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Will Players With Checkered Pasts Be Welcome In The New XFL?

Will a shift in the XFL’s conduct policy open the door for controversial players into the league?

There’s an old cliche in sports that says that a franchise takes on its owner’s personality.

When the XFL does return to play in 2022, many expect the league to take on the personality of Owners Dany Garcia and Dwayne Johnson. The league will most likely adapt to their visions.

In many ways, the XFL in 2020 reflected its then-owner, Vince McMahon.

Even though McMahon took a hands-off approach with many aspects of the league, specifically the football side. It’s McMahon’s overall vision that was the XFL’s driving force.

Reimagining the game was McMahon’s ultimate directive. And it was something that was followed through excellently by many who were involved in the XFL.

However, Vince McMahon mandated one specific and vital aspect of the XFL, which greatly impacted the league.

The Player Conduct Policy

The policy that Vince McMahon considered central to building the XFL was
hiring players with good character who could be marketed.

From the outset, McMahon made it clear to his league executives that players with bad reputations due to issues with drugs, sexual assaults, criminal arrests, and other misconduct would not be allowed to play in the XFL.

This policy eliminated a lot of potential players from the XFL.

The player conduct policy is a strong point of contention in the current court issues between Vince McMahon and Oliver Luck. The issues stemming from Luck’s adherence to the policy or perceived lack thereof.

A year ago, Oliver Luck publicly made clear the league’s conduct policy.

Vince has made it clear to me that he not only wants quality football players—that’s obvious, right?—but he wants men of good character. All of our players have gone through background checks. We’ve had a number of guys that didn’t qualify because of their background or different things in their background. We think we’ve got not just good quality players but good quality men in our league. There are always a handful of guys out there who may have an interest, but the
interest isn’t necessarily mutual.

It’s fair to wonder what type of player conduct policy, the XFL in 2022 will have. There’s a strong argument for upholding many of the ideals that Vince McMahon set forth, in terms of the type of people that represent the XFL brand. It’s possible that the new XFL maintains similar guidelines, but perhaps it’s one that is less stricter.

No Chance In Hell For Johnny Manziel

As documented here at XFLNewsHub for several months, and as reported recently by several outlets, the signing of Antonio Callaway and the public teasing of potentially signing players like Johnny Manziel created a rift between Vince McMahon and Oliver Luck, which is currently playing out in litigation.

An example of this rift is in this text message exchange between Vince McMahon and Oliver Luck, which was recently released in court documents.

McMahon: “How long R U going to play this game Oliver? U know there is NO CHANCE IN
HELL for Manziel to play for us. I will not change my mind. So what’s Ur plan??”

Luck: “Vince—we have no intention of signing him, none
whatsoever. We’re just milking the story to stay in the news. I’m happy to categorically rule him out but both Jeffrey and I think it is worthwhile to milk it until the showcases are finished. At that point, we can say he doesn’t fit into our plans.”

The conversation above is a peek into how some executives will use certain things just for publicity. Upstart leagues will do things like this to stay in the news. In this case, it was Luck teasing Manziel, but the XFL also had PFT Commenter try out at kicker, and Darren Rovell run exceedingly slow 40 times at player showcases.

While, there were some XFL coaches, before the 2020 season, like June Jones, who didn’t shut the door on the possibility of Johnny Manziel playing for them.

XFL team executives like the Dallas Renegades Daryl Johnston, publicly came out and said that Manziel was off their player board, because of his lack of professionalism and poor football character.

The XFL in 2022, needs to bring on players who can produce and are committed to football. And not just sign players for publicity.

However, giving teams the freedom and flexibility to take a risk on a player they like could be in the offing for teams in 2022.

Antonio Callaway/Martavis Bryant/Josh Gordon

In an effort to boost the league’s talent pool, specifically at the receiver position and against company policy. Oliver Luck went after three different NFL receivers with off the field issues.

In the well-documented case of Tampa Bay Vipers receiver Antonio Callaway, Oliver Luck signed and assigned the problematic receiver under Vince McMahon’s radar. Consequently, Callaway would get injured in training camp, thwarting any potential release of his services by the league.

Luck’s failure to follow the XFL’s policy and McMahon’s directives by first hiring Antonio Callaway and then failing to terminate him had financial
consequences. The XFL was required to honor Callaway’s contract and pay a total of $158,950.63 to Callaway under that contract, including the payment of a $125,000 signing bonus. As a result of Callaways’s injury, a workers compensation fee of $29,226.09 was added to the overall tally.

Oliver Luck also attempted to sway Vince McMahon to sign former Pittsburgh Steelers and Raiders wide receiver Martavis Bryant. Luck was denied his repeated requests by McMahon to have Bryant play in the XFL.

Martavis Brant’s agent had agreed to Bryant’s taking of a daily drug test if he were to be hired by the XFL.

The former 4th round pick out of Clemson, Bryant has had his fair share of off the field issues and has not played in the NFL since 2018. Bryant has been suspended on multiple occasions for violating the NFL’s substance policy.

Martavis Bryant applied for reinstatement back in 2019 but, to this point, has been denied re-entry into the NFL.

Another player similar to Bryant that was also on Oliver Luck’s radar was Josh Gordon. Oliver received the same reaction from Vince when Gordon was suggested for the league.

Gordon has been lauded for his on-field ability throughout his career but has been suspended several times for violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy. The 29-year old Gordon is still going through his struggles; he was reinstated for the 2020 season and signed by the Seattle Seahawks, only to be denied re-entry due to his continued drug abuse issues.

Excluding pay, which is always a factor in enticing players. There are several other factors involved in getting players to play in your league.

There’s discovery and development. The likes of which, were on display in the XFL and NFL this past season with players like PJ Walker, Michael Dunn, Storm Norton, Donald Parham Jr. and others. But there is another element that the XFL in 2022 can tap into.

Redemption. The XFL can be a home for not just players who are looking to be rediscovered but for players who are looking to redeem themselves. In the cases of Bryant, Gordon and Callaway. The XFL could have presented that opportunity to them. Perhaps the 2022 version still can.

Politics/Colin Kaepernick and A League Of Culture

“People don’t want social and political issues coming into play when they are trying to be entertained,” “We want someone who wants to take a knee to do their version of that on their personal time.”

Vince McMahon in 2018, on his view of players using his league for political statements.

“If a player wants to kneel, if a player wants to stand, let them do that in unity, but they get to be diversified in expression and that’s really important to us.”

XFL Owner Dany Garcia’s stance on political expression by the league’s players.

This is where a tonal shift is expected to take place in the differences between Vince McMahon’s leadership and that of the league’s new owners.

The truth is that the shift has taken place significantly since Vince McMahon made those comments back in 2018. The world is different in 2021. Even McMahon’s company, the WWE has had performers on television, wear BLM attire and make political statements for social justice.

Since purchasing the XFL, Dany Garcia and Dwayne Johnson have spoken openly about their desire for the XFL to be a league of culture. They have talked about how they as owners, will care about the soul side of their players.

The idea of Colin Kaepernick playing in the XFL seems more realistic this time around than it was back in 2019/2020.

Of course, it’s a two-way street. It’s a business after all. Colin Kaepernick is one of the highest-paid athletes on the market, largely due to his corporate sponsorships. This despite the fact that he hasn’t played in any league for several years.

So enticing Colin Kaepernick to consider the XFL will be no small task from a financial standpoint. But there’s no doubt that his inclusion would score points and publicity with many who feel that Kaepernck has been unjustly excluded from the NFL.

Even in a year, where the NFL reversed course on Colin Kaepernick’s views. It still didn’t lead to him getting an NFL job. Dwayne Johnson and Dany Garcia might welcome Colin with open arms, and by doing so, cast their league in a positive light. Depending on what side of the volatile argument, you are on.

Many will argue that the XFL should try and avoid taking any stands or risks. But the truth is that the mere existence and attempt at making an alternative pro football league work is a risky business.

Whenever the league gets back up and running, it will be asking fans, employees, and their business partners to take that risk with them. When it comes to certain players, perhaps the XFL can return the favor.

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I am a pro football writer who has extensively covered and reported on multiple leagues over the years. I started covering the XFL back in 2001. You can follow me on Twitter @byMikeMitchell

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Steven Newberry

    January 13, 2021 at 7:01 am

    I’m glad that “Rock” is involved. Hoping they start up soon and hope they get a team in Chicago. I actually enjoyed watching. Hurry back

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