BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WOOD) — A former University of Michigan running back is back in the spotlight after a video clip went viral.
De’Veon Smith was cut April 5 by the Pittsburgh Maulers, one of the eight teams in the relaunched United States Football League. Now, we know that he was cut because he’s not a fan of chicken salad.
In a clip from “United by Football,” a television show produced by the league and airing on Fox and Fox Sports, Maulers coach Kirby Wilson tells Smith that he has been released by the team for violating a team rule for allegedly disrespecting a cafeteria employee.
Smith was shocked by the news, telling Wilson that he didn’t believe he was disrespectful, telling the cafeteria worker that he doesn’t like chicken salad and asking for a slice of pizza, instead.
“He said, ‘Is that going to be a problem?’ I said, ‘Yes,’” Smith told the coach. “It’s all I said. I didn’t say no cuss word, no nothing. That’s all I said, I promise you.”
After the video went viral, the team released a statement, saying Smith violated three team rules within a 24-hour period, including an incident with a cafeteria employee that was not caught on camera. Smith immediately denied breaking any team rules, saying he doesn’t know what rules the team says he violated.
Wilson criticized the episode, accusing the producers of only telling one side of the story.
“I have a set of standards that we go by as a football team. Those standards weren’t met,” Wilson said in Monday’s postgame news conference. “That individual knew prior that we would have a prior agreement to prevent a later misunderstanding. Once those incidents were brought to my attention, I addressed them immediately. Because these are life lessons, they have nothing to do with football. When you’re trying to teach people how to respect other people, no matter how you see or view them.”
Several former teammates showed their support for Smith. Mike McCray, a former linebacker at the University of Michigan and now an assistant coach at the University of Massachusetts, called Smith the best running back in the USFL and encouraged other teams to sign him.
Smith played four seasons at the University of Michigan from 2013-2016, racking up 2,235 rushing yards and 22 touchdowns, including 10 scores in his senior season. He signed with the Miami Dolphins as an undrafted free agent in 2017 and appeared in five games. He signed with the then-Washington Redskins in 2018 but never saw the field.
He played in the now-defunct Alliance of American Football in 2019 before earning some accolades in 2020, leading the XFL in rushing as a member of the Tampa Bay Vipers.
The 27-year-old spent last year on the practice squad of the BC Lions of the Canadian Football League.