ESPN 30 for 30 Shorts: The Pittsburgh Drug Trials (2015)

Directed by Michael Jacobs

I have found that the level of intrigue and craft in the 30 for 30 series, shorts or feature, has maintained such a high level through its remarkable run into a third volume beginning this fall. However, with that tremendously high level of craftsmanship over a period of time that includes well over 100 films, the series is bound to deliver a clunker every now and then. The Pittsburgh Drug Trials, unfortunately, is one of those clunkers. There is quite a bit about this story that could be quite interesting, especially given the players involved in such a drama unfolding amidst a great sports reign in the Steel City.

During the late 1970s, Pittsburgh found itself the center of the sports world with the Super Bowl champion Steelers and the World Series champion “We are Family” Pirates, whose famed these song brought the city together for a championship on the strength of Willie “Pops” Stargell. Pittsburgh, however, soon found itself the center of a controversial trial concerning the distribution and use of cocaine in the 1980s. Commissioner Peter Ueberroth began an inquiry to oust the use of cocaine and other drugs in MLB, looking to become a pioneer professional sports league in drug testing. As we all now following the steroid scandals of the 1990s and early 2000s, that vision did not come to pass.

Michael Jacobs’ film unfortunately lacks any bravado or punch to it, instead playing out too procedurally to even whiff at interesting material. The truly unfortunate thing is I believe this material could be quite interesting if presented in a more striking and imperative manner. Instead we get talking heads with such a slight disinterest that I can hardly believe that the men involved are either sorry or aware of the cultural and business impact their actions in the 80s has had on not just the game of baseball, but drug culture in the United States in general. “Oh yea, I dealt drugs to players, it was the thing to do back then. It was cool. No big deal.” “Oh yea, I watched this short about the Pittsburgh drug trials, it was whatever, no big deal.” No, seriously. No big deal.

** – Poor

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