As you all know, I try to tie in each week’s 30 for 30 Reaction to either a sporting event going on (the start of college football, the Olympics) or events going on in general (Football Season). Again this week I racked my brain trying to figure out which documentary I was going to watch and react to and as I was searching NetFlix it hit me: Small Potatoes, Who Killed the USFL?
Before I get into the reasoning behind choosing the film this week, let’s do a quick background on the film via ESPN’s short blurb about it: “In 1983, the United States Football League challenged the almighty NFL, but after a respectable start, was forced to go out of business.”
You can tell by the title that Donald Trump plays a role in this documentary, which is exactly why I chose it. With the Presidential race heating up I thought what better documentary than one that features Donald Trump, who is currently running for President? And rest assured, I will not talk any form of politics in this post, I will merely be presenting that key takeaways from the film that just happen to involve Trump.
Alright so let’s get into the nitty-gritty of the doc shall we? First things first, let’s discuss the United States Football League. The USFL started in 1983 with 12 teams playing their games in the spring. The league had the perfect storm when it started: an 8 week NFL strike, rising TV ratings, and the growing popularity of football in the US. ABC Sports (ESPN) bought the rights to air the games, giving the league some form of success early on. The League also managed to land huge stars like Heisman Trophy winner Herschel Walker greatly helped to give the league ‘street cred’ as a real football league.
So how did a league that had potential crash and burn in such a short time? Enter Donald Trump. When Trump came in and bought the New Jersey Generals, the League was beyond excited because with Trump came money and his mouth, which brought the league to a whole new level.
But what the league didn’t expect was just how greedy and money hungry Trump was. Trump wanted the league to play in the fall, so that they could compete with the National Football League. He didn’t care that the league wasn’t ready to even try to compete with the NFL, he just wanted to try and make as much money as possible. So Trump, in true Trump fashion sued the NFL.
Trump and the USFL actually managed to win the lawsuit against the NFL. The jury ruled that the NFL was in fact a monopoly over the professional football sector. But here’s where it gets slightly hilarious in a truly tragic way. Because of Trump’s money and apparent greed, the jury found that Trump was only doing it in an effort to make money and gave the league a $1.00 settlement for damages. That’s right $1.00. Because of the money that Trump brought with him, the league actually ended up shooting itself in the foot with their lawsuit. The league eventually ended up disbanding and 187 USFL players went on to play in the NFL and have great careers like Doug Flutie, Steve Young, and Jim Kelly.
So in a sense, it was Trump and his immense greed that killed the USFL which really doesn’t sit well with me. I think that had Trump not come in and bully the league into doing what he wanted the league could’ve been successful. They were playing in the spring when the only other football going on is college football’s spring ball. Spring is usually the time when fans are starting to miss football and just think of what would happen if they were able to have the opportunity to see quality football in the spring?
I also wondered if the USFL had taken it’s time to develop and they managed to stay in existence until today what that would do for college football players looking to play professional. Would more players pull a Jim Kelly or Walker and go play for the USFL instead of the NFL? If that happened, maybe it would force the NFL to figure out a way to get the big name players which would help the game grow and develop.
So thanks to Trump and his need to ruin everything in the name of money, guys who weren’t immediately ready for the NFL but love the sport of football don’t get to play at a professional level for the pure enjoyment of the game, and that is the saddest part of this whole documentary.