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Books on Business: Bombast fells XFL's gridiron strategy

Sunday, March 23, 2003

By Carnegie Library's Business Librarians

Long Bomb : How the XFL Became TV's Biggest Fiasco by Brett Forrest. New York: Crown Publishers, 2002.

Most casual sports fans likely don't remember very much about the XFL, World Wrestling Federation owner Vince McMahon's disastrous foray into professional football. Hardcore NFL fans probably recall little more than hazy images of cheerleader dance-offs and players with names like He Hate Me.


Contact the business librarians, who also answer questions about business, money and work, at 412-281-7141 or at http://www.carnegielibrary.org/


In the spring of 2001 McMahon and the brass at television network NBC debuted the first slate of XFL games with much fanfare and some degree of fan curiosity. Like an old episode of NBC's Quincy, author Brett Forrest brilliantly exhumes and examines the XFL's decaying corpse, taking the reader through the series of fateful decisions and missteps that sealed XFL's fate, making it one of the worst disasters in modern television history.

Several powerful themes pervade Forrest's engaging narrative, but none can outshine the hubris of XFL creator and owner Vincent Kennedy McMahon. McMahon's powerful presence persuaded NBC executives still smarting from the loss of their NFL broadcast rights to sign off on the XFL.

It was McMahon's OK that allowed player's such as Eric Herrin and Scott Adams to slap colorful names like "E-Rupt" and "Hell Hole" on the backs of their jerseys. It was McMahon who coaxed Minnesota governor and ex-WWF crony Jesse Ventura into the XFL announcer's booth. And it was McMahon who billed the XFL as the next step in the evolution of American professional football.

Forrest leaves no plotline unexplored in Long Bomb, and he manages to find a handful of noble, sympathetic characters amidst the wreck and ruin wrought by the machinations of McMahon and the greed of NBC executives.

Ex-NFL great Dick Butkus is one such story. Hired as the XFL commissioner, Butkus found himself prowling the sidelines and luxury booths of the XFL. With a reputation forged while playing for the Chicago Bears in one of the NFL's most savage eras, Butkus found himself confounded by McMahon's brand of vacuous showmanship (at one point players were strongly encouraged to develop relationships with cheerleaders). Instead of the storied pageantry and power of the Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions, Butkus had to wrestle with the likes of the Memphis Maniax and NY/NJ Hitmen.

There is much to recommend Long Bomb. Sports fans will find the antics of those involved in this doomed league immensely amusing. Marketing and business professionals will discover an object lesson in how not to establish a new brand in a highly competitive marketplace.

Pittsburgh Steelers fans will thrill to the 14 references to Tommy Maddox (the league's 1st and only MVP as the quarterback of the storied LA Extreme).

And although author Forrest may not have intended it, students of English literature will find a striking resemblance between the XFL and Percy Bysshe Shelley's classic poem "Ozymandias," in which the narrator encounters a blasted monument of a bygone kingdom in some remote desert. An inscription on the ruined statue boasts of an eternal empire with all the bluster and bravado of a WWF champion at Wrestlemania XIX.

A cursory search of online auction-house e-Bay will reveal similar artifacts of the XFL's tarnished history. That, and Long Bomb, are really all we have left of the XFL. It's probably better that way.

Global woman: nannies, maids and sex workers in the new economy, edited by Barbara Ehrenreich and Arlie Russell Hochschild. Metropolitan Books, 2003.

It is generally from science fiction and from chronicles of times of slavery that we get visions of a prosperous world where the basic needs of the privileged inhabitants are filled by subservient beings imported from elsewhere.

In Global Woman, however, we discover that those faraway scenes are most emphatically happening here and now.

An unprecedented mass migration of female "helpers," providing the services that support hearth and home, is taking place today, over thousands of miles, from south to north, from impoverished countries to wealthy ones. This is one aspect of the new global labor market that strikes close to home indeed.

Ehrenreich and Hochschild, best-selling authors and controversial social commentators on their own, have compiled a fascinating and disturbing set of essays documenting many varied aspects of this "Love for Sale" phenomenon.

In them, a number of articulate experts give voices to those normally silent nannies, personal attendants, housekeepers, cleaning personnel, and sex workers. The writing styles are somewhat uneven, but two essays stand out as unforgettable: Ehrenreich's own account of her eye-opening stint with The Maids, and "Because She Looks Like A Child," Kevin Bales' expose of the vicious sex slavery industry in Southeast Asia.

In an ironic twist of fate, much of this was brought about by the feminist revolution of the 1970s and '80s, which brought so many more middle-class women into the workplace, creating a vacuum of homemaking and caretaking work that needed to be filled.

As a result, the cleaning, washing, cooking, care of children and the elderly, and even sex services brought over with the women that provide them, become resources that are drained from their home countries.

The "care deficit" that is left behind, in the form of children without mothers, homes without homemakers, and sick people without caregivers, is an even more depleting export than timber or gold.

Destination countries include not only the United States and Canada, but also Western Europe, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, and Hong Kong and Taiwan. What makes this flow of millions of women hard to track is that the destination workplaces are likely the house across the street or the apartment two floors up -- behind closed doors -- and the workers are often without legal documentation. It also makes them easy targets for abuse.

Lamentably, the stories present multiple examples of cruelty and exploitation of human beings. These range from the well-to-do Los Angeles matrons and their overworked, underpaid maids to the brutally efficient networks that ensnare thousands of young girls in the Thai countryside to serve as brothel inmates.

The moving stories of many migrants are brought to life, such as the Filipina Rosemarie, who must wipe away thoughts of her own distant children when her new charge in Rome calls her "mama;" Salvadoran Celestina, forced to abruptly part with the 2-year old she had cared for since birth because she would not move in with the family; and Dominican Carmen, who tries desperately to use her work as a prostitute as a way to find a German husband and a ticket out of poverty.

Those with a tendency toward misanthropy should probably not read this book, as it delivers up ample evidence of the callousness of man -- and woman. And yet the volume concludes with a list of organizations that act as advocacy groups for migrant women workers, showing that where there is exploitation, there also is concern.

dot.gif Also recommended are:

    Financial Independence 101: A Simple Strategy for Building Wealth by L.E. Robillard. About Your 401k.com, c2003.

    Harvard Business Essentials: Managing Change and Transition. Harvard Business School Press, 2003.

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