Some among you may remember the spectacular failure known as the XFL — the “Extreme Football League” that was the brain child of World Wrestling Federation owner Vince McMahon. Imagined as a more violent, less regulated, and more theatrical version of professional football that would host its games during the NFL’s off-season, the XFL lasted for exactly one season in 2001 before folding. It gave us memorable characters such as the titularly referenced “He Hate Me,” and caused sports commentator Bob Costas to describe its premise as combining “mediocre high school football with a tawdry strip club.” It lost $70 million in one year. It was, in other words, very, very bad.
But like so many bad ideas, it is finding new life in the Trump era, mainly because McMahon sees an opportunity to cash in on the racial resentment of white fans who don’t like NFL players taking advantage of their constitutionally protected rights to free speech:
After a month of bewildering speculation, wrestling magnate Vince McMahon has officially announced he’s bringing back the XFL, the XTREME football league he first tried to launch in 2001, only for it to fail miserably and collapse after a single 10-game season. The plan is to kick off the league in 2020, with eight teams competing in a 10-game regular season, followed by two semi-final playoff games and a championship game. And that’s about all the solid information McMahon came prepared to share. No players. No cities signed up to host teams. No hard plans for how you’ll actually watch the damn thing beyond buzzwords like “multiplatform.” Instead, McMahon spent plenty of time staring into the camera asking how you, the fans who have had football taken away from them, would rebuild the game and promising to deliver “more of the things you like to see and less of the things you don’t.”
It’s obvious who McMahon is really addressing when he points his glassy shark eyes at the camera and says he wants to return the game of football back to “the fans.” Although he’d later claim this XFL revival has nothing to do with the collective tantrum conservatives are throwing over NFL players kneeling during the national anthem to protest institutional racism and police brutality, he also made it clear there’s no room for politics in his football league. “When we come on to the field, we’re here to play football. That’s everyone’s job,” he said, repeating the refrain of angry, privileged NFL fans who—if we listen to the most privileged and angry of them all, perennial liar, WWE Hall Of Famer, and recipient of at least $6 million in campaign donations from the McMahon family, Donald Trump—are turning away from the league in record numbers because they’d rather not see the Black players who destroy their bodies for entertainment make use of constitutionally protected free speech.
It’s probably even odds as to whether or not McMahon’s close friend and VERY SMART INVESTOR Donald J. Trump — who appointed McMahon’s wife to be Small Business Association Administrator last year — eventually buys an XFL franchise, provided the league doesn’t die first. It would be Trump’s second go-round of professional football franchise ownership. For those unfamiliar, his first was in the the mid-80s when he purchased the United States Football League’s New Jersey Generals; exploded the franchise’s budget; self-promoted relentlessly rather than promoting and shepherding the young league; bullied and manipulated his fellow franchise owners into making the insane choice to switch from spring games to fall, thus entering head-to-head competition with the NFL; initiated an antitrust lawsuit against the NFL to try to force a merger; and lost. He literally put the entire league out of business, and then claimed that he was the only one keeping it alive in the first place. He’s been trying without success to buy an NFL team ever since.
So I guess Trump and the XFL is actually an ideal match.
EDIT: In comments, Wuulf posted this letter from Tampa Bay Bandits owner John Bassett to Trump, which I remember reading about but don’t think I’ve ever seen. What a fantastic artifact. “You are bigger, younger, and stronger than I, which means I’ll have no regrets whatsoever punching you right in the mouth the next time an instance occurs where you personally scorn me, or anyone else, who does not happen to salute and dance to your tune.”