"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 14 February 2000. Updated every WEEKDAY.

There's No "X" in Team!



Single homicides, double

homicides, wife beatings,

girlfriend beatings, coke

orgies, solicitation of hos,

even racial insensitivity: The

litany of crimes committed by

modern athletes could fill a

whole season of Law and Order.

As numerous observers have

pointed out, the sporting life

isn't so sporting anymore. How

can we explain to the children

that their hero is now referred

to as "tot-slay suspect" instead

of "pro-bowler"?


Even by today's standards, we

are seeing an all-time spike in

crime by major athletes. And not

just divorced, retired,

ticking-bomb former superstars,

either. The escalation has been

in breadth as well as intensity,

recruiting active veterans,

rising stars, and college

players into the ranks. A few

years ago, the University of

Nebraska featured a felony depth

chart, with Christian Peter

backing up Lawrence Phillips as

starting woman beater. Today,

the NFL can boast of two

athletes, Ray Lewis and Rae

Carruth, who are on trial for

double counts of felony murder

and murder one, respectively.

The new NBA arrived the day

Latrell Sprewell closed off

P. J. Carlesimo's passing lanes,

and in baseball, some players

seem to be unaware that HIV is

primarily spread by IV drug use.

Innumerable cases of rape and

assault are settled out of court

every week, and nary a day goes

by without some silver-haired

sports savant decrying the

on-field culture of taunting and

trash talking — to say

nothing of biting ears, spitting

in the faces of referees, and

kicking camera people.



Which is why Vince McMahon may

really be on to something.


McMahon, the marketing genius

behind the recrudescence of pro

wrestling, is clearly the man of

the hour when it comes to

sports. The commissioners in the

other sports are pompous suits,

delivering corporate-speak

homilies about league sanctions

and social responsibility. McMahon

openly clawed his way to the top,

fighting all the heads of wrestling's

five families along the way. Clearly,

a man like McMahon can't help but

be a success in the go-go world of

the aughts, where the American

injunction to give the people

what they want is finally on the

verge of fulfillment. Right now,

the people want a burnished

atavism, complete with

laser-light surprise introductions

and double-tag-team,

cross-gendered, breast-enhanced

spectacle. So why not give them

what they want in the

"legitimate" arena?


What McMahon has intuitively

grasped is the essence of sports

marketing today. For average

channel surfers, it isn't the

brain-grinding slog of free

throws and foul balls that keeps

them coming back for more but

the highlights, the dunks and

the punks, the x-treme theatrics

that are closer in spirit to the

WWF than they are to the major

sports. So McMahon is founding a

"legitimate" football league

which will be more exciting to

the key 18 to 35 male

demographic than the stolid NFL.

The press release promises

"subtle rule changes" and a

football experience that is

"highly competitive,

hard-hitting, and most

importantly, fan friendly.



The Beauty of the XFL would be

its liberation of the

post-civilized id from the

withering inhibitions of the

NFL. The old league was

dominated by the Protestant work

ethic, self- abnegation, and the

moral authority of

pleasure-hating martinets like

Vince Lombardi and Tom Landry. In

the XFL, a born-again,

Freddie Mercury–looking,

Jesus-thanking piece of white

bread like Kurt Warner wouldn't

even be able to suit up. The XFL

would embrace a steroid- pumped,

no-fouls, crowd-pleasing

spectacle not seen in America

since Norman Jewison's

futuristic vision of Rollerball

in 1975. It would be the

ultimate TV event. It would be a

gangsta's paradise. As a

Zeitgeist venture, the XFL can

hardly be bettered.



But it says here that it will be

a failure.


The problem with sports from a

marketing point of view is that

they really aren't entertainment

in the strict sense. They are

often entertaining; they often

give you moments of intense

drama (the "miracle on ice") or

high comedy (Joe Theisman

breaking his leg). As good TV,

the best parts of a good game

trump practically everything

this side of Star Hustler. But

the fans who actually attend

games, who pay for season

tickets out of their own

pockets, who actually keep

franchises alive, don't really

go to games for entertainment.

Anyone who has suffered through

decades of ups and downs with a

team knows that caring is as

much of a curse as a blessing,

more of a borderline personality

disorder than a hobby. Winning

is what really matters to the

serious fan. And winning exists

outside of the world of



The media critics and synergy

sages have missed this point

again and again. You can point

at the phenomenal success of the

NBA and NFL and the

international popularity of

Michael Jordan and the intricate

cross-promotions which have

resulted. But uncertainty and

anxiety, not excitement,

constitute the motivation for

people who actually get involved

in the games themselves (as

opposed to just watching the

highlights, or collecting the

POGs). As every bloated and

effete Sybarite from Maine to

Mexico knows, the

interchangeable leisure options

that America affords delight the

senses and titillate the

pleasure glands, but they don't

do much more than pass the time

in the long run. The narratives

of success and failure that

define the lives of sports fans

weave their ways into the fabric

of their lives. And few fans can

help remembering their past,

better selves by the events that

meant the most at the time: the

Vikings losing their fourth

Super Bowl or the Celtics

beating the Lakers in a

sweltering Boston Garden. Sports

fandom may be an escape from

life in one sense, in shutting

out a squalid job or a cheating

spouse. But it also draws its

power from life, in that no one

knows whether victory or defeat

will be around the next corner,

and drama and spectacle only

exist, media hype

notwithstanding, as a function

of how the team performs.



As great as the XFL would be as

spectacle, for it to reach its

potential it has to be scripted

to some extent and driven to

arouse the interest of yahoos.

The McMahon machine has got the

goods to do this, no doubt, but

will these guys buy tickets,

park, pay for their $6 hot dogs,

watch their team lose 12 games,

and then come back again to do

it next season? By then a hotter

act or a crueler videogame will

have grabbed their attention,

and McMahon will have to go even

farther. ("Tonight's Rollerball

match will feature NO PENALTIES



The XFL may live up to the WWF

in coming through every time and

never, ever letting you down.

The only problem is that if you

wanted to be happy, you wouldn't

be a fan in the first place.

courtesy of Jonathan E.
picturesTerry Colon