For league’s biggest name, there’s little to hate about XFL experience
Imagine sitting at a bar with your friends, and the anchor on ESPN announces on live television that you just lost your job.
Rod Smart’s jersey made him an instant star on the league’s television debut.
“The season was over,” said Smart, the player otherwise known as He Hate Me. “I was visiting home in the summer. We were watching ESPN, and it came on.”
Laughing, Smart added, “I was like ‘What the hell? Do I have a job?’”
He did, however, have that nickname.
Smart requested “He Hate Me” instead of his name for the back of his jersey with the upstart league. It was, after all, a league that was aiming to emphasize players’ personalities. But Smart’s request managed to give the bold, brash XFL pause, with Smart saying the league was worried about the negative connotations of “hate.” “I had to explain myself and tell them what I meant by it,” said Smart, noting that the reference was to how he anticipated opponents and other fans would “hate him” for making big plays.
Given the coaches’ feedback and initial league response, Smart said he didn’t expect to end up with the phrase on his jersey. “I’m walking on my way to the locker room before the first game. … I go in there, and sure thing, it’s in the locker and it’s got ‘He Hate Me’ on the back. I was so excited,” said Smart, now an aspiring actor who lives in the Charlotte area.
Perhaps not coincidentally, a picture of Smart in his He Hate Me jersey is one of the images that comes up when you Google “XFL.” Smart also parlayed his time in the XFL into an NFL career. He played in Philadelphia in 2001 and then spent four seasons with Carolina, through 2005.
The XFL, Smart said, gave him a chance to build that career. An undrafted free agent out of Western Kentucky, he was signed by San Diego in 2000 but was cut before that NFL season began. That led him to the XFL and the Las Vegas Outlaws.
“Playing in the XFL, I was able to adjust and learn how to play in a professional system,” Smart said, “and for that, I’m very thankful.”
Despite the abrupt ending to the league, Smart said he enjoyed his time in the XFL and knows that he’s not alone in thinking back fondly on the league.
“I loved it, I enjoyed it, and I know a lot of other players did as well,” he said.