“I think, again, it’s a time-honored tradition to stand and appreciate the national anthem with any sport,” McMahon said during a press conference introducing the league. “Here in America–for that matter, in any country…so I think it’d be appropriate to do that.”[XFL players should stand for national anthem, Vince McMahon says, by Thomas Barrabi, Fox Business, January 25, 2018]And, in another sharp break from NFL practice, McMahon also said that players would not be allowed to compete if they have criminal records. [No kneeling, no criminals: XFL's new rules draws cheers, jeers on Twitter, by Pete Blackburn, CBSsports.com, January 25, 2018]McMahon’s make sense considering his background. Though raised in North Carolina, he’s spent his adult life in Connecticut, where, after buying out his father’s stake in the WWF wrestling organization, he worked to consolidate wrestling territories across the country into the WWF (renamed WWE in 2002). The new wrestling franchise became a global phenomenon that created icons like Hulk Hogan, the Ultimate Warrior, Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Rock. From being a regional sideshow, McMahon turned the WWE into a powerful trendsetter in both sports and entertainment.The WWE has traditionally drawn on Politically Incorrect themes to create both heroes and villains. Older fans will remember Hulk Hogan desecrating the Soviet flag, as an American audience cheered wildly.But in more modern times, right-wing Americanism was treated with more complexity.Consider one “Jack Swagger,” who called himself a Real American, would use “We The People” as his slogan, brandished a Gadsden flag, and, as he himself noted, somewhat prophesized the rise of Trump. [Jack Swagger Talks WWE’s Fascination With Foreign Heel Gimmicks, Fightful, December 15, 2017]Swagger’s manager, “Zeb Coulter,” once went on a rant that Glenn Beck’s The Blaze called an attempt to “defame” the Tea Party. Coulter screamed:
I look around and I see a country I don’t even recognize. I see people with faces not like mine. I see people that I don’t even know what they’re saying. They can’t even talk to me. And I look around and I think, where did all these people come from? But most importantly I think, how do we get rid of ’em? We the people! Americans, real Americans, know the truth! Zeb Colter knows the truth! Jack Swagger knows the truth! Because this is the land of the free and the home of the brave, not the land of the free and whoever wants to cross our borders! … It’s our country and it’s our land, to protect and defend![Have You Heard the WWE’s Wildly Racist ‘Tea Party’ Wrestling Character Named Jack Swagger?, by Erica Ritz, February 20, 2013]Originally, Swagger was supposed to be a heel (villain). But he eventually became a face (good guy), with the audience joyously embracing his slogan of “We the People.” In some ways, it presaged how Donald Trump himself went from reality show heel to hero in the eyes of so many Americans.And that’s no accident. Trump (a WWE Hall-of-Famer) and McMahon are long-time friends, partnering together in the 1980s to promote WrestleMania IV and V at one of Trump’s Atlantic City properties [Donald Trump and WWE: How the Road to the White House Began at ‘WrestleMania,’ by Aaron Oster, Rolling Stone, February 1, 2017]. In 2007, they even faced off in a match at WrestleMania XXIII. (You’ve probably seen the edited video in which Trump clotheslines McMahon with a CNN logo.) Linda McMahon, is hardly an immigration patriot, President Trump nonetheless chose her to be head of the Small Business Administration and hosted the McMahon family at the White House.Vince McMahon appears to be a pure civic nationalist. He calls Martin Luther King his “hero.” But he also told Playboy in 2001 that “This country gives you opportunity if you want to take it, so don’t blame your environment” . [The Story of Vince McMahon, by David Shoemaker, The Ringer, June 2, 2016] Such proud patriotism doesn’t square with a “mainstream” rhetoric demanding adherence to concepts of “white privilege” and “structural racism.”Thus, it’s not surprising McMahon’s attempt to Make Football Great Again was quickly denounced as racist by the checkmarks on Twitter and as “divisive” by ESPN pundits. [Well That Didn’t Take Long: Rebooted Xfl Already Being Called Racist, By Donn Marten, Downtrend, January 25, 2018]Consider the reaction of one Bruce Arthur[Email him] a SJW sports columnist for the Toronto Star
Or ESPN’s Michael Wilbon:
XFL 2020 teamsEASTERN CONFERENCE Orlando Rage New York-New Jersey Deportations Birmingham Confederate Statues Chicago What About Black-on-Black CrimeWESTERN CONFERENCE Las Vegas Anthem Respecters Memphis KKK Chapter San Francisco No Gay Cakes Los Angeles ICE Sweeps— Bruce Arthur (@bruce_arthur) January 25, 2018
“[I]t seems like just garbage—like he wants to sell some sort of whitewashed, idealistic brand of something to the country. I don’t think people are going to buy that. I don’t think you have enough people to fill the spots to even play it. The game is going to end in two hours, you can’t have a criminal record, you can’t have any rebels because you’re all going to salute the flag. I don’t believe in people like this. I don’t believe in this guy, specifically.”[ESPN’s Wilbon Describes the XFL as a ‘Whitewashed, Idealistic Brand’ of Football, by Trent Baker, Breitbart, January 25, 2018]These are arrogant reactions considering NFL ratings were down 10 percent in 2017 from the prior year, with white fans making up 85 percent of the lost viewership. [The NFL’s 2017 ratings slide was mainly fueled by white viewers and younger viewers, by Jason Clinkscales, AwfulAnnouncing.com, January 8, 2018]. The actions of black players may have been praised by Leftist sportswriters, but many fans saw them as divisive.Enter the XFL.As the Daily Caller’s Scott Greer noted:
“They [fans] don’t want politics, they just want to sit back, relax and watch the game. And that’s what Vince McMahon understands. He has a very tough challenge competing against the NFL and the already-crowded field of sports right now, but just promising a politics-free sport where everyone stands for the anthem and we ban everyone with criminal convictions, you know, I think a lot of Americans would like that, and he sees a market opportunity right now.”[TheDC’s Greer On Fox Business: Americans Want Politics-Free Sports, by Justin Caruso, Daily Caller, January 26, 2018]In fact, there does seem to be a market for people who want to see a positive image of their country and who are disgusted with the NFL. [Veterans group not backing down from NFL over #PleaseStand ad rejected for Super Bowl program, by Peter Dawson, Star-Telegram, January 31, 2018] Like Trump, McMahon still believes the USA is like the nation of his youth, where hard work and love of country are the recipe for success in life. And he aims to serve that market.But McMahon may be underestimating what he’s facing. Colorblind patriotism is increasingly denounced as “white nationalism” today. And an increasing number of white people don’t just want an escape via politics-free entertainment—they really want their country back.As even professional sports begins to divide, every American is going to have to take a side on far more fundamental questions in the near future. The conflict is irrepressible.Paul Kersey[Email him] is the author of the blog SBPDL, and has published the books SBPDL Year One, Hollywood in Blackface and Escape From Detroit, Opiate of America: College Football in Black and White and Second City Confidential: The Black Experience in Chicagoland. His latest book is The Tragic City: Birmingham 1963-2013.