Vince McMahon’s XFL wrestles with violence and player safety

In Opinion
(Anita Huor / Daily Titan)

Football reimagined. This is the idea CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc., Vince McMahon, pitched when he announced the revival of the Xtreme Football League during a press conference held on Jan. 25. However, McMahon had a different selling point this time around for the XFL.

Instead of promoting violence for the sake of entertainment, player safety was mentioned multiple times. McMahon also said the XFL was going to be family-friendly, making fans wonder if it might be the real deal this time around.

There need to be major changes in the new 2020 XFL’s rules regarding player safety, if the league wants to make a comeback.

The new league will be molded around the WWE, which was known for its bloody fights and intense fan base. The WWE was successful in early 2000 due to its ability to appeal to fans who wanted drama, flamboyant personalities and an abundance of violence. But this type of entertainment came at a price.

Chris Benoit, known as the Canadian Crippler, led a successful career in the WWE, but in 2007 he murdered his wife and son and then took his own life. He had suffered from multiple concussions and head trauma because of wrestling. Tests done by the Sports Legacy Institute showed his brain resembled that of an 85-year-old man with dementia.

In 2009, Andrew “Test” Martin, former WWE star, was found dead in his home after he overdosed on OxyContin. He was the second WWE wrestler to be diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, with Benoit being the first.

Since the incidents, the WWE has moved forward to try to make wrestling safer for its talent by banning specific moves, like curb stomping. But why it took such tragic instances for the WWE to take concussion protocol seriously is absurd and set a disturbing precedent for the XFL.

McMahon pushed his wrestlers to the edge for the fans, so he wanted to do the same for his football league. When the XFL started in 2001 it was a complete failure, only lasting one season. Numerous issues led to its demise, but the main one was a lack of concern for player safety because its main selling point was violence and fan service.

The team names were focused around violent themes, such as the New Jersey Hitmen, the San Jose Demons, and the Orlando Rage, and players were allowed to have nicknames like “Gladiator” and “ChronicY2K1” on the backs of their jerseys.

Instead of a coin toss at the beginning of the game, players would scramble in a one on one, running 20 yards to the football where the players would fight for possession. This led to an excessive number of injuries during its only season.

The XFL needs to change this time around, but McMahon has yet to publish an official rulebook. Most of the rules that he has announced are vague and fail to mention player safety. The game will be faster, and will not include a halftime. There will be eight teams, and each team will have a 40-man roster. There will be 10 games, two semi-final games, and one final championship game. Players will also be required to stand during the national anthem.

McMahon said that he would heed the advice of medical experts and that player safety is a priority.

“We’re going to ask a lot of questions and listen to players, coaches. We’re going to listen to medical experts, technology executives, members of the media and anyone else who understands and loves the game of football,” McMahon said in an interview with the Orlando Sentinel.

Whether he incorporates these suggestions into the new league has yet to be determined, but this hasn’t deterred some big names from possibly playing for the XFL.

Johnny Manziel, the Cleveland Browns quarterback, tweeted his interest using the hashtag #XFL2020 right after the announcement. McMahon has also openly invited Tim Tebow, former Denver Broncos quarterback, and Colin Kaepernick, former San Francisco 49ers quarterback, to join the league.

But violence in football isn’t attracting fans. The biggest names in the NFL come from players with talent, like Aaron Donald from the Los Angeles Rams, or Khalil Mack of the Oakland Raiders. Big hits and tackles are great, but the fans want to watch their favorite players go for the hail mary, the hook and ladder and the extra point.

While there are promises for improvement in player safety, there will be more information as the 2020 season comes closer and an official rulebook comes out. But for now, fans shouldn’t hold their breath waiting for the XFL to succeed, or for there to be any significant changes under McMahon’s guidance.

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