Over 17,000 fans attended the inaugural DC Defenders game at Audi Field.
Over 17,000 fans attended the inaugural DC Defenders game at Audi Field. Credit: Kelyn Soong

Before Troy Machir accepted the job as the content director for the DC Defenders, the local franchise of the rebooted XFL, he envisioned scenarios that could cause him to feel apprehensive about joining a startup sports league.

Maybe, he thought, XFL founder Vince McMahon‘s deal with Saudi Arabia could make situations untenable for the XFL. Or maybe there would be a global event, like a pandemic, that would cause the league to fold. 

“I tend to overthink things,” Machir says.

He concluded that those “doomsday scenarios” would not stop him from taking the job that involved the perfect mix of sports and creative freedom that the 34-year-old Georgetown resident craves. 

But just seven months after he accepted the job and two months after the DC Defenders played its debut game at Audi Field in front more than 17,000 fans, the league has suspended operations and laid off nearly all of its staff, including Machir, with no plans to return in 2021. The XFL canceled the remainder of the 2020 season last month after five games due to the novel coronavirus pandemic and offered to issue refunds to ticket holders. 

XFL president and chief operating officer Jeffrey Pollack told employees in a conference call Friday morning that day to day operations would be suspended and that contracts would be terminated, according to Machir. Pollack did not take any questions.

“To be honest, I did not retain every word that was said,” Machir says. “Once he said, ‘This is news I don’t want to say,’ I got a pit in my stomach and my hands started shaking.”

This is the second iteration of McMahon’s attempt at a professional football league that has abruptly ended. The wrestling mogul first launched the XFL in February 2001 as an even more violent alternative to the NFL. That league ceased operations in May 2001 after NBC pulled out of its broadcast contract.

The new version, complete with rules meant to speed up play, appeared to be going more smoothly. The XFL brought in respected names like Oliver Luck as its commissioner and Pep Hamilton to be the DC Defenders’ general manager and head coach.

With the tagline, “For the Love of Football,” the eight teams spread mostly across the two coasts. Rosters included former NFL players and collegiate standouts. The DC Defenders’ starting quarterback, Cardale Jones, led the Ohio State University to a national championship in 2015, and was one of the most recognizable faces in the league.

“What really bums me out … is that we had so much momentum,” Machir says. “It was beautiful every home game. We lucked out in getting the most recognizable quarterback in the league … I couldn’t predicted that every break to go our way, and it did. To not be able to continue, it stinks.”

In D.C., fans at home games put hundreds of plastic cups together to build a “beer snake,” a ritual that had started to go viral for a team and fanbase still building an identity. Fans in the area have been hungry for a winning pro football team and the 3-2 DC Defenders appeared to be a contender.

Machir would’ve liked to see the league try to continue for another season, but says he could see the writing on the wall when the league suspended the season in March. In 2018, ESPN reported that McMahon would spend close to $500 million for the league’s first three years.

The XFL, Machir adds, treated him “really well” and he is proud of the work and content he and his team created. Machir says he will be paid an extra week’s paycheck beyond the end of his employment plus any unused vacation days. 

As for what’s next, Machir doesn’t know, but if given the chance to do it again, he would.

“I wasn’t laid off because I made a bad decision to join a sinking ship or that it was a failing product,” he says. “I was laid off because of a pandemic. There’s nothing any of us could’ve done.”

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