Former XFL commissioner and CEO Oliver Luck is looking for $23.8 million in judgment from the wrongful termination lawsuit he filed on April 21 against the now defunct league. Less than a month later, the attorneys for his former boss, Vince McMahon, have made a series of court filings to explain why Luck was fired.
The crux of the argument for McMahon, as XFL owner, was summarized like this: Luck “effectively abandoned his responsibilities as the CEO and Commissioner of the XFL at a time when the league faced its most significant crisis — the threat to its business caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Luck, who was let go April 9 — right before the novel coronavirus contributed to the league shutting down operations and subsequently filing for bankruptcy — had one major misstep through his alleged “gross neglect,” according to McMahon.
That would be the XFL signing of former promising Browns wide receiver Antonio Callaway. Callaway, by league standards, was given a sizeable $125,000 bonus to join the Tampa Bay Vipers on Jan. 16. Callaway didn’t play a down for the Vipers after suffering a serious leg injury 13 days later, which further raised the league’s expenses related to him.
When McMahon later found out about Callaway’s troubled past, he saw Luck’s approval of the move to be in violation of the XFL’s directive regarding the hire of players with “questionable or problematic backgrounds.”
Callaway’s off-field concerns dated to his college days at Florida, where he was suspended during the 2017 season after being accused of sexual assault. He showed the on-field talent to be selected in the fourth round of the 2018 NFL Draft, but his time in Cleveland came to a quick end in 2019 when he served a league-imposed substance-abuse suspension. He further disappointed the organization with his lateness to meetings and practices before the Browns decided to release him last November.
Another reason McMahon cited for firing Luck was the commissioner not devoting enough of his time to XFL business in Connecticut, which Luck’s attorney has said there is evidence to the contrary during a stay-at-home order. Yet another one was Luck’s alleged personal use of an XFL-issued cellphone.
In contrast, what happened with Callaway is McMahon’s strongest potential sticking point. Luck, a retired NFL QB and a father of another one, Andrew Luck, was hired by the XFL because of his successful track record in his post-playing career as an executive, most notably his work with NFL Europe, the MLS’ Houston Dynamo and the NCAA.
The Luck-McMahon partnership was thought to be a reason the XFL could succeed in its second incarnation. The league seemed to be off to a good start, but based on the timing, the big rift at the top regarding the business was a bigger factor in the XFL’s demise than the unfortunate arrival of the coronavirus pandemic.
Go figure: The NFL suspends a player for violating its substance-abuse policy and his available talent stoked a fire to burn a bridge that was vital to the XFL doing well. There was McMahon’s way and there was Callaway.