The XFL presented its new brand of football this past weekend, and whether it sustains a fan base large enough to support this eight-team league will speak volumes about the sporting culture in American society.
Celebrated trash talk. Sexual innuendo during interviews. Rules that put the players' health at greater risk. That's what the XFL sells. And if we're buying, it'll come with a price. Now that the XFL is here, unhealthy attitudes will continue to poison sports.
Not that sports need any help. Not with people like Denver Broncos linebacker Bill Romanowski, who once spit in the face of 49ers receiver J. J. Stokes because he felt Stokes wasn't tough enough, running around between NFL sidelines.
The issue is not that sex is bad or violence is bad. It's the confrontational aspect of the XFL's play. Trash talk is just that, garbage. And if it makes sports so exciting, why not extend this level of animosity to the rest of our lives?
"Wheelchair seating, my ass. Let's see you earn it."
"Yeah, I see the line of people. So what?"
"Yo, lead actor. You suck!"
Kinda stupid, no? But in sports, we tolerate it. Why?
When sports fans in the 1950s argued the talents of baseball Hall of Fame center fielders Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays and Duke Snider, conversations centered around home runs and championship rings, not the sharpness of their tongues. Too bad for the kids growing up in the Golden Age of Baseball. Look at what they were missing.
It's not like we're without role models in sports today. Recently retired NFL star Barry Sanders proved it's possible to dominate and not humiliate. Duke's Mike Krzyzewski proves it's possible to coach winning players who leave school without scandal and with diplomas. Bernie Williams proves it's possible to take a pitcher deep without showing him up.
FANS BEHAVIOR IS NO BETTER
It's not just behavior on the field that has deteriorated over the years. Buying a ticket to a sporting event is like playing the lottery. You hit the jackpot if your seat is not in close proximity to a fan who thinks people paid to see him.
The XFL wants fans to be more of a part of the game. But if that includes spewing unpleasantries to players, getting drunk and infringing on other fans' abilities to enjoy the contest, it won't make for a better league.
Sure, fans act recklessly in other leagues. People brag about how much fun the bleacher area is at Yankee Stadium. Here's the fun I experienced there one night: three hours of enduring the incoherent drunks around me smoking pot, soiling our bench when the crowd rose and spewing nonsense at hitters 500 feet away.
Maybe I'm just getting older, but fans never ruined my right to enjoy a game when I was a kid. Today I can't go to Yankee Stadium without being feeling sorry for a family seated nearby. They came to treat a child to a baseball game, and they got Eminem live.
Along with players' familiarity with a park or field, home field advantage exists mainly because of fan participation. They make noise to either inspire the home team or distract the visitors. And they can do both without telling a professional athlete he sucks. Again, why do we tolerate in sports what we don't outside that realm? I wish I knew.
THE NFL IS SO BORING, XFL PLAYERS WOULD LOVE IT
And after all this, the joke could very well be on the XFL. Is there any XFL player who doesn't have one eye on the field and one in the stands, trying to catch the attention of an NFL scout? Is there any coach who doesn't dream of securing a head coaching gig in the very league that the XFL mocks? It's like "Temptation Island" with a 50-yard line. Compromise yourself now and cash in later.
Do you smell what the XFL is cooking?
I do, and it stinks.