Brandon Howard: XFL Relaunch Sounds Like A Political Football League, Despite What Vince Says

The football league that failed 17 years ago is coming back in 2020, according to Vince McMahon, who held a press conference Thursday to officially make the announcement.

The returning season will be at the end of January or early February 2020, Vince said, a time when I fear my country will be embroiled in another painful set of presidential campaigns. Amid that -- if this league actually launches -- XFL players may be required to stand while America's national anthem is played over loud speakers, regardless of the nation's racially-influenced violence perpetrated by police officers.

It was a press conference designed to get out in front a lot of the knee-jerk criticisms that come to mind when someone utters those spectacular and hollow initials: XFL. What rang more hollow this time was Vince's denial that his league would have anything to do with politics.

McMahon all but outright said standing during the national anthem would be a rule for XFL players.

Vince, with Vinceisms always close at hand, called standing for the anthem a "time-honored tradition". It sounded like his 1997 explanation about why he double-crossed Bret Hart at the infamous Survivor Series event that year; the Canadian national hero simply -- supposedly -- would not abide by the "time-honored tradition" of losing on the way out.

After all, it was in McMahon's company where earlier in '97, Shawn Michaels shouted to Hart, "America: love it or leave it" to a roar of cheers from U.S. fans in attendance, who were baited to exercise not patriotism but nationalism.

Dr. Michael Eric Dyson wrote in his 2017 book "Tears We Cannot Stop" about the difference between patriotism and nationalism:

Many of you who oppose our dissent because of patriotism are really opposing us because of nationalism, and, whether you know it or not, a white nationalism at that... [Nationalism] is summarized in the saying, 'My country right or wrong.' Lump it or leave it... Nationalism is the belief that no matter what one's country does--whether racist, homophobic, sexist, xenophobic, or the like--it must be supported and accepted entirely.

Since the United States President started complaining on Twitter on September 23 about protests of NFL players during the anthem, many whites in America have rediscovered a level of worship for the U.S. flag not seen since the wake of 9/11.

A few weeks before the president's NFL tweets, Alpha Entertainment, LLC., was registered. During the media storm around the protests, Alpha filed for at least one trademark related to football on September 26. By December the company had filed for five more.

McMahon however asserted during the conference that he'd been thinking about doing football again even before the 30 For 30 documentary on the XFL aired on ESPN in February 2017.

"I have no idea if President Trump will support this," Vince insisted. "As far as our league is concerned, it will have nothing to do with politics and nothing to do with social issues either."

This is a dog whistle statement, even if the ignorance of the speaker prevented he himself from hearing the corruption in his own words. "No politics" has become code -- to be believed by both speaker and listener -- for the sort of censorship that keeps comfortable those of us in denial about racial inequality in America.

We're to believe someone can silence a political expression without, in that very act, making another political expression. There are no apolitical positions to take here: standing for a nation's anthem is a political act; not standing is a political act; requiring others to stand is a political act. If the XFL has a rule about behavior during the anthem, it will have everything to do with politics.

This would be the case, even if we were to disregard the McMahon family's decades of friendship with the Trump family. And it would be the case even if we forgot Linda McMahon, Vince's wife, is a member of the president's cabinet: an appointment that may or may not have been influenced by the McMahon family's millions of dollars of donations to the Trump Foundation and other Republican campaigns and causes.

Vince cashed out nearly $100 million in WWE stock without input from his wife, he'd like us to believe.

He was asked: "Did you seek [Linda's] opinion on this decision?"

He smiled and replied with only one word: "No."

McMahon was questioned on whether former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, with whom the recent anthem protests in the NFL began, would be welcome to play in the XFL.

"Again I think anyone who plays the game of football well and meets our criteria, in terms of the quality of the human being as well as the player-- why not?" Vince grinned once more.

"As long as everyone abides by the rules as laid down."

Three times during the conference Vince noted "the quality of the human being" would be a factor in determining who would be eligible to play in the XFL. Players who "have any criminality whatsoever associated" or who have a DUI "will not play in the XFL". But what other human qualities will Vince value in the players? Political obedience?

The WWE CEO is a self-professed champion of free speech. Whether it was in his feud with the Parents Television Council in 1999 and 2000, or his "Stand Up For WWE" campaign in 2010, he too has claimed to be a victim of censorship. But for Vince apparently censorship is okay as long as it's only censoring an idea he and his powerful friends don't like nor understand.

As the conversation has been deflected away from racial inequality and police brutality, some have argued the protests are somehow disrespectful to veterans. I'm aware of some veterans who dislike the protests. For me, I meant to defend a country that accepts freedom of speech, even if I don't like the speech, because without dissent we will never be better, let alone great.

The pathetic throes of a blindingly white nationalism in my troubled country leave nearly no part of American life untouched. This will be the case at least until we can surrender our perpetual denial that so many of our social problems are at bottom about differences like race.

We'll be able to escape -- politics-free -- in entertainments like American football and pro wrestling only when there's nothing remaining to rightly protest, and only when those events themselves are not seething with the oppressing fumes of a white domination, with words like "the quality of the human being" billowing beneath vibrant new branding. It's as if Vince was referring to something else when he spoke of a "time-honored tradition".

Brandon is a business analyst and columnist for Fightful.com. Email him at [email protected]. Follow him at @BrandonThurston. He co-hosts Wrestlenomics Radio, a podcast on wrestling business.

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