BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — The first game for the USFL could be considered a major victory as the opening game between the Birmingham Stallions and the New Jersey Generals raked in around 3.5 million viewers last weekend. But it is what fans saw before kickoff that has become the main takeaway from the upstart league.
Fans took notice of a moment during the series premiere of “United by Football,” a new show intended to give fans inside access to the teams in the USFL every week. The scene in question was an interaction between Pittsburgh Maulers head coach Kirby Wilson and running back De’Veon Smith, where the latter was cut from the team.
Smith can be seen walking into a room and is greeted by personnel with the USFL and Wilson who then informs the running back he would be let go from the team for allegedly being disrespectful towards someone involved with the USFL.
The former Michigan Wolverine tries to explain himself. His departure from the team seemed to have stemmed from an interaction he had with a member of the cafeteria staff during a meal. According to Smith, they were having chicken salad served to them, and he didn’t feel like eating it.
“I can tell you what happened exactly,” Smith said.
“It’s not important right now. It’s already happened,” Wilson replied.
“I didn’t say anything disrespectful,” Smith continued. “He said, ‘Is that going to be a problem,’ and I said, ‘Yes.’ That’s it. And I walked away. I didn’t think that was disrespectful. I don’t eat chicken salad, and I was like, ‘Is there another option?’ Walked in with pizza, and I was like, ‘Can I get a slice of pizza?’ He said, “No.” He said, ‘Is that going to be a problem?’ And I said, ‘Yes.’ That’s all I said, I didn’t say no cuss words, no nothing. That’s all I said, I promise you.”
Despite Smith’s explanation, Wilson stood by his decision to waive Smith from the Maulers ahead of the team’s first game.
“I appreciate you sharing that, but the matter’s done. Good luck,” he said.
The clip of the interaction quickly spread over social media with many questioning why Smith’s desire to have pizza would cause him to lose his job, a sentiment that Smith himself has shared on Twitter. When the show aired, he retweeted several mentions of the incident with captions downplaying the severity of the incident. He also tweeted a very simple “WILD!” in response to the scene.
After the initial story took off, the Maulers’ first game was postponed from Sunday to Monday due to weather. On Sunday, the team then released a statement that attempted to clear up some questions some fans–Smith included–had.
“On the first episode of “United by Football,” the weekly USFL all-access docuseries on FOX, Smith was shown on camera being cut from our team by coach Kirby Wilson. The show captures hundreds of hours of film with the intent of providing transparency to fans, but unfortunately, much of the context was left out in this moment. Smith violated three team rules in a 24-hour span, and in this particular incident, disrespected a cafeteria worker, which wasn’t captured on camera. Smith has subsequently reached out directly to coach Wilson to apologize and asked to be reinstated to the Mauler’s roster.”Pittsburgh Maulers
Smith then took to Twitter several more times to respond to the statement, including saying the team was lying about the interaction with the cafeteria worker and mentioning he has teammates who witnessed it and would corroborate with his claim that he wasn’t disrespectful.
“I was never made aware that I violated any team rules, let alone three in a 24-hour span. I never disrespected anyone. Coach Kirby and I spoke after being released. In that talk, he said that he’d certainly vouch for my character,” Smith said.
“The thing about this whole situation is I have a set of standards that we go by as a football team,” Wilson said. “Those standards weren’t met. These are life lessons, they have nothing to do with football. You’re trying to teach people how to respect other people. No matter how you see or view them. He had immediately reached back out, apologized, committed to trying to be a better man and a better person from the incident. But we had already moved on.”
Wilson was asked if he would help Smith rejoin the league on another club and said he’d be “more than willing to help,” but that no team has contacted him.
Smith has yet to be picked up by a team at this time. He has since joined Cameo, a company that allows people to purchase personalized messages from celebrities. Smith is charging $15 per video.
CBS 42 reached out to the USFL for comment but has not heard back.