Magazine article In These Times

Trump's Fantasy Football League

Magazine article In These Times

Trump's Fantasy Football League

Article excerpt

There's a distinctly American culture surrounding football: People watch with their families over Thanksgiving, throw parties for the Super Bowl, tailgate before games. And-while some sports (the NBA, for instance) tend to have leftleaning fans, and others (think NASCAR) find most of their viewers in red states-the NFL tends to be popular across the political spectrum. Perhaps that's what made the league's recent string of player protests so divisive.

Then-San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick rocked the sports world in August 2016 by kneeling during the national anthem to protest white supremacy. Soon, NFL players across the country were taking a knee before each game. Support was widespread, but so was opposition: Kneeling was condemned as "unpatriotic," the American Veterans organization called to boycott this year's Super Bowl and enraged fans on both sides boycotted the whole season. President Donald Trump called the league "weak and out of control" for failing to crack down on kneelers.

At least part of the objection from Trump and the Right seems to be that workers-in particular, workers of color-are standing up for themselves, speaking out beyond their role as entertainers. In a September 2017 speech, Trump once again called for action: "Wouldn't you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, 'Get that son of a bitch off the field, he's fired'?"

Enter Vince McMahon. On January 25, the World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) chairman and CEO (and Trump supporter) announced the revival of his once-defunct football league, the XFL. The wrestling mogul said the league, launching in 2020, will be "nonpartisan" and keep politics off the gridiron. League spokesperson Lou D'Ermilio, in an email to In These Times, made the league's position clear: "Players will be required to stand for the National Anthem."

The league will also ban players with a criminal record, and all eight teams will be owned by the newly formed Alpha Entertainment LLC, a company McMahon started with the $100 million he received from selling 3.34 million WWE shares.

It is likely no coincidence that the company's name comes from the first letter of the Greek alphabet, meaning "dominant." While Trump calls the NFL "out of control," McMahon seems to be positioning himself to have total control over his league. At hand is a question of workers' speech, freedom and power, and as in all industries, those things are best achieved through unions.

THE NFL, FOUNDED IN 1920, WAS FREE TO TAKE advantage of players until 1956, when the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) was formed. The Association called for a minimum yearly salary, continued payment for injured players and for teams to pay for athletes' equipment. In 1968, NFL players went on strike over the league's paltry pension plan, leading to the first collective bargaining agreement. The NFLPA continues to advocate for players around pay, player suspensions and more.

In December 2017, The World Players Association-which includes 100 organizations representing 85,000 athletes, including the NFLPA-issued "The Universal Declaration of Players Rights," a 17-article document calling for the protection of free speech and the right to unionize. Amidst the backlash to kneeling players, NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith made clear the issue's significance: "It's reminding everyone that where we start in this process is the men and women who play sports did not choose to give up the basic human rights that we would want for every worker."

Whether McMahon's XFL will acknowledge such a declaration is to be determined, and Lou D'Ermilio says the new XFL has yet to finalize its plans for "player relations ... and contracts." But McMahon's history as a union buster gives little reason for hope.

McMAHON IS A PERSONALITY WELL-KNOWN to wrestling fans. He presents himself as a villain, someone you love to hate. His WWE bio portrays an inflated ego comparable to Trump's: "The Chairman has built his empire ruthlessly and efficiently, dispatching all who stand in the way of his entertainment sovereignty-from Ted Turner and WCW to HBK and God. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.