Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Born Out of Tragedy: The Alarmingly True Story of the Randy Savage Memorial League

Randy Savage, the inspiration for the league

Grief spread around the country on May 20, 2011. When the news broke that professional wrestling legend Randy Savage had passed away from a sudden heart attack, the world stopped, if even for a moment.

“I knew I had to do something. Randy would have wanted us all to do something.” Nicholas O’Brien was a mere law student on that day. “I had saved up some money, and I knew that Randy would want me to do something big.”
O’Brien began sending out feelers to others he had met in school. He first contacted his two roommates, Justin Denton and Justin Otten. “Justin was totally on board when I first floated the idea out to him. Justin, on the other hand, was a lot more skeptical.”
The idea was to start a brand new professional football league in direct competition with the National Football League. The recently begun United Football League had branded itself similarly in its 2009 debut, but the league was little more than a collection of NFL castoffs and draft busts. O’Brien envisioned the RSML as more, much more. He knew he was going to have to steal NFL players from their teams and compensate them for breaching their contracts.
O’Brien also knew that he would have to strike quickly; the NFL’s labor situation was deteriorating rapidly and there would be no better time to strike than in the months ahead. “June and onward was the critical time. We needed to get in with the players, and start to make some deals before the NFL would get its collective bargaining situation figured out.”
Word was sent out to the NFL Players’ Association that a new young investor was looking to kickstart a new league. Though O’Brien intended to keep this news quiet, word quickly leaked out. On Tuesday, May 23rd, news about the new league was the lead story on SportsCenter. Much of the early reporting was skeptical.
“Does this O’Brien character really think that the Tom Bradys and Adrian Petersons of the world will really jump ship from a proven commodity like the NFL to join this flash in the pan league named after some wrestler? This is absolutely ridiculous! I can’t believe that anyone inside the NFL is taking this seriously,” commented radio and television host Colin Cowherd on his morning radio program that day. Cowherd laughed, “It’s completely absurd. Just a total waste of money.”
O’Brien was undaunted. With secrecy blown, he started directly contacting the players’ agents. “Most of them didn’t really take me seriously at first. But when they heard the amount of money I was going to be throwing around, things got a lot more real.”
As life is wont to do, events in O’Brien’s life slowed down the negotiations. O’Brien had planned to spend the summer in Europe, dividing his time between Vienna, Austria and Budapest, Hungary. The trip proved lucrative for both O’Brien and the nascent league. He met two of his major investors while abroad. The first was Sophia Hall, an Oakland native who had built her wealth through medical devices designed for people recovering from wrist surgery. The second one was Michael Leahy.
O’Brien reminisced about those first moments meeting Leahy, “I knew there was something about this Mike Leahy guy. Yeah, he had the money to help, even though he never told me where he got it, but he also had a spark that I knew would ignite the league and help it catch fire.”
A descendant of Tennessee trailer park owners, Leahy is a hard-drinking, foul-mouthed and yet gregariously likable individual who impressed O’Brien immediately. “I knew he could start a cornerstone franchise, one that would become like the Pittsburgh Steelers of the NFL. Or at least like the Oakland Raiders. Leahy is really more like an Al Davis-type anyway.”
It also helped that Leahy had political connections as well. His great-uncle, Patrick Leahy, is the current Democratic Senator from the state of Vermont. Leahy told us that his uncle had always inspired him to reach his goals. “And now I needed that motherfucker to reach with me. Get off his old ass and sue those NFL motherfuckers.”
And so they did. An antitrust lawsuit was filed in federal court against the NFL by O’Brien’s collective of investors. In unprecedented swiftness, O’Brien won. The NFL appealed the decision, but in the now landmark decision, National Football League v. O’Brien, the Supreme Court leveled a devastating two-barreled blow to the NFL. Not only would a large portion of the NFL’s contracts be summarily voided, but the NFL would have to pay out a large undisclosed sum of money to O’Brien’s new league.
Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia
“This has gone on long enough. It is time for American sports to embrace American ideals. The way that we have treated professional sports leagues in this country has run so antithetical to the ideals set forth by our Founding Fathers as to be profoundly disturbing. Today, by a vote of 8-1, we hold that government mandated monopolies of this type shall no longer be valid as a matter of federal law,” read Justice Antonin Scalia’s famous opinion.
The lone dissenter, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, was dismayed by the decision. She commented to the Washington Post that, “This is not American justice. The NFL, Major League Baseball, and the NBA are unique organizations in the context of the American economic system.”
Leahy was quoted in that same article, “What a bitch.”
O’Brien was now able to instruct his legal team, headed by future owner Colin Murphy, to begin sending out firm offers around the country. This dealt a devastating blow to the labor negotiations of the NFL. The former NFLPA had recently decertified as a union, and re-organized as the Randy Savage Memorial League Players’ Association. The RSMLPA sat down in a conference call with O’Brien, Leahy and the other investors in early July.
“That shit was crazy. They wanted our dicks so bad. That motherfucker Nick and I were only too happy to give them to the players. And baby, they sucked ‘em hard. We got everything we wanted in that fuckin’ negotiation. I don’t know what the fuck those fuckers were thinking. The NFL really fucked up. We took those bitches and fucked ‘em straight in the ass.” Leahy was extremely positive about the initial negotiation sessions he had had with the new RSMLPA. “We fucked ‘em good.”
Without the same elaborate revenue sharing plan or salary cap that had pinned down player wages in the NFL, star players were demanding and receiving enormous salaries from the new owners. On the flip side, however, the lesser role players on the teams found themselves facing sharply reduced wages.
Avon Barksdale of The Wire
Sports columnist Bill Simmons put it this way: “The sports world suddenly reflected The Wire. Where we used to have everyone getting paid well and pretty evenly, we now had a system where Tom Brady and Peyton Manning were like Avon Barksdale and Marlo, making all the money, and everyone else on the team like Bodie, making a little money but really just taking all the shit.”
With the downfall of the NFL, the players really had little choice. RSMLPA president DeMaurice Smith promised a better deal the next time around. “I really didn’t think it would pan out this way. I’m probably going to get fired.”
With the players locked up and under contract, all that was left to do was to assign cities to the owners and hold a draft. Rather than the East Coast focus of the NFL, many of the RSML teams were based in the west. Hall was granted a team in Oakland, and Murphy a team in San Francisco. Justin Otten started his team down in Los Angeles. The eastern part of the country wasn’t neglected, though, with O’Brien’s team located in Detroit and Amanda Snyder opening her team in Brooklyn. Other owners were spread out throughout the country.
Controversy, of course, arose with the announcement of the placement of Leahy’s team. To gather the southern market, and due to his southern ties, Leahy was given Orlando. He didn’t go quietly. “What did I do to deserve this shit? Goddamn I hate it here. But I’m gonna put on a good face, maybe put on some charity events or some shit to really draw those idiots in.” Rumors of potential lawsuits and even criminal charges have emerged from Leahy’s office since he was forced to locate his team in Orlando.
Despite the unbelievably quick turnaround and lightning-fast preparations, the first week of the RSML went off without a hitch. Apparently America’s love of football knows no allegiance to one brand name or another. Attendance records for American football were shattered across the country that first week, and players warmed to their new locales.
“It’s nice being here. I really respect the ownership and the league structure. I’m sad to see all my NFL records disappear, but I’ll be sure to set some more in the RSML. I do kind of miss [former New England Patriots head coach Bill] Belichick, though.” Quarterback Tom Brady was sentimental as he walked off the field after his first game with his new team, Ndamukong Suh the Bastards.
“But you know who I really miss? Randy Savage. Wherever you are, buddy, we’re doing this for you.”

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