The new league is the brainchild of Vince McMahon, the man who gave us professional wrestling as we know it. McMahon promises to do for football what he's done for wrestling--a troubling prospect, to say the least.
According to McMahon, head of the Worldwide Wrestling Federation, the "X" in XFL is for "eXtreme." But judging by the caliber of play last Saturday, it might just as well stand for "eXecrable."
XFL players are NFL rejects, and the quality of the game is lower than major college football. But then, the XFL isn't about football. It's about "attitude"--expressing an intentional disregard for authority and convention.
Thus, in the XFL, the traditional coin-toss has been replaced with a one-on-one scramble for the ball. Players' jerseys often feature, not their names, but their nicknames--leaving confused fans wondering if someone really could be named "chuckwagon."
Then there are the cheerleaders. As in professional wrestling, sex is a big part of XFL's sales pitch. So, pom-poms and choreography are out. Instead, cheerleaders go into the stands and dance suggestively with fans, which NBC is careful to get on camera immediately before and after commercials.
McMahon and NBC are betting this combination of sex and attitude will work just as well with football as it has with wrestling. And judging by the initial ratings, they may be right.
That would be a tragic, because we certainly don't need more sex and "attitude" in public life. Over the last few decades, we have seen the demise of reticence and shame in American culture. Americans have, as author Rochelle Gurstein puts it, embraced the "cult of self-expression."
The result has been an increasing coarseness in public life. Speech and conduct that were once marginalized--or limited to certain private settings--have become increasingly public and visible. The boundaries between acceptable and unacceptable expression have been erased. One advertisement for the XFL features a man exclaiming how good the XFL is--with his adjective bleeped out, but obvious to any listener.
The XFL is part of a trend. It's part of a contraction in the number of places where we have at least some expectation of not being exposed to either sexually provocative or crude conduct.
If you agree that we need less "attitude" and not more, there are some things you can do. If you wouldn't let your kids watch wrestling, don't let them watch the XFL, and don't let yourself watch it either. And let NBC and their advertisers know what you think. Remember, Coca-Cola withdrew its ads from wrestling broadcasts in the face of similar protests.
And in time, may we hope, there will be one more "X" in the league's name--as in X for "eXit."