Nearly four months after the XFL suspended operations and filed bankruptcy as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the league is set for another revival now that Dwayne Johnson, Dany Garcia and RedBird Capital have purchased the eight-team venture. And while the reported $15 million sale of the XFL is still subject to bankruptcy court approval, as well as objections from those concerned about former employee payouts, there's one contingent that seems squarely in favor of the deal: XFL players.
Dozens of notable names from the league's abbreviated 2020 season, including star quarterback P.J. Walker, longtime NFL backup Josh Johnson and New York Guardians signal-caller Luis Perez, have taken to social media to endorse the new ownership group.
Behind the scenes, the support is even more notable, and most of it has to do with Dwayne Johnson. "The Rock" undoubtedly has fans solely because of his celebrity status; original XFL founder and previous owner Vince McMahon is a celeb himself, but as one of the entertainment industry's most marketable talents, Johnson's reach is far more transcendent. Former and prospective XFL players, however, are just as motivated by Johnson's own background as a pro football wannabe, seeing it as an essential tool for steering this spring league back into action.
"I think that he wants to see people succeed and not get hindered by something out of their control," says former Los Angeles Wildcats defensive end Devin Taylor, alluding to the pandemic that wiped out hundreds of player jobs. "From him having an athletic background, it makes sense, him knowing our struggle."
JR Rickert, an NFL agent who represents former St. Louis BattleHawks defender Jake Payne, echoes that sentiment. He thinks the XFL returning is "great for the game of football and the process of having a developmental league." But he's especially confident some of his clients will be driven to the league because of Johnson's newfound presence.
"I would expect my younger players to want to participate," he says. "Guys definitely relate to him and his struggles to try to make it in the CFL."
Johnson, of course, had a brief stint with the Calgary Stampeders after going undrafted out of Miami in 1995, before turning to professional wrestling and a future acting career. He's maintained loose connections to pro football over the years, starring in football-themed movies ("Gridiron Gang," "The Game Plan") and leading the NFL-inspired HBO drama "Ballers" from 2015-2019.
Former Wildcats staffer Amy Chastain believes ex-XFL players "just want to play regardless of who's in charge," but she still sees Johnson's pending co-ownership as a big victory for the league, which kicked off in its original form back in 2001.
"I think Dwayne will draw a lot of interest not because of his time in football but because he's a mega entertainer," Chastain says. "I think people who otherwise wouldn't be interested will tune in ... It's exciting news."
A hearing on the proposed XFL sale will take place Friday, as The Athletic's Daniel Kaplan reported. Despite previous reports that dozens of potential bidders were in active discussions to buy and restart the league for a 2021 season, Kaplan indicated Johnson, Garcia and RedBird Capital were the only ones to submit an official offer for the XFL. It remains unclear whether objections to the sale will prohibit an immediate transfer of ownership, but 2020 league president Jeffrey Pollack is on board with the players.
"It truly is a Hollywood ending to the sale process," Pollack told Kaplan. "And it's the most exciting possible new start for the XFL. When you look at the incredible track record of accomplishment among Dany and Dwayne and (RedBird) in sports and entertainment, media, storytelling and brand building, it's frankly mind-blowing. And, you know, they say the third time's a charm, and this time around, the XFL could not be more charmed."