By Jorel Lonesome
Vince McMahon is relaunching his ill-fated Xtreme Football League (XFL), and many Bronx residents object to its new discriminatory rules and what some see as McMahon taking a page from Donald Trump’s playbook.
“I think this is just his Donald Trump maneuver where Vince persuades the masses to get people interested then over time he’ll walk away from it,” said Bronx resident Raquel Brahmbhatt, 29, cashier at Gamestop on Greenwich St in Manhattan. Brahmbhatt believes that McMahon and Trump have similar approaches to gaining an audience for their shows. “Right now he’s a salesman, a clever businessman. So right now he’ll say whatever gets people’s attention.”
This will be the second time McMahon tries to get his extreme league off the ground. The original XFL debuted—and then failed—in 2001 as a joint venture between WWE and NBC. XFL’s gimmicks included fewer rules, rougher play, scantily clad cheerleaders, cross promotion with pro wrestling superstars, and innovative use of technologies during games, including player microphones and aerial cameras. However, fans quickly soured on the poor quality of games and focus on eccentric personalities.
On Thursday, Jan. 25, 2018, McMahon, the chairman and chief executive of WWE, announced his plan to relaunch the XFL. The reboot will be owned by McMahon’s Alpha Entertainment, a separate company from WWE. As he continues to revive the XFL, he will remain in his current position with WWE. This updated XFL will have eight teams, 40-man active rosters and a 10-week regular season schedule followed by playoffs. Its quicker, “family-friendly” version of football will limit games to about two hours.
However, McMahon also created new standards this time around, including a ban on players displaying their “politics” during games, a policy many Bronxites say is unfair, especially the rule against kneeling during the national anthem. In the XFL, players must stand for the national anthem, a practice McMahon sees as an opportunity to gain NFL fans who have expressed dissatisfaction over the ongoing player protests against racial injustice.
“People don’t want social and political issues coming into play when they are trying to be entertained,” McMahon told ESPN. “We want someone who wants to take a knee to do their version of that on their personal time.” McMahon also stated that he will not allow players with criminal records to join the league.
Some Bronx residents and workers argue this is opportunism and that it’s going too far. “Vince McMahon can always change the rules around,” said Bronxite Stephen O’Hara, 41, a retail sales associate at Home Depot in New Rochelle in Westchester County, New York. “I think he will reject players with criminal records that involve assault and domestic violence charges. The DUI and marijuana charges shouldn’t rule someone out. Violence, on the other hand, is a different story. I personally don’t want to see athletes that beat their wives, making thousands or millions of dollars for games that they play.”
Bronx residents also see McMahon’s decision to ban athletes that have criminal records from the XFL as hypocritical since the WWE chairman allows wrestlers with a rap sheet to work for him. “It’s contradictory of Vince McMahon to be annoyed at NFL players for having ‘politics’ interfere with the games and then have rules that are basically ‘no politics unless they’re mine,’” said Bronx resident Nicolás Cruz, 28, a cashier at Hot Topic in Kings Plaza Shopping Center in Brooklyn. “With that rule applied to WWE there’d be almost zero wrestlers on the roster. Wrestler Scott Hall was arrested years ago for choking out his girlfriend after falling into a drunken rage. Hall shot a man with his own gun and admitted that he killed him.”
Fellow Bronxite Daniel Weeks, 33, a volunteer at National Parks Conservation Association in New York City, agreed. “Wrestler Randy Orton might be one of the top stars of the WWE right now, but he has been suspended by the company for violating their wellness policy,” said Weeks. “Randy got arrested for going AWOL many times in the Marine Corps, and disobeyed orders from a commanding officer. He went to military prison for it.”
Kevin Draper argues in the New York Times that “McMahon is following, President Trump’s lead on politics as well as showmanship.” He points out that “Trump, who has denounced N.F.L. players’ protesting racial injustice by refusing to stand during the anthem, has long been involved with the McMahons and W.W.E. Linda McMahon, Vince’s wife, was appointed by Trump to run the Small Business Administration on Feb. 14th, 2017.”
“Trump has also hosted wrestling events at his properties,” Draper adds, “and has been involved in the showmanship, once shaving McMahon’s head in the middle of a ring. Trump was also involved in an alternative professional league in the 1980s, owning the New Jersey Generals of the short-lived United States Football League.”
While Draper states that McMahon had not consulted with Trump about the XFL, he notes that McMahon’s “ban on politics during games would extend to the president’s positions.”
Bronx native Nathan Daniels, 26, a Remote Computer Programmer at Euro-Pro Operating LLC in Boston, MA, agrees that McMahon is backing Trump’s positions. “I think Vince McMahon’s ideas or rules for the XFL are linked to his relationship with President Donald Trump,” Daniels said. “McMahon and Donald Trump worked together for years. Trump was a part of WWE’s main event storyline at WrestleMania 23 ‘The Battle of the Billionaires story arc.”
It remains to be seen whether McMahon’s new XFL venture will gain more traction than the original version. McMahon expects the XFL League to start play in 2020, according to the New York Times.