How the modern WWE helped provide the blueprint for Vince McMahon’s new XFL

‘Professional football, reimagined’ — Vince McMahon announces the return of the XFL

Sure, Vince McMahon is still the CEO of the WWE and his newly announced XFL will share its name with his failed 2001 venture, but make no mistake: Things are different this time around.

McMahon announced on Thursday the XFL will return in 2020. In the 17 years since the doomed football league’s initial debut, his wrestling company has undergone drastic changes. Gone are the days of scantily-clad women teasing audiences, beer-drinking, middle-finger touting stars. It seems you won’t see that in the XFL either.

The WWE in 2018 is as PG as it gets. Stone Cold Steve Austin has been traded in for John Cena. The company utilizes a wellness policy that has curtailed the use of performance-enhancing drugs and has resulted in suspensions of several high-level stars. The company now takes head and neck injuries very seriously, so much so that popular stars such as Daniel Bryan and Paige cannot get medically cleared to perform in the ring by WWE’s doctors.

The new XFL is trending this way as well.

“We will present a shorter, faster-paced, family-friendly, easier-to-understand game,” McMahon said when announcing the new XFL.

That statement alone is in stark contrast to the first incarnation of the XFL, which was centered around bone-crushing hits, controversial personalities, and violence. Most famously, the league was known for its skirmishes to kick off the game, a battle between two players to secure the ball at midfield.

On Thursday afternoon, McMahon preached safety. The league’s intro video referenced its game being “safer.” This definitely isn’t the 2001 XFL.

“Re-imagining the game of football means you’re re-imagining it on all levels and that means safety,” McMahon said. “We are going to listen to medical experts and heed their advice to make it as safe as possible. That’s what we’ll do to make the environment as safe as possible. It’s still football, but [we will make it] as safe as possible.”

In addition to doing away with the violent aspects of the game, McMahon’s new XFL is also clearly attempting to appeal to those who have been alienated by recent protests in the NFL, started by Colin Kaepernick in August 2016.

“I have no idea whether President [Donald] Trump will support this, and let me say as far as our league is concerned, it will have nothing to do with politics. Absolutely nothing,” McMahon said. “And nothing to do with social issues either. We’re there to play football.”

While McMahon vowed the league will have nothing to do with politics or President Trump, it’s easy to say early on that the league may have its sights set on a very particular fan base, evidenced by the league’s red, white, and blue logo and while McMahon didn’t explicitly say he would make players stand for the “Star-Spangled Banner,” he did hint at leaning that way.

“There will be a booklet to make sure that all of the players understand the rules as well as everyone else,” McMahon said. “The national anthem is a time-honored tradition and it’s played to this day and for many, many years in the past, prior to most athletic events, in our country and in other countries, so whatever our rules are our players will abide by.”

This is another way McMahon’s XFL will mirror his WWE product. Despite Trump having a long history with both the McMahon family and WWE, the wrestling company has done its best to avoid referencing its shared history with Trump during his time in the White House. McMahon’s wife, Linda, currently serves as Administrator of the Small Business Administration and has distanced herself from the WWE while running for public office. Despite playing pivotal roles in several WWE storylines in the past, she has not appeared on programming since Trump was elected.

In addition to distancing itself from politics, McMahon announced there would be no crossover between the XFL and WWE – a stark difference from the first version of the league which featured McMahon front-and-center as well as WWE stars Jim Ross, Jerry “The King” Lawler, and Jesse Ventura calling games from the broadcast booth.

Despite expressing a desire to keep them as separate entities, the blueprint McMahon laid forth for WWE is all over his plans for the XFL. Much like the overhaul the wrestling company has gone in recent years with regards to its desire to present a squeaky-clean product, McMahon promised the players will have to live up to a high standard, both on and off the field.

“When I say the quality of human being is very important, and just as important as the quality of player, what I mean by that is, you want someone who doesn’t have any criminality whatsoever associated with them,” McMahon said. “In the XFL even if you have a DUI you will not play in the XFL. That would probably eliminate some of them, not all of them. If Tim Tebow wants to play, he could very well play.”

While it remains to be seen if McMahon’s new venture can deliver on all of these fronts, the message was clear: The XFL has changed and evolved in the same way the country and WWE has over the past 17 years.