The XFL is back, or will be back in 2020. It will be, according to Darren Rovell, without all the gimmicks that were part and parcel of the original version. In a play to provide a contrast to the NFL, where player protests made their way onto the field during the pre-game anthem the last two years, Vince McMahon has said that all players will be required to stand during the anthem.
That move will be popular with a large segment of the football fan population, and will provide a PR play for the new league. McMahon also said that the league will not have players with criminal records.
McMahon also said he would preclude any player with a criminal record, which would disqualify former Texas A&M quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel.
“We are evaluating a player based on many things, including the quality of human being they are,” McMahon said. If you have any sort of criminal record or commit a crime you aren’t playing in this league.”
Manziel, however, tweeted at McMahon to express his interested in playing in the league.
That announcement might play in the short-term, but it seems to be a miscalculation of the fanbase he is seeking. Do football fans truly care that the entire football team is composed of “choir boys?” I’d say–based on watching football, football news, both in college and the pros, for 30+ years–the answer is no, with an asterisk. This doesn’t mean that prominent cases don’t create outcry and fan discontent. We saw this once video of Ray Rice emerged. We saw it with Greg Hardy, but that didn’t stop the owner most prominently associated with “the players should stand”–Jerry Jones of the Cowboys–from signing him.
Do the big-time college football program fans stop going or donating if they have a player arrested, get suspended for a game, then return to action for “violation of team rules?” Not typically. And let’s face it, a lot of the fans of college football are who this league will be courting, by drawing a contrast to the NFL.
Or, say, go to Arrowhead. The outcry and anger over Marcus Peters kneeling for the anthem is palpable, even though Peters does plenty of good things in the community. You won’t hear anyone upset, though, over Tyreek Hill making a big play this year, and Hill is still on probation for a domestic abuse incident.
I know that the league won’t be up and running yet and he won’t be a candidate, but imagine a player like Baker Mayfield, and imagine that player not quite being a first-round candidate, but being a guy the XFL could get to start right away. Well, Mayfield plead guilty to public intoxication and disorderly conduct in college. You telling me that the XFL, and its fans, would rather not have a star quarterback in the league, because of that conviction? Come on.
I think it’s a miscalculation–whereas the anthem thing I think is a play that will be well-received by the target audience. It also leads to many questions and puts McMahon in the same role that has lead everyone to be cynical of Roger Goodell. What happens with arrests of players already on the field? Is it consistent? It sounds good to say you are tough on crime (WWE’s history would suggest this might be a new position), but it was probably wiser not to play up a hard-line stance there.