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My (Fragile) Hopes For The XFL With The Rock

Earlier this year, I was very excited about the inaugural season of the second iteration of the XFL. Being a lifelong football fan, as well as a proponent of anything that could shake up the NFL/NCAA duopoly, I was genuinely hopeful for the future of this league.

It was doing everything right. It learned from the mistakes of the first version of the XFL. The league took its time. It got the right people. It dared to innovate how the game was played. It also had the beer snake. Who could forget the legendary beer snake?

Then, the pandemic hit and destroyed everything.

That’s not an exaggeration. I know the COVID-19 pandemic has ruined a lot of things this year, but it utterly destroyed the XFL. This was a brand new league trying to forge a new identity. It had a plan, but that plan did not account for the impact of the worst global pandemic in a century. How could it?

Sadly, the league declared bankruptcy in April. I was deeply saddened. I didn’t post anything about it. The thought of trying to put my disappointment into words was just too much. I was content to just swallow my anguish and find another way to endure the ongoing horror that is 2020.

Then, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson stepped in and bought the league for $15 million. Suddenly, the slightest glimmer of hope for the XFL and the future in general has emerged.

As part of the bankruptcy procedures, the XFL went up for sale. There aren’t many people who could’ve bought its assets and inspired any hope that it would live again. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is definitely one of them. He’s one of the most successful and beloved entertainers of the past 20 years. Say what you will about his movies, but the man is just one of the most likable guys you’ll find in entertainment these days.

Compare that with Vince McMahon. There just is no comparison worth making.

He’s also former football player, himself. He loves sports. He has a genuine love for the game. Both he and his business partner/ex-wife, Dany Carcia, plan to play games again. How they’ll go about it and how they’ll make it work remains to be seen. We still have to survive 2020 in one piece.

However, this news gives me a genuine, yet fragile hope for the XFL. It’s fragile because after the events of this past year, everything feels more fragile. The XFL did everything right the second time and still got screwed over by forces beyond anyone’s control. Naturally, I’m very reluctant to put my hopes on something that just seems to attract bad luck and bad circumstances at every turn.

Make no mistake. I want the XFL to come back. I want it to succeed. I think it was on the right path to do so before the pandemic hit. Now, with the leadership and brand appeal of The Rock, I think it’s in a good position to emerge from this dystopian stretch with a viable future.

However, I don’t think it can succeed if it just tries to go back to the way things were. It’s way too late for that. Right now, the XFL has a bad reputation of either being trashy, unlucky, or prone to bankruptcy. That’s not a good brand identity, to say the least.

At the same time, the XFL has an opportunity to re-align the entire football world in a good way. The XFL wasn’t the only sports entity to get screwed over by the pandemic. The NCAA is in a state of enormous upheaval right now. It lost nearly a billion dollars when it had to cancel the big basketball tournament this past spring. It’ll lose even more if it has to cancel fall sports, which is already happening.

Now, say what you will about the brand of the XFL. It’s still more admirable than the NCAA. The current system the NCAA uses to exploit college athletes while enriching itself just cannot be justified. The fact they’re fighting so hard get college sports going shows how little they care for the student part in “student athlete.”

That system is utterly untenable. The pandemic is just exposing how flawed and fragile that system always was. This is where the XFL can step in. If the Rock and his business partners are a smart as I hope, they’ll jump at the opportunity to recruit displaced college athletes. If only a handful of big time college schools can still operate, then that means hundreds of skilled players will be left out.

The XFL can help them and help itself. It can offer these aspiring athletes actual money to play a sport they love. That shouldn’t be such a radical concept, but the NCAA has kept it radical for far too long. At some point, it can’t keep justifying the practice of not paying athletes who make millions for their league and their school. If they keep trying, then the XFL is in position to step in.

At some point, this pandemic will end. Sports will return and people will flood football stadiums as they once did. The NFL will always reign supreme in the world of football, but the XFL will greatly improve the sport by supplanting the NCAA. Other sports leagues have developmental leagues for young, aspiring athletes beyond college. The XFL can be that league.

To get to that point, it’ll take hard work and someone with the vision and grit to see it through. There aren’t a lot of people who are up to that challenge. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is definitely one of them.

I hope he succeeds.

I hope the XFL prospers.

The football world needs it.

The XFL already has two strikes against it. This time, hitting a home run won’t be enough. It needs to hit a grand slam. I’m still very hesitant, but I’m also hopeful.

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Why I Won’t Be Too Disappointed If College Football Is Cancelled This Fall

I love sports. I think I’ve made that abundantly clear already.

I really love football. I hope I’ve made that clear too.

Like many fellow sports fans, this year has been agonizing. So many major sporting events have been cancelled over the past several months. A few are trying to start back up, but their efforts have been mixed at best. As much as I want to see live sports again, I’m not too optimistic. I assume it’s going to get worse before it gets better.

The worst case scenario, at least for me, is how much this pandemic will affect the upcoming football season. For me, and America as a whole, football is king. It’s the top sport of the country and one I build my entire weekends around. I’m already expecting to have to change those weekend plans for the upcoming season.

I really hope the NFL finds a way to play a full season. I imagine it’ll be traumatic for many football fans like myself to see the season cancelled or diminished in any way. However, as dire as this news might be for football fans, there is one potential silver lining that I hope comes to pass.

If college football is cancelled this year, I think it’ll be better for the sport and college athletes in the long run.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I love college football. I went to many raucous football games while I was in college. They’re something people build their entire Saturdays around and it generates big business for networks and universities alike. That’s all well and good, but there’s just one problem. This all comes at the cost of exploiting the labor of college athletes.

It’s not a new issue. The debate on paying college athletes or somehow compensating them with something other than a scholarship has been ongoing for years. Having gone to college and known college athletes personally, I understand that it’s not a simple issue. At the same time, it’s hard to argue that the current system is horribly flawed.

The only reason that system hasn’t changed much, despite plenty of concerted efforts, is because the money kept pouring in. Peoples’ appetite for football is insatiable and the NCAA was not inclined to change what had been working so well for them.

Then, the pandemic happened.

Suddenly, that steady stream of money, fueled by the sweat of unpaid college athletes, might not be there anymore. Some conferences have already canceled their fall sports programs. More are likely to follow. If the rate of infections and death keeps rising, there’s a real possibility that all of college sports will be canceled this fall, including football.

As a football fan, this is terrifying.

As someone who has no sympathy whatsoever for the NCAA or the current system of college athletics, I’m oddly hopeful.

It takes a lot to change a corrupt system that’s making a select few very rich. A global pandemic definitely qualifies. While I understand some of the arguments behind not paying college athletes, I don’t think that’s enough to justify the current way of doing things. These kids deserve to get paid.

I’ve seen what they go through. I’ve known players who strain their minds, bodies, and souls under this system and get so little out of it. I’ve also known players who grossly exploit the system for their own benefit. It needs to change. It should’ve changed years ago, but it only became more entrenched.

If losing an entire college football season will finally bring that change, I’ll gladly take it. If it leads to a better system for the players, the schools, and the sport in general, I’ll endure. This pandemic will end. Sports will eventually return. As bad as this current situation is, it’s also an opportunity real, meaningful change. I hope the sports world embraces it.

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How The NFL Might Have Just Guaranteed A Work Stoppage In The Future

I’m no expert on labor laws, union contracts, or the general business operations of professional sports. I’d never claim otherwise. I’m just a typical guy who loves watching sports. I have about as much expertise to judge a labor dispute as I do in performing brain surgery.

While I lack the expertise, I’ve been on this planet long enough to know when there’s potential conflict down the line. It’s not always obvious, but the signs are usually the same. People see an opportunity to resolve a conflict in the short term, but lay the foundation for greater conflicts in the long run. Like treating a symptom rather than a disease, it simply delays a bigger problem rather than resolving it.

That’s my initial take on the recent approval of the NFL’s new 10-year collective bargaining agreement. At a time when the news about sports has been historically bleak, many see this as a rare bit of good news from the sports world. To some extent, it is. By approving this deal, the NFL avoids a potential work stoppage that could’ve occurred after the 2020 season.

As a die-hard football fan, which I’ve affirmed more than once on this site, I’m glad to hear that this issue wasn’t drawn out. The last time this occurred, there was a full-blown lockout that almost bled into the season. I understand why labor deals are such a big deal in professional sports. Football, especially, requires unique protections for players who want to make money playing an objectively dangerous game.

However, the news on this deal has some details and circumstances that give me pause. It’s not just that certain players are already criticizing it. That’s bound to happen with any deal. The fact that this deal was approved amidst a massive crisis that has rocked the sports world to its core and by such a narrow margin is somewhat telling.

In general, when something is approved by a narrow margin, it’s a sign that neither side is all that happy. It implies there are still many unresolved issues and the presence of a deal doesn’t make those issues go away. Just look at how often narrowly decided Supreme Court decisions tend to cause more issues down the road.

The issues between the players and owners are many, but most boil down to who gets how much of the massive revenue that the NFL generates every year. This new deal gives the players a larger share of the revenue, but also sets the stage for an 17-game season, as well as an expanded playoffs.

As a football fan, I love the prospect of more football, but I also don’t deny that issues that tend to arise whenever you ask workers to work longer. These players already put their bodies through more rigor than most fans can ever fathom and now they’re being asked to push themselves even more. Even if it’s for more money, is the amount they got enough?

It’s hard to say since I’m not an NFL player, but the fact that the players approved the deal by such a narrow margin leads me to believe it’s not. Some may not oppose it, but I think the stage is already set for a much bigger conflict down the line. Once players start playing this 17-game season and see the amount of revenue it generates, they’re going to want more for the grind they endure.

Given the circumstances surrounding this deal, I suspect the only way they’ll get what they want is by going on strike, like they did back in the early 1980s. It might be their only recourse if the NFL continues to grow at its current pace. It will get ugly. Fans will hate it and so will the owners. However, it might be the only way they can get what they want.

I hope I’m wrong about this. I look forward to every new NFL season with great excitement. I want to keep enjoying football as a fan and I want the players to benefit as much as they deserve. Hopefully, cooler heads prevail in the end. For now, though, I think it’s only a matter of time before the NFL faces a bigger conflict that they won’t be able to blame on a pandemic.

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Super Bowl LIV Recovery Day (And Celebration)

First off, what a game!

I had to say that, especially after the snoozer we had last year. I’m not a huge fan of either team, but I’m a big fan of great, exciting football and Super Bowl LIV delivered. It was a close, exciting game for all four quarters. It showcased two teams that definitely deserved to be there. They both played hard. They both showed why they’re the best. In the end, the better team won.

To the Kansas City Chiefs, you earned this. They played their best game on the game’s biggest stage. Their coach, Andy Reid, finally exorcised some long-simmering demons about his lack of Super Bowl success. Their quarterback, Patrick Mahomes, showed why he’s one of the NFL’s best rising stars. The entire team played like champions and now they are champions.

To the San Francisco 49ers, you put up a hell of a fight. Like the Chiefs, they proved they deserved to be there. Their punishing rushing attack and the steady hand of quarterback, Jimmy Garoppolo, made them one of the most dominant teams throughout the regular season and the playoffs. They beat some of the best teams in the league this past season, but in the end, they couldn’t beat the best.

I’ll be using this day to recover from both the excitement of the game and all the junk food I ate while watching it. To fans of the Chiefs, it’s a day to celebrate. Go on. You’ve earned it.

 

The NFL season is officially over now. While a part of me is sad, I still had a great time this season. It was fun to watch from start to finish. Once again, football made every Sunday feel special. I’ll miss it for the next seven months. Until then, I hope the XFL can fill the void.

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Happy Super Bowl LIV Eve!

It’s almost here. The holiest of days for football fans is finally here. I can already taste the cold beer, buffalo wings, and overpriced dip. In less than 24 hours, I’ll actually be tasting it. As a lifelong football fan, a sports fan, and a general fan of anything entertaining on a Sunday afternoon, I couldn’t be more excited.

I’ve been building my Sundays around football for months. Now, I get to do it one more time, at least until the XFL gets started. It’s the biggest game of the year, both in terms of importance and in terms of prime time ratings. There’s a reason why people pay millions for commercial time during the Super Bowl. I’m just one of those reasons.

In the spirit of preparing/celebrating this holiest of sporting events, I’d like to briefly share my Super Bowl plans. I don’t throw a party or stage some elaborate event. I did that in college and it got tedious at some point. Now, ever since I’ve been living on my own, I’ve developed my own Super Bowl ritual. It’s evolved over the years, but I feel like I’ve refined it to perfection.

It goes like this.

The day before the Super Bowl, I buy two big bags of chicken wings, two cases of beer, a giant bag of chips, two jugs of dip, and several bottles of buffalo wing sauce.

On the morning of the Super Bowl, I eat a light breakfast that consists of black coffee, oatmeal, and a couple eggs. I don’t eat anything else for the rest of the day.

Then, approximately four hours before kickoff, I work out and I work out extra hard. That includes a four mile run and weight lifting. I then shower and change into my most comfortable clothes.

An hour before kickoff, I start cooking my wings. I time it just right so that I’m tossing them in the sauce as the national anthem is playing.

During the coin toss, I get a cold beer ready, prepare a plate of wings, and lay out a bag of chips.

At the moment of kickoff, I open the beer, eat my first wing, and start watching the game.

Yes, I know it’s not the most elaborate setup for a Super Bowl viewing experience. For me, it maximizes my enjoyment of the game. While last year’s game wasn’t that exciting, I still had fun and my approach to the game definitely helped. This year, I’m hoping for something better.

Now, I’m not a huge fan of the Kansas City Chiefs or the San Francisco 49ers. However, I’ve become a big fan of Patrick Mahomes for reasons most NFL fans are well aware of. That doesn’t necessarily mean I’m rooting for the Chiefs, but he’s proven his greatness thus far. Nothing would vindicate it more than a Super Bowl championship for a team that hasn’t even played in one since the Nixon Administration.

To the rest of the ardent football fans out there, I hope you share my excitement. I also hope the game caps off the season on the highest of notes. The Super Bowl is a culmination of a journey that few teams get to complete. It’s America’s most popular sport for a reason. When a team wins, it’s a hell of an accomplishment.

I’ll probably have a lot more to say about the game once it’s finished. Until then, my excitement will only build. In the meantime, please enjoy these spectacular highlights from the 2019/2020 NFL season.

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Second Chances, Learning From Past Mistakes, And The Return Of The XFL

America likes to claim that it’s the land of second chances. People, in general, are often willing to grant second chances to those who have made mistakes, failed, or were just the victim of bad luck. Some end up needing more than second chances, but we’re willing to give them to those who prove they have a vision.

We do it in our personal lives as well, giving second chances to those we love. Sometimes it works out. Sometimes it doesn’t. However, the first step, and arguably the most important, is giving that chance to someone, even when you haven’t forgotten the extent of their mistake.

That brings me to the XFL. I’m sorry, but there’s just no way to effectively transition to this topic. I know the title alone sounded like a jumbled compilation of random thoughts from someone who talks about everything from sex robots to superhero movies. I promise I’m going somewhere with this. I also promise it’s both relevant and applicable.

To those who haven’t heard the big news, the XFL is back. A full 17 years after this eccentric, over-the-top league that inspired the likes of “He Hate Me” and glorified brutal hits is making a comeback. Vince McMahon, the colorful personality who turned wrestling into a billion-dollar entertainment juggernaut, is taking another shot at creating a new football league to compete with the towering Goliath that is the NFL.

As a self-professed football fan whose picks for this past season were dead wrong, I’m genuinely intrigued by this news. I won’t let myself get too excited about it just yet, given how badly the XFL failed the first time, but I am willing to give it my attention, as well as a second chance.

The story of the first incarnation of the XFL is an amazing story. The fact that it also involves exceedingly sexy cheerleaders doesn’t hurt it’s appeal either. Just last year, ESPN did a documentary on that story called “30 For 30: This Was The XFL.” If you want a comprehensive take on what happened to this over-the-top league, this I highly recommend you check this out.

By the end, you’ll appreciate why giving McMahon and the XFL a second chance is such a big deal. It may even give you a better appreciation of why second chances are so hard to give at times. In a sense, this second incarnation of the XFL may end up being a case study on the underlying merit of second chances or the lack thereof.

Whether it’s to a professional athlete, an ex-lover, or an employee, second chances are hard because our brains are wired to remember failures more vividly than successes. The whole notion of “once bitten, twice shy” has actual biology and evolutionary forces behind it. Failure in nature can sometimes mean failure to survive.

The last time the XFL failed, it cost both McMahon and NBC $35 million each. The greatly inflates the price of a second chance, to say the least. Why, in that context, should we still give it one?

Well, I can only speak for myself. I’m not a sports expert any more than I’m a brain surgeon. However, in the spirit of second chances and learning from past mistakes, there are a few I think are worth considering with both the XFL and life in general.


A Second Chance Can Prove You’ve Learned From Failure (And Are Able To Learn In General)

This is as valuable a skill in helping the new XFL succeed as it is for anyone who has ever screwed up in life, which covers pretty much everybody. This is probably the most important aspect of second chances. It gives an opportunity for someone to do more than just claim they’ve learned. Now, they can show it.

Say what you will about Vince McMahon and a lot has been said. He’s an entertainer and a businessman. He wants to make money and, if his net worth is any indication, he’s pretty damn good at it. You do not get that rich by never learning from your mistakes.

It’s hard to say for certain what McMahon will do differently at this point. However, if the content of his announcement is any indication, he’s very much aware of why the XFL failed the first time. He’s ready to take those hard, not to mention expensive, lessons and try again.

Given the breadth of McMahon’s success, he’s someone who can make more out of second chances than most. That’s why I’m going to give him this one, even if I find his persona annoying.


Second Chances Reveals Opportunities Otherwise Not Seen

It’s a common theme in business, romance, and everything in between. Both failure and success create opportunities. The failure of “Batman and Robin” paved the way for “Batman Begins.” The success of the iPhone paved the way for the booming smartphone business.

One failed relationship can also strengthen another. The many failures of other football leagues have only served to strengthen the dominance of the NFL. However, sometimes success can have pitfalls. The past few years have not been kind to the NFL, to say the least. Given the sheer size of this entertainment behemoth, it’s an easy target.

In that respect, the XFL’s timing couldn’t be better. It’s coming along at a time when fans are somewhat disillusioned with the NFL, but have little alternatives beyond the hopelessly corrupt NCAA. The XFL could finally give the NFL the kind of competition that is necessary for any product, service, or art to innovate.

Let’s face it. We humans are a competitive species. If someone is doing something better than us, be it football or underwater basket weaving, we want to match and exceed them. It drives us to be better. It helps make us better people.

Football needs that right now. The NFL needs that. The XFL has the perfect opportunity to achieve this. Combined with the lessons of their first failure, they have much more going for them now than they did in 2001.


Greater Risks Bring Greater Rewards (And Greater Lessons)

This is probably the most important aspect of second chances for both the XFL and for life, in general. Everything that’s worth doing, whether it’s creating a new football league or finding the love of your life, requires a certain degree of risk. Some aren’t willing to risk that much, but those who are have a chance to achieve much more.

I say this as someone who avoided taking major risks until much later in life. Looking back on how I carried myself in my youth, I regret not taking more risks. Hindsight has revealed that I missed out on some pretty big rewards, both material and personal. Sometimes, you really have to do what your brain says is insanely risky to get those kinds of rewards.

What Vince McMahon is doing qualifies as exceedingly risky. He’s putting up $100 million of his own money to make the second incarnation of the XFL happen. He’s also taking on an organization in the NFL with obscene levels of influence, both economically and culturally.

At the moment, most people probably think he’s crazy and bound to fail. Those people aren’t willing to take the risk, but none of them have a shot at the big reward that McMahon is seeking. Even if the chances of the XFL succeeding are less than one percent, it’s still greater than zero and that’s all the chance you need with a second chance.


A Second Chance Can Also Help Fix Broken Or Flawed Systems

This is the part of the new XFL that has me the most intrigued, as a football fan. That’s because, as it stands, the system for developing players for the NFL is basically a cartel wrapped in a monopoly. The NCAA is the cartel. The NFL is the monopoly. If you want to make a living playing football, these are the sole gatekeepers.

It’s a system with many flaws, which have been documented on more than one occasion. The problem is there’s no incentives to fix those flaws. Neither the NCAA nor the NFL have any pressure to do so. They wield total power over all things football and can be as unjust as they want.

The XFL can change that. They can shake up a system that does plenty to screw over college players and professionals if they fail to make it in the NFL. They can provide a new path, bring new ideas to the table, and take chances that a cartel and a monopoly don’t even think to take.

It wouldn’t be the first time a monopoly got broken up. In most peoples’ lives, they either avoid situations where someone has all the leverage or work to subvert it. We do that with the people we work with and the people we love. Again, it often requires that we take risks and chances. However, it only has to work once to affect change.


It’s still not clear just what the new XFL will bring to the table or if it will succeed. For now, it has many forces working against it. However, as both a football fan and someone who sees the merit of second chances, I’m willing to give it one.

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