Commentary on sports, current events, and politics

Trump Destroys The USFL, After Promising to Make it Great

The United States Football League should have been a success and was headed in that direction until Donald Trump bought the New Jersey Generals and promised to make them great. Due to his activities, the league failed and Trump just walked away. READ MORE BELOW.

After Saying He’d Make the USFL Generals Great, Trump Destroyed Them

In 1983, Donald Trump promised to make my beloved New Jersey Generals great, yet he succeeded only in destroying my team and the rest of the USFL.

As a Yankee fan, I was used to the ways of megalomaniacal sports owners dominating the New York Daily News, promising the moon, and—yes—occasionally delivering championships. Growing up in New Jersey, we had perilously few opportunities to watch live football. New York Giants tickets were notoriously difficult to come by, the New York Jets were still playing at Shea Stadium in far-off Queens, and there wasn’t much of a tradition of college football excellence in the Garden State. When the possibility of Generals season tickets emerged for my father and me—in the upper deck, right along the 25-yard line—we didn’t walk; we ran.

The USFL, as envisioned by Saints and Superdome progenitor David Dixon, was one of the underappreciated ideas of our time. Dixon saw through the eyes of the Sacko men and recognized market space (New Jersey, Birmingham, among others) and time (spring) that NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle was ignoring. This league would supplement, not compete with, the NFL. Dixon recommended a tight $1.8 million salary cap per team. As long as sober-minded owners controlled spending, girded their lust for the limelight, and kept their eye on the long-term interest of the league, USFL success was highly probable.

Initially, the Jersey Generals had only alliteration and Herschel Walker—and as broad as #34’s shoulders were, they could not carry the team alone. Walker went on to lead the league in rushing in 1983 (in all three years of the USFL, in fact), but the Generals finished 6-12 that first year.

Then Donald Trump gazed down from his newly christened Tower in mid-town Manhattan upon the lowly Jersey Meadowlands, like Sauromon searching for the one true ring from Mount Doom, when something else shiny caught his eye. He didn’t have to wait long to bring it into his possession. After the guardedly successful 1983 season, the league added six more teams (rather than the four envisioned by Dixon) and approved the sale of the two coastal teams to big-pocket owners—the L.A. Express to J. William Oldenburg, billionaire former vacuum-cleaner salesman, and the N.J. Generals to Donald Trump, real-estate developer. At that point Mr. David Dixon wisely sold his stake and had no future dealings with the USFL.

Like George Steinbrenner with the Yankees, Donald Trump promised to make his team great (again). Mr. Trump seemed he might bring to the Generals what Steinbrenner had brought to the Yankees in the ’70s. Leaders provide a vision and inspiration. Mr. Trump’s vision was to make his team great, and he certainly used his resources in that pursuit. He hired former N.Y. Jets Coach Walt Michaels as head coach and then former NFL co-MVP Brian Sipe as quarterback, along with the great Gary Barbaro to anchor the Generals defense. The Generals improved in 1984 but lost in the first round of the playoffs to the eventual champions, the loathsome Philadelphia Stars.

Next year would be different, Mr. Trump promised. He delivered in drafting and signing the then-career passing leader in college history, Doug Flutie, who joined Walker as the second Heisman winner on the Generals’ roster. (Brian Sipe, you’re fired). He not only signed Flutie but even got someone else to pay for it (sound familiar?), concluding a deal where the other owners subsidized the large contract. In what would be their final season (unbeknownst at the time to us), the Generals lost in the first round again, in 1985.

Mr. Trump then doubled down by going after a deal that ultimately compromised his primary responsibility, which was to his team. He convinced the USFL leadership to go head-to-head with the NFL and to sue the football giant to help make that possible. His hope was to force a merger—after all, the NFL Generals would be markedly more valuable than the USFL model. Trump pushed his fellow owners to move the USFL’s season from the spring to the fall—saying, “If God wanted football in the spring, he wouldn’t have created baseball”—with the hope that the NFL would panic. Rozelle, however, was not a man who panics; he held strong through the anti-trust lawsuit brought by the USFL. As he knew, this lawsuit wasn’t about fairness. It was about a deal.

The USFL sued the NFL for anti-trust damages of $1.7 billion. Despite having been offered $67 million per year for the next three years by ABC and ESPN, the USFL foolishly suspended the spring 1986 season, eyeing the fall. That summer, ajury concurred that the NFL had exhibited illegal monopoly behavior but saw right through the USFL’s (Trump’s) gambit to force a merger with the NFL. Unsympathetic to the USFL’s claims of NFL-induced financial woes, and concluding that theUSFL’s problems were due to its own mismanagement, the jury ordered the NFL to pay the USFL only $3. On August 4, 1986, USFL owners voted to suspend operations; the league would never play another game. After every judicial appeal failed, the USFL disbanded.

I felt betrayed. The New Jersey Generals faithful had been abandoned for the art of the deal. The cold, barren 1986 New Jersey spring would see no football after the historic takedown of the hapless New England Patriots by the Chicago Bears’ and their ’46 defense on January 26. Thank you, Donald Trump: You wrecked spring football.

David Sacko is a professor of political science at the United States Air Force Academy. The views expressed herein are his own and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Academy, the Air Force, or the Department of Defense.

HGH In The NFL, Rampant Use Reported

No matter what you think about Peyton Manning—he used, he didn’t use, you don’t care either way—one thing is certain in the wake of Al Jazeera’s bombshell allegations: The NFL‘s drug-testing program continues to have a massive, gaping hole when it comes to HGH.

One veteran NFL player put it this way: “Steroids aren’t the problem. HGH is the big problem. For the past four or five years, the league has been almost overrun by HGH. … The new testing procedures aren’t catching anyone, because players know there is almost no way to get caught.”

Like the NFL’s marijuana policy, the player said, a player using HGH will only get caught “if the NFL gets really, really lucky, like win-the-Lotto-every-month lucky.”

Players Bleacher Report spoke to estimated that somewhere in the range of 10 to 40 percent of current players use HGH. Various former players have had similar and even higher estimates. Former quarterback Boomer Esiason once said 20 percent of the league used HGH. Former quarterback Brady Quinn estimated the number to be 40 to 50 percent on the Roughing the Passer podcast on CBS Sports.

This apparent rampant use of HGH over the past five years or more has created—as one player explained—a league of “superfreaks” who continue to run faster, jump higher and break records. Quinn said he believes this is behind the rash of injuries across the NFL this past season, and players interviewed by Bleacher Report had similar concerns: that the massive use of the drug, or others like it, will have long-term health ramifications. Their worries sound similar to the concerns expressed by some players in the 1980s and 1990s about concussions.

“The bodies of players are basically acting as chemistry sets,” one veteran said. “What’s going to happen to these guys five or 10 years from now?”

All of this may change next season, when the league goes to a different type of test. Then, the league’s policy could be much tougher. More on that in a moment.

For now, the league’s testing program has no teeth, and a half-dozen players interviewed for this story say the reason why comes down to one word: isoform.

The NFL and union agreed to HGH testing in 2011. Testing did not begin until October 2014. The NFL says there are about 40 random tests a week during the regular season, five random tests per team during the postseason and other players who are subject to testing because of cause. Violators of the HGH policy are subject to a four-game suspension.

Adolpho Birch, the NFL’s senior vice president for labor policy, was asked if an HGH user has been caught by the NFL’s testing.

Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

“Remember, despite our efforts, the union would not agree to publishing the substances: Suffice it to say that it is as low as can be,” Birch told Bleacher Report in an email. “But I keep trying to emphasize that doesn’t mean the test is inferior, or that it is not sufficiently deterring use.”

When Birch says “as low as can be,” he is saying no player has been caught yet.

An email to George Atallah, the union’s assistant executive director of external affairs, was not immediately returned.

Back to isoform: The problem, longtime anti-doping analyst Don Catlin told USA Today‘s Brent Schrotenboer in February, is that isoform testing only works if the player is tested within a few hours of using HGH. It “doesn’t catch many people at all,” he said. “It’s not a test that’s designed to really do that. It will catch you if you just used it a few hours ago, but if it’s a day or more, it’s not going to find you.”

In other words, using the isoform test is the equivalent of the police staking out a house days after it was burgled.

Players say the entire player base is aware of this and that that is why there’s no fear of the league’s HGH testing procedure.

One player remembers a team union player representative briefing the team after the league and players agreed to the testing procedures. The message of the team rep, this player said, was that there’s little chance any player would ever get caught under these rules.

But this is where things get interesting, because Birch said the league will soon use a different form of testing.

“We are currently using isoform,” he said, “but I expect that we will add biomarker in the offseason.”

As David Epstein wrote for’s MMQB in July, “The biomarker test does not pick up doping within the previous two days, but the detection window extends back beyond that for at least a week, so it has the potential to be much more effective than the isoform test.” That would dramatically increase the chances of a cheating player getting caught. This type of testing, like all testing, would have to be agreed upon by the union.

What exactly is HGH? It’s a hormone that increases strength and reduces fat. Yet the characteristic of HGH that is also of great interest to NFL players is it helps the body heal from injury faster.

One of the only times the NFL catches HGH cheats are in instances like the one that involved former Patriots safety Rodney Harrison, who admitted to law enforcement officials in 2007 that he used HGH. This admission led to a four-game suspension.

Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

“I used it. I never had an issue with my groin ever again,” Harrison, now an analyst, said on NBC this past week. “It wasn’t smart. I put a foreign substance in my body and I don’t know the long-term effects. I have a black cloud over my career. I played 15 years and that doesn’t feel good. That’s embarrassing. But also I look at the kids, my kids and the kids that look up to me, and now I have to tell them why I did it. Maybe I can use this opportunity to let them know it’s not worth it, point blank, period. It’s just not worth it.”

Apparently, though, it’s worth it to many players in the NFL. It seems clear that they’re using HGH, and for now, it seems clear that there’s little chance they’ll be caught doing it.


Questions About the NFL Concussion Settlement

The NFL anounced a settlement with the 4,500 players who had sued over damages from head trauma. The settlement amount is $765,000,000, or $170,000 per player. That is the simple arithmetic of the settlement, but there is other language that raises more questions. For example, there is a individual cap of $5,000,000 per Alzheimers case, $4,000,000 for each chronic traumatic encephalopathy case, and $3,000,000 for each case of dementia.  This means that for one case of Alzheimers, soaks up the pool amount for 29 players. If there are 5% Alzheimers cases out of the 4,500 players, or 225 such cases, and each case soaks up only 20% of the cap, or $1,000,000 dollars, a reasonable number, I am told by those who know about this stuff, $225,000,000 of the settlement pool is gone with only 225 players paid. The same can be said for chronic traumatic encephalopathy, say 1% of the players are diagnosed and treated for that malady, or 43 players, $176,000,000 is gone. For dementia, and I have seen players with dementia, so that can’t be uncommon. let’s be conservative and say another 1% or 42 have that diagnosis, another $126,000,000 is gone. By simply estimating the number of players who contract the three named afflictions where damages are capped, $527,000,000 of the $765,000,000 pool is used up by 310 players.

This means that the pool is to be managed by a bank and interest earned. At 3.5% interest, the pool will double in 20 years, but there will be deductions to compensate injured players, so the pool will diminish. The NFL is very smart and has employed actuaries to estimate the incidence of the named maladies as well as the other injury and mental syndromes that may occur. They are betting on a lower incidence than the conservative estimate I made above. There is also the question of the claims processing system. Are claims simply paid on diagnosis, a pure liability system or can the NFL examine the player to determine the NFL’s percentage of fault compared to high school, college or non-sports related activites, or even past substance abuse? A hearing would determine the percentages that would then limit NFL liability. I don’t know what sort of methodology will be used, but given the numbers, some sort of limiting technique is implied by the settlement

This is the end of the case for 4,500 player/plaintiffs, but future plaintiffs may arise with the same symptoms. To avoid or, at least, limit these claims, the NFL will give each player a document indicating that playing football carries with it the risk of Alzheimers, chronic traumatic encephalopathy, and dementia, as well as other long term, debilitating conditions. This means that the players, having been warned, assume the risk of playing football and assumption of risk is a perfect defense in tort claims.

The concussion case settlement will pay injured players, but the NFL admits no fault. It does end a problematic class action lawsuit and subsequent remedial actions may prevent them in the future. Whatever you think, you have to admit the NFL is very good at handling its problems.

A Big Week in Sports: Spring Training, NFL, Hockey, NBA, NCAA Tournament

It just occured to me that this may be the most sports intensive week of the year. Where no major championships are on the line, virtually every major sports enterprise is in the news.

First, the NCAA tournament selections will occur tomorrow and fans are eager to see if their team, mine being the Minnesota Gophers, will make the “Big Dance.” Thirty one of the sixty-eight selections are automatic and go conference champions like Belmont of the Ohio Valley Conference, Florida Gulf Coast of the Atlantic Sun Conference, Liberty of the Big South, and Harvard of the Ivy League. The first action is the play-in round with the bottom four automatic teams playing the bottom four at-large teams for tournament spots. The methodology for selecting the at-large teams is a convoluted statistical system that picks teams based on difficulty of schedule, big wins and stuff like that. I think is sounds very random. Because of that, my Gophers may just make it.

Second, we are near the end of baseball’s Spring Training and the World Baseball Classic. As for Spring Training, it is an interesting period but its relevance will disappear on April 1 when the real season starts. As for the World Baseball Classic, I must admit this event is gaining some traction with the media and, it is assumed, fans around the world. With Puerto Rico’s defeat of the USA team, my own interest in the outcome lagged, but my interest in the event increased as this will be a more important event as time goes by.

Third, the NFL has the ability to remain in the forefront of media reports with its free agent period and coming league meetings. The NFL and Vikings ability to dominate the local media is an indication of its overall dominate position. The Vikings dominate by trading a disgruntled receiver, Percy Harvin, and then dominate by signing a free agent ex-Packer, Greg Jennings. Of great interest is the proposed rule change suggested by the Commissioner to make illegal helmet-first contact by a running back outside the “tackle box, ” that area of the field between the tackles and extending a few yards downfield. This is a major change in the way the game is played but is necessary given the concussion problem. This would make my high school football coach, Eddie Willamoski, angry as he thought the way to play was to plant your head in a tackler’s chest like a battering ram.

Fourth, the NBA is heading for playoffs with the unbeatable Heat leading the way. That doesn’t get much play here as our Wolves are well out of it. This has been a very discouraging year for the Wolves, who started well. The loss of All-Star Kevin Love has been devastating, but the loss of a single player should not doom a team that is otherwise solid. so there is a lesson there.

Lastly, hockey is dominating the local news with the Wild in second place in the NHL’s Northwest Division. So the team is playoff bound. Such is the local interest that the NHL is covered on page C8 of the Star Tribune. The big hockey stories are about the University of Minnesota Women’s and Men’s teams that are advancing in the WCHA Tournament. Of these teams, it is the Gopher Women who get the most interest. The women are 38-0, that’s right, 38-0 this year, and are the most dominant team Minnesota has ever had since the First Minnesota stopped Wilcox Confederates at Gettysburg in 1863. It is my favorite team and I think they will continue to win for a long time. Considering in-coming freshmen, this team will improve next year.

We can look forward to the frenetic NCAA tournament starting next week and extending until The Final Four April 6-8. The NHL and NBA playoffs will come with most interest local, as baseball takes over until the World Series, and the NFL season captivates us until the Super Bowl. That will take us into the new year and it all starts again. It is a wonderful time to be a sports fan. Go Gophs

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