluded. Trump received his million dollars back, with a handsome profit for the short time that he had parted with the money, and Lawrence signed a new long term, lucrative contract with the New York Giants. Everybody made out. It was truly a win win win. I was even invited to a cheerleader tryout in Trump Tower where Andy Warhol and Ivana Trump were part of a blue ribbon panel of judges.
Rose: Ok, I know this was back in 1984 when Mr. Trump was in his late 30’s. You were the agent for an African-American professional football player that Trump had under contract, and you were engaged in what appears to be some serious negotiations. You see in today’s political world much criticism about Donald Trump being a bigot and a racist. In your dealing with Donald Trump, when you were negotiating on behalf of an African-American football player, did you come away with any opinion that Donald Trump was a bigot or racist?
Trope: Absolutely not. No way. Understand that this was back in 1984. I was 33 years old and Donald Trump was probably 38 or 39, and he had a full head of healthy hair. My opinion is based upon my experience with him 32 years ago, and it is chronicled in my book, which was written a mere three years after my experiences of multiple negotiations with him on the Taylor contract. But my opinion is strong and unequivocal, that based on my experiences with Donald Trump back in 1984 that this man was not in the slightest a racist or bigot. In fact, and I believe this is in my book from 1987, Donald Trump went out of his way to make sure that Taylor would not be hurt and he went out of his way to make sure that Taylor could achieve his full market value as a professional football player. Many owners would never have done that—that would have strictly enforced the agreement. Donald Trump seemed to genuinely like Lawrence, and once he saw that Lawrence had a better opportunity with the Giants, he in a very genuine way became a problem solver to enable Lawrence to achieve his full potential. Now, I will tell you that during my agent days, between 1973-1985, I saw a lot of racism in professional football. I am not going to go into detail because it serves no purpose, but there was bias and prejudice amongst personnel that I saw back then. But not with Donald Trump. From what I saw, he was a straight up man.
Rose: I did some research and found a New York Time’s article that quoted you back on January 18, 1984 as stating that this negotiation you did between Lawrence Taylor, Donald Trump, and the New York Giants was the “Best that you’d ever done”. Is that still your opinion?
Trope: Well, let’s put it this way. I had a client, Lawrence Taylor, who had signed a contract with one of the most successful businessmen around, Donald Trump. He was already under contract with the New York Giants. Unlike other negotiations where I simply sit down with one team for one player and negotiate compensation, this was much more complicated and sensitive. In light of the fact that, at the end of the day, the Giants were happy, Donald Trump appeared to be happy, and I had a happy client in Lawrence Taylor, I would say that those negotiations were perhaps the most satisfying in any football deal that I ever did, because so many things could have gone wrong. Lemons were turned into lemonade.
Rose: Go back in time to 1984. I know what you wrote in your book, but what were your lasting impressions of Donald Trump, based upon your dealings with him in 1984.
Trope: Big ego, but very big on principal. A problem solver, not a problem maker. A big thinker. A man with very little fear. A man never to underestimate. Those were my impressions of him back in 1984, independent of anything to do with politics.
Michael I want to thank you for giving me time out of your busy schedule, I just wanted a closer look at the chapter I read and I really appreciate you giving me this time.
By Rose Turner
September 22, 2016
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