The one thing we know for sure after Vince McMahon announced in a conference call on Thursday that he will relaunch the XFL is that McMahon himself is still cagey. It’s tough to say we know much about the league, beyond McMahon’s promise that it’s coming in two years; we’re still in the stage of development in which McMahon is holding back details and teasing the audience. It says a lot about the league he teased that several of my fellow members of the liberal media were moved to push McMahon about whether XFL players would be forced to stand for the national anthem. It says a lot about the moment we’re in that any of us are even talking about this.
Alpha Entertainment, the parent company of the new venture, is owned by McMahon and has no affiliation with WWE. It was Alpha that filed for various football-related trademarks right as President Donald Trump’s war on NFL players was heating up, which led to speculation that “MAGA football” was, in fact, the plan. Speculation, of course, is what we do. It’s not like we ever hear about this stuff from people within the company and were informed by that from the start.
The implication that there will be a “no protests” rule in McMahon’s new XFL was one of the few clear messages of the call, which was mostly a matter of Vince playing fifth dimensional chess with the muckrakers. Most of it was just weird, starting with the decision to open the conference call with an XFL-themed rap song that was completely original and clearly took a lot of time to write. The song teased the audience with an integrated daily fantasy and/or gambling component—“This is gaming and fantasy, this is padded roulette/Make a trade. Make a team. Make a move. Make a bet.”—which Vince proceeded to promote by never mentioning it once. There was one thing, though, that McMahon made clear that was not mentioned in the song: With this being a family-friendly league, just like his other company, Vince wants XFL players to be people who do “not have any criminality associated with them whatsoever.” DUIs/DWIs were mentioned as a specific deal-breaker.
Vince must have been tired by an incredibly busy week, and forgot that Joshua “Jey Uso” Fatu, one half of his SmackDown Tag Team Champions in WWE, was arrested for a DWI in Hidalgo, Texas earlier this month. After all, it would be uncouth to have a double standard between these two equally family-friendly companies. McMahon is in his 70s, and as such it makes sense that he would have no recollection of the following wrestlers who appeared on this week’s 25th anniversary edition of Monday Night Raw having criminal records:
- Jeff Hardy, who, when facing potential drug dealing charges based on the quantity of pills he received when a fan offered to send them to him (in a coffee can, no less) pled out on lesser charges in 2011. His brother, Matt, copped a no contest plea to assault and battery charges in 2014 after a domestic incident with his wife, Rebecca. She also pled no contest on the same charges.
- Steve Austin, real name Steve Williams, who entered a no contest plea in a 2002 domestic violence case that was covered heavily at the time. He opened Monday’s Raw with Vince and the McMahon children.
- Booker “Booker T” Huffman, who was convicted of armed robbery as a teenager after holding up several Wendy’s restaurants. So was Hassan “MVP” Assad, who was part of a group that carefully planned a heist onboard a floating casino.
- Kurt Angle, who has four documented DUIs; he claims that he bribed a judge with $800 to make a fifth go away.
- Ashley “Charlotte Flair” Fliehr, who pleaded guilty to resisting an officer in 2008; police shocked her with a taser after she kicked the police officer in question.
It’s not as if there’s any kind of long history pro of wrestlers being criminals. That would be silly. Vince McMahon produces family entertainment, even if the haters say otherwise. They act like he’s gone out of his way stage lavish tributes to murderers, but who in their right mind would do that? Regardless, on a conference call where there was little concrete messaging, the XFL’s “criminality” ban stood out as an exception. It may have been, at least in large part, a tip of the hat to WWE’s recent firing of Eric “Enzo Amore” Arndt this week after he didn’t tell the company about being the subject of an ongoing criminal sexual assault investigation. But in light of the racial schism that has been exposed and deepened the NFL player protests, it’s easy to see why fake news cynics might think that Vince was using dog whistle language to signal to racists.
Look closely, though, and it’s clear that such a conclusion is clearly unfounded. No websites catering to that subsection of the population ran lists of the protesting NFL players’ criminal histories without any kind of legitimate reason. It’s not like anyone notable ever compared the protesting black football players to criminals and got in trouble for it or anything like that, either. Suggesting that McMahon is likely attempting to profit off racism when he speaks of the “time-honored tradition” that is the “Star-Spangled Banner” would be completely out of character for him. He has never, ever been insensitive to the black community; his love the anthem is definitely not a brand-new development after he made a habit out of replacing it with “America The Beautiful” for decades. Vince McMahon is for real, or anyway ever bit as for-real as he ever has been.
David Bixenspan is a freelance writer from Brooklyn, NY who co-hosts the Between The Sheets podcast every Monday at BetweenTheSheetsPod.com and everywhere else that podcasts are eavailable. You can follow him on Twitter at @davidbix and view his portfolio at Clippings.me/davidbix.