It’s a bit of a somber day today, the first Sunday without NFL football since the beginning of last August. The Pro Bowl will be played later today, an exhibition that may hold some interest for the friends and family of the players involved, but the sad truth is that after next weekend’s Super Bowl we enter that weird part of the sporting world’s calendar where there is not much to do but feign interest in baseball’s spring training and hope that our NBA and NHL teams are among the half of those leagues that qualify for their several month long playoffs.
WWE founder and chairman Vince McMahon wants to change that, using $100 million of his own money to re-start the XFL, a second professional football league that played for one season in 2001. It will have eight teams and play a ten week schedule starting in 2020.
This time around the XFL will be supposedly be different, without all the foolishness that made it hard to take seriously the first time around. Details are still forthcoming but McMahon promises a simpler game, with less downtime and games that should finish about an hour faster than those of the NFL.
He’s also making some rules, rules that as sole owner of the league he is completely within his rights to implement.
A person’s character, based apparently on his interpretation of it, will determine whether or not they get to play. Anybody that’s ever been arrested, conviction or not, is immediately disqualified. These past several weeks of workouts and strict adherence to the Tom Brady Cookbook apparently in vain as my final attempt at sports glory ended before they ever really began.
All players will also be required to stand for the National Anthem, saying that “people don’t want social and political issues coming into play when they are trying to be entertained” and “we want somebody who wants to take a knee to do their version of that on their personal time.”
I’ve never been a big fan of this particular form of protest. I’ve even more so never been a fan of those telling these players that they can’t. I appreciate Mr McMahon’s and every other employer’s right to impose whatever rules, within reason, that they feel might influence the success of their business.
It’s certainly not my place to question the business acumen of a billionaire, but I’ll admit to wondering if Mr McMahon might be reading the room incorrectly in this case. I do know some people that were boycotting the NFL this year, and even a local bar that refused to show the games on Sundays. I decided to boycott that bar.
The last time around the XFL was seen as an alternative to the buttoned down, too conservative NFL that was increasingly legislating out the fun and hard hits that had made the league so popular too begin with. Is this new incarnation a reaction to a perceived liberalism that some see as the reason for a 17% drop in ratings over the past two seasons?
The truth is that I’m not sure, no longer comfortable assuming that I know how reasonable people think anymore, or that there are that many of them. The truth is that NFL players are arrested much less frequently than than the general population but I’m just as guilty about writing more about Adrian Peterson than about the the good guys in the league as anybody else. I don’t know how many people even pay attention to the Anthem or just have strong ideas about what should happen when it’s played.
I know that football in America still draws more viewers than any other televised event and that ratings are down across all sports and all programming, the amount of competition for viewership and attention unprecedented.
I also know that people won’t watch mediocre or bad football without some sort of emotional attachment. I still watch the Miami Dolphins (mediocre) and the Uconn Huskies (bad) because they are my teams. During the one year that the United Football League was in existence I attended a Hartford Colonials game because it was local. If the XFL isn’t coming to a city near me I’m going to have a hard time gathering all that much enthusiasm.
Will I watch? It’s hard to say. I love the game but have no problem admitting my feelings of hypocrisy for doing so, the inherent cop out that I have by having daughters and being able to avoid any decision about whether or not to allow my child to play. That CTE and player injuries weigh heavier on my mind than they used to.
I’ll admit that a distaste for Vince McMahon and the direction that that WWE has gone in since the days of my childhood and my own memories of Hulk Hogan and others of that era clouds my perception. That I can’t ignore the fact that our current President once body slammed him and shaved his head as part of WrestleMania 23 or that his wife now holds a cabinet position as Administrator of the Small Business Administration.
Apparently this is where we are at America, so divided by partisanship and ideology that even the prospect of watching a few extra months of football now requires a decision about whether or not we are going against our principles by supporting it.
How did this happen?