The XFL: Where everyone stands for the anthem. And everyone is concussed.
If you thought NFL play had deteriorated thanks to a dearth of dynamic quarterbacks, wait until there’s an entire league of undrafted scrubs playing sub-Alabama ball for the right-wing niche audience that won’t watch real football anymore because of pre-game protests.
It’ll be nice to see Johnny Manziel and Tim Tebow back on the field, though, won’t it? Imagine the buzz if they lead their respective teams to the championship game, Toilet Bowl I.
— WWE (@WWE) January 25, 2018
The hook for the original XFL was right in the name: Xtreme. (Er, extreme.) They were going to hit harder, with fewer rules to rein them in, than the overpaid nancy boys in the other league. Nearly 20 years and various CTE horrors later, that hook is no longer available to Vince McMahon. If he’s going to go extreme this time, the obvious move is to go garishly political. The moment seems right, as mainstream politics has never been more garish than it is in the age of Trump. Trump is a friend of McMahon and his wife Linda, in fact, having made some memorable cameos for the WWE over the years and later appointing Linda to head the Small Business Administration. If McMahon launches a “more patriotic” version of the NFL, Trump himself will end up cheerleading for it publicly. McMahon has an audience of diehard Trump fans waiting for him right out of the box.
McMahon said players in his league will not be given the forum to take a personal stance while on the playing field…
“People don’t want social and political issues coming into play when they are trying to be entertained,” McMahon said. “We want someone who wants to take a knee to do their version of that on their personal time.”
McMahon said being the only owner of all of the teams will allow him to do whatever he wants.
With super-patriotism as the hook, interest in the new XFL should stay strong for, oh, a good three or four weeks before the quality of play starts bumming everyone out. I don’t understand why McMahon’s even interested in the idea. He’s not a sports mogul, he’s a cartoonist. His knack has always been for drawing up simple yet colorful good-versus-evil feuds among incredible hulks, then running them through carefully choreographed ballets. You can’t choreograph a football game in a semi-believable way. (Unless you’re an NFL ref in the tank for the Patriots.) And there are too many players involved in a game to draft coherent storylines for them. Even if you found someone like Richard Sherman who can play at an elite level and talk smack at an elite level, there’s no guarantee that he would be a major factor in his team’s game that week. So McMahon’s stuck. If he rigs the games to make the feuds better, the result will likely seem even cruder and more transparent than the choreography in wrestling matches is. If he sits back and lets the players compete earnestly, he’ll end up with a lot of busted narratives as the anticipated conflict between stars never materializes. What happens if the XFL hypes a big feud between Sherman and quarterback Hulk Hogan and Sherman never gets an opportunity in the fourth quarter to pick him off?
CBS claims that the league probably won’t start play until 2020 at the earliest. Imagine if McMahon moves heaven and earth to create a MAGA-FL and then, just as the league’s launching, Trump gets tossed out of office by voters. If I were him, the first guy I’d sign is — drumroll — Colin Kaepernick, as he’s likely to be among the best players available to the new league and he’s a perfect “heel” for the mostly right-wing audience. He’s also the one unsigned NFL talent whose presence would get left-wingers interested in the league at the start. Whether Kaepernick’s willing to be a villainous prop for McMahon is an open question; it’d give him a chance to play, at least, and as the public got used to seeing him on the field again, it’d make NFL teams more comfortable signing him later. But what does McMahon do when Kaepernick decides he wants to keep kneeling during the anthem? Send Hogan out there to leg-drop him?
The league will have eight teams, play a 10-week season, and games will be sped up to try to finish within two hours. Oh, and no Manziel — McMahon says he doesn’t want anyone with a criminal record, although I have no idea why. Drafting guys out of prison would be one of the few ways to make this bound-to-be-terrible sport interesting. Free advice: Have the winner of the XFL playoffs play Alabama in the Semi-Pro Bowl. That’s one easy gimmick that would draw public curiosity.