Vince McMahon on Thursday said it would be “appropriate” for XFL players to stand for the national anthem when the pro football league returns in 2020.
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“I think, again, it’s a time-honored tradition to stand and appreciate the national anthem with any sport,” McMahon said during a press conference introducing the league. “Here in America – for that matter, in any country…so I think it’d be appropriate to do that.”
The NFL has drawn unprecedented scrutiny in its last two seasons amid a wave of player protests during the national anthem. The debate intensified last fall when President Donald Trump publicly called on the NFL’s owners to fire any player who knelt during the pregame ceremony. The former CEO of Papa John’s Pizza, one of the NFL’s top corporate sponsors, criticized the league’s handling of the protests last November, asserting that the negative publicity had impacted its business.
McMahon said controversy related to the NFL’s anthem debate did not impact his decision to restart the XFL. However, the WWE CEO added that the XFL would not be a platform for political or social issues.
“We’re here to play football. When we come onto the field, we’re here to play football,” McMahon said.
McMahon is investing $100 million to restart the XFL, which originally folded in 2001 after just one season. The new version of the league will kick off in early 2020 and will not directly compete with the NFL’s season.