The litigious drama between Vince McMahon and ex-XFL commissioner Oliver Luck continued this week as McMahon filed a countersuit to Luck’s lawsuit against the entertainment magnate from April.
In his countersuit, filed Thursday in Connecticut federal court and obtained by USA TODAY Sports on Friday, the wrestling and entertainment magnate claims Luck defied his orders when it came to hiring league personnel and said the former commissioner essentially abandoned his duties when the COVID-19 pandemic forced the league to suspend play in mid-March, five weeks into its first season.
Luck sued McMahon in April for wrongful termination, one week after McMahon fired him with cause. Luck’s contract called for a $5 million annual salary and a yearly $2 million bonus through June 30, 2023, and Luck has said he is owed the $23.8 million remainin, on top of other damages and attorney fees.
In the countersuit, McMahon argues Luck did not heed his direction when it came to the signing of former NFL wide receiver Antonio Callaway by the Tampa Bay Vipers. McMahon said he emphasized to Luck that the XFL player pool must include “quality football players with good character.”
XFL president Oliver Luck attends the game between the LA Wildcats and the Dallas Renegades Dignity Health Sports Park. (Photo: Kirby Lee, USA TODAY Sports)
Apparently, Callaway did not meet McMahon’s threshold for “good character.” In November 2019, the ex-Cleveland Browns receiver been suspended 10 games by the NFL for violating the substance-abuse policy. He’d previously been suspended for the 2017 season for facing third-degree felony charges of credit card fraud.
Callaway eventually injured his knee before the season started, resulting in the league paying him worker’s compensation and leaving the XFL unable to terminate him without paying the original signing bonus that exceeded $120,000.
“Luck knowingly and deliberately deceived me – repeatedly – throughout the Callaway situation, which made me question whether I could continue to trust Luck to be the commissioner and CEO of the XFL,” McMahon wrote in the suit, indicating that the WWE CEO had considered moving on from Luck prior to April.
McMahon’s countersuit seeks $572,792.10 from Luck to cover Callaway’s contract, the worker’s compensation owed to him and Luck’s personal compensation from March 14 to April 9.
“It’s another lame attempt by Mr. McMahon’s attorneys to deflect attention from the fact that Mr. McMahon continues to refuse to pay the $24 million that he owes Oliver Luck,” counsel for Luck wrote in an email to The Athletic.
The countersuit lays out other instances of Luck pursuing players with previous blemishes on their record, naming former Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Martavis Bryant (who had been suspended for the 2016 NFL season for also violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy) and a player referred to as “Player A,” who had been banned from the university where his XFL team was practicing due to a sexual assault charge.
Former XFL president Jeffrey Pollack and Vipers coach Marc Trestman filed separate declarations confirming McMahon’s account of events.
Johnny Manziel was sticking point for McMahon
The pursuit of former Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel also caused a rift between Luck and McMahon. After learning of reports that the XFL would consider signing Manziel, McMahon texted Luck “How long R U going to play this game Oliver? U know there is NO CHANCE IN HELL for Manziel to play for us. I will not change my mind. So what’s Ur plan??”
Admitting it was a headlines ploy, Luck responded: “Vince – we have no intention of signing him, none whatsoever. We’re just milking the story to stay in the news. I’m happy to categorically rule him out but both Jeffrey and I think it is worthwhile to milk it until the showcases are finished (July 12). At that point we can say he doesn’t fit into our plans.”
McMahon also accused Luck of leaving the league's Connecticut headquarters on March 13 and returning to his home in Indiana. After that date, Luck and McMahon had no direct contact, according to the countersuit, and McMahon claims Luck missed several league operations meetings.
"Luck’s actions during the crisis caused by the COVID pandemic certainly did not meet my expectations for a Commissioner and chief executive of a sports league charged with devoting substantially all of his business time to the performance of his duties to the XFL at a time of existential threat," McMahon wrote.
Luck, a former NFL quarterback who also was West Virginia's athletic director, is the father of former Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck.
The XFL filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in April and the league was purchased for $15 million by a group led by Dany Garcia ex-husband Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. The league plans to return to play in 2022.
Follow Chris Bumbaca on Twitter @BOOMbaca.
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