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Trying to wrestle with XFL's raucous image

By HUBERT MIZELL

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 11, 2001


It's called pro football, but the XFL's foundation is T&A. Television and asininity.

Oh, sure, X's and O's are in use, but, according to the unabridged World Wrestling Federation dictionary, it means Xhibitionism and Outrageousness, frequently soaked in alcohol, gambling, vulgarity and blood lust.

Ingredients are obvious, which means the XFL could be a whopper American hit, especially with its optimum target audience, young and mega-hormonal males alongside consenting companions.

Check today's TV ratings; find the hot sellers. Except for Philbin money launderings, it's an overload of sex, lunacy, controversy and violence. Punctuated by smart mouths.

Lots of "rasslin".

You'll see no Randy Moss, Derrick Brooks, Ray Lewis or Peyton Manning on XFL fields, but cheerleaders do appear to be from the school of a world-classless image shaper, Joe Redner.

Victory lap has new meaning.

I'm not out to totally demean the XFL, just mostly. Beneath all the screaming glitter, ranting excesses and silicone-enhanced female flesh are more than a few athletes with serious goals, like using this offbeat springboard to NFL opportunities.

Don't blame Vince McMahon, the Redner of "rasslin". As with the WWF, he flamboyantly markets exhibitionism that passes for sport, aiming for patrons who may see the NFL as overly ostentatious, expensive, pretentious and arrogant. More red bloods than blue.

Talking trash ... serving it.

Va-Va-Voom Vinny religiously subscribes to P.T. Barnum's claim, "Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people." If, as his future scam, McMahon can TV-peddle naked scuba diving in Washington's monument-bordering Tidal Basin, he'll be game. Don't bet NBC won't be interested.

Please, don't hammerlock me.

Pro wrestlers, if you wash away schtick and goo, are predominantly nice fellows. Better educated than most linebackers and tight ends. Many live in the Tampa Bay area and are solid community contributors. But they understand what vacuums big cash on McMahon's planet, so their jobs are explicitly choreographed.

My tallest complaint about pro wrestling, although overt sexism goes beyond asinine, is not about neon pizazz or promoter-scripted results. What churns my innards is McMahon's orchestrated, beyond-the-match sickness.

Titillating tastelessness.

Four bad beefcakes beating up one good-guy rival who lies seemingly lifeless on the deck. Folding chairs being swung, cracking Vinny's jocks across well-muscled backs. Fans watch, including the young and deeply impressionable. A few may choose to emulate.

WWF lawyers argue that ring melees entertain but do not widely influence viewers, including children who so easily become mesmerized by the physical bombast. But check the police blotters. Cases are increasing. Youngsters maim their buddies, "like I saw on TV wrestling." Deaths have resulted.

That's another debate.

Football purists should "take a big T.O., baby" before any automatic, total demolishing of the XFL package. Opening weekend crowds were large and TV ratings stunning.

Through pro football history, new and ill-fated leagues have left creative marks, some that stuffed-shirt NFL owners would eventually adopt. Twice there have been WFLs, plus an AAFC, an AFL and a USFL, all with impressive residue.

XFL pregame TV setups are nutty, non-traditional and cartoonish, but hardly more overbearing than the overload of repetitive analyzing, jock jabberings and self-serving NFL-linked antics on ESPN, Fox, CBS and CNN.

Pro football archives tell us the two-point conversion, a flair from the 1960s AFL, got NFL sneers at first but has become Tagliabue law. Didn't the same presumptuous league, with several franchises that would become NFL properties, also introduce player names on jersey backs?

Now, the XFL pushes the uniform envelope, allowing jocks to put nicknames on shirts. Even personal messages. Warren Sapp surely is envious, with a preference for "Big 99" on his Bucs playsuit.

But where does it end? Can the XFL tell some fullback not to have "Snot-Nose Nick" stitched across his shoulders? Or perhaps a guard whose lettering reads "Bash Bush!" Or far worse. Maybe even secret gang messages. I mean, who governs?

XFL innovations are voluminous. Some ridiculous, but a couple that could find long-range flight, even being adopted by the NFL handbook. How about the no fair catch rule? It could have added spice to Super Bowl XXXV in which the Ravens and Giants induced drowsiness with 21 punts on fourth downs.

NBC, partner of McMahon in the XFL business of trash football, is trying everything. Cameras on field. Microphones everywhere. Maniacal analysts, led by Gov. Shill, the honorable Jesse Ventura, along with the non-cerebral, shabby chic Brian Bosworth. Partners that will never be confused with Madden and Summerall, or Barnes and Noble.

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