The XFL foreshadowed where we are today

In addition to players and coaches, the New York/New Jersey Hitmen provided a cheerleader to comment on the start of the XFL season.

That was 15 years ago, and we were covering the start of a controversial new football league, one that marketed sex and violence and none of those powderpuff NFL rules like fair catches.

And the XFL, owned and operated by World Wrestling Entertainment, wanted us to talk to the cheerleaders, who were marketed every bit as much as the players, except for maybe He Hate Me (lesser known as Rod Smart).

So there, alongside coach Rusty Tillman and GM Drew Pearson, was Karla the cheerleader. The team wouldn’t let her give her last name, but according to one team official, she was “one of the hottest girls on the squad.” In addition to the height and weight of players, game programs listed the cheerleaders’ tattoos and piercings. The XFL had all the class of a strip club.

Social media is abuzz this week in anticipation of the 30 for 30 documentary on the league, which folded after one gimmick-filled season in 2001. The XFL played outdoor games during the coldest months of the year, culminating in a championship game in April, which was won by the Tommy Maddox-led Los Angeles Xtreme.

How appropriate that a team by that name captured the one and only title of the most extreme football league ever devised.

Exported.;

The XFL marketed its cheerleaders as heavily as it did its players.

(Sipkin, Corey)

At another Hitmen practice that year, Pearson, the former Cowboys player, laid out one of his own players. Just imagine for a minute Jerry Reese blasting one of the Giants on the sideline with a forearm shiver. But that’s exactly what happened when Kirby Dar Dar neared Person as a play spilled out of bounds. Instead of running for cover like the others congregated around him, the 50-year-old Pearson stepped up like a strong safety and popped his own player.

The XFL was pirate football. There were no PATs and no coin flips. Something called a scramble, a one-on-one loose ball recovery, was used to determine possession at the start of games. The quality of football was poor and games were called not by football people, but wrestling talent like Jesse “The Body” Ventura, long before he sued the estate of a late Navy SEAL Chris Kyle of “American Sniper” fame.

It was so crass, hitting rock bottom later that season when the frothing Vince McMahon, in an attempt to salvage sagging TV ratings, hyped a halftime peek inside the Orlando Rage cheerleaders’ locker room. It turned out to be a prank and cameras never made it inside, but the XFL nipped at the sleazy underbelly of sports and played on stereotypes and with sex and violence, tried to sell low-rate football that was even worse than Thursday night NFL games.

All these years later, you have to wonder if America 2016 finally caught up with the XFL. Look at the violence we see in society, some of the trash that’s on TV now, the coarse language and sexual insinuations of the presidential election and the off-field behavior of professional athletes. We never saw an XFL player knock out a woman, but we have seen an NFL player do it.

While XFL storylines were crude and elements of wrestling were injected into broadcasts, we never saw weapons. But NFL culture, for better or worse, is now riddled with guns and violence and an endless police blotter of traffic stops, drug busts and sociopathic behavior.

An XFL player never beat a woman, but Josh Brown was able to keep his job after admittedly doing just that.

An XFL player never beat a woman, but Josh Brown was able to keep his job after admittedly doing just that.

(New York Daily News)

The XFL was wrong to promote the stuff it did, for trying to do to football what the WWE did to the sport of wrestling. But the underside of the XFL may have hinted at what’s bubbling beneath the surface of the NFL 15 years later.

While not nearly as overtly sexist as the XFL was, the NFL has a poor track record in dealing with women. Josh Brown was suspended one game for admitting he abused his wife while Tom Brady got four times that for, according to the Ted Wells report, being “at least generally aware of” deflated footballs. It’s a public perception the NFL continues to try to repair.

We know more about concussions and the brain damage athletes suffer from playing collision sports now, making the idea of not having a fair catch rule in football, as the XFL promoted, that much more preposterous. But even with player safety rules in place, NFL players (and NHL players, too) are continually put in harm’s way as the games get faster, the athletes get bigger, and the hits get more and more gruesome.

People thought it was outrageous that Rod Smart wore the nickname “He Hate Me” on the back of his XFL jersey in 2001. But by 2008, Chad Johnson changed his name to Ochocinco and that appeared on the back of his NFL jerseys.

Scheduled to air in February, the 30 for 30 documentary promises a look back at the most insane XFL moments, but should also include examples of how the renegade league changed the way we watch football. We can thank the XFL for today’s Sky Cam, which gives us drone-like views from above the play.

Another satisfied XFL customer.

Another satisfied XFL customer.

(PAUL SAKUMA/AP)

For years, the XFL was a punchline, an example of what we never wanted sports to become. But whether we like it or not, some of the most dastardly elements of McMahon’s football circus have pervaded American sports and society.

Three years after the XFL folded, the Lingerie Bowl debuted. It later became the more politically correct Legends Cup, featuring women in underwear playing 7-on-7 football.

Lawrence Taylor, a convicted sex offender, continues to be recognized by the Giants and football fans as one of the greatest players ever, his off-field transgressions virtually forgotten. Jim Bown, accused of beating multiple women over the last 40 years, remains an ambassador of sports so revered he met with Donald Trump this week.

So while the XFL has been rightly mocked and ridiculed, it’s taken sports and society 15 years to catch up, better yet, to sink to its level. In another 15 years, you may not be able to tell the difference between mainstream sports and what the XFL was and aspired to be.

They are no longer night and day.

The line’s been muddled and it’s more like night and early evening.

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Source: NY Daily News Headlines Sports News

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