Why Trump intervened in the case of a former NFL owner

Why did Trump pardon former San Francisco 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo Jr? There are a few competing theories.
Image: A San Francisco 49ers cheerleader kneels during the national anthem
A San Francisco 49ers cheerleader kneels during the national anthem at Thursday night football game against the Oakland Raiders.@GatorLenny

More than two decades ago, Eddie DeBartolo Jr. paid a bribe to then-Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards (D) to help secure a casino license. DeBartolo got caught, was forced to pay a steep fine, cooperated with prosecutors in a case against the former governor, and received two years probation. As part of the controversy, DeBartolo, who owned a leading pro football team, was also banned for a year from the NFL.

Today, Donald Trump wiped the slate clean.

President Donald Trump has signed an executive order granting a full pardon to former San Francisco 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo Jr. related to a decades-old corruption charge, the White House said Tuesday.

One of the things I find interesting about the Trump presidency is that whenever the White House does anything unexpected, it's easy to assume the worst. I don't imagine many people this morning heard about the DeBartolo pardon and thought, "The president and his team must've closely examined the case and determined it was time to right an injustice."

Instead, there was an immediate search for the real reason. It's what happens when a president routinizes corruption and repeatedly abuses his pardon power.

Some have been quick to note, for example, that DeBartolo is a prominent figure in northeastern Ohio, where the president is eager to lock down support ahead of his re-election campaign. That very well may have been a contributing factor.

Others have pointed out that DeBartolo hosted a pro-Trump pre-inauguration event in 2017, which Trump eagerly promoted on Twitter. That also couldn't have hurt DeBartolo's chances.

But let's not overlook the fact that the White House announced the presidential pardon this morning at an event with several NFL legends -- including Jerry Rice, Jim Brown, Ronnie Lott, and Charles Haley -- in attendance.

In fact, Jerry Rice, the Hall of Fame receiver, told reporters, "I take my hat off to Donald Trump for what he did," referring to the DeBartolo pardon.

And if I had to guess, that was the principal reason this happened. Trump seems pleased when celebrities say nice things about him, and no one should be surprised when images and quotes from this morning's event show up in the president's re-election campaign advertising.