FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – Joe McClendon has broken his silence.
The chairman and founder of the National Gridiron League spoke with WANE 15’s Briana Brownlee “to clear the air” on Tuesday. This was the first time McClendon addressed the press since the protest at Glenbrook mall that set off a chain of events that ultimately ended his league’s 2021 season before it could begin.
There have been rumblings from players and coaching staff and people in the community that suggested the NGL was a scam. The league has yet to play a game after struggles claimed its 2019 campaign and COVID-19 took the 2020 season.
The rumblings became louder after nearly 100 players were left stranded without the finances to head back home after the NGL’s 2021 season was canceled this week. The league had planned to hold a 12-team, 55-game bubble season in Fort Wayne, but ran into a host of issues that surfaced.
“One thing I saw in your article, they [players] mentioned scams and that we’re hustling players. Bre, as a scammer and a hustler it makes no sense for that scammer to get kids come to town and pay for hotels. If I am going to scam someone, I’m going to have the money coming to me,” said McClendon. “That doesn’t even make logical sense. There is a lot more avenues in which people can scam that is way more profitable. If I am going to scam, I’m not going to scam to give money to the city of Fort Wayne and the small businesses, I’m going to have that money coming to me.”
The former head coach of the Indiana Blue Bombers, Michael Coleman, told WANE 15 that hotel rooms weren’t paid for, flights weren’t booked for players stranded in Fort Wayne, and coaches haven’t been paid. Coleman said he didn’t know how those issues could have happened because the NGL received $4.2 million in Paycheck Protection Loans. He added that the budget for the 2021 season was $1.3 million.
McClendon disputed that, though.
“That is a lie,” McClendon said. “We have not received millions in PPP money. I believe PPP is public information. I wish we did, Bre, I wish we did. I indicated to players that we have been applying for those loans and if we were approved, we would have to have a season, because those funds would be dedicated to payroll, but 4.2, they are just pulling numbers out the air Bre. I wish we did have $4.2 million because at that point I could take better of the players. I want to pay them more, because I am a former player.”
WANE 15 was able to find the PPP application, but we found no evidence that the NGL or McClendon received the loan.
McClendon said that Visit Fort Wayne reached out to to the NGL back in January to host the bubble season. He said originally he never planned to come to Fort Wayne because he was worried that the city was too small (his first choices were Atlanta and Houston), but McClendon said Visit Fort Wayne offered that all 200 players could stay in one hotel – the Ramada Inn.
“During the meeting, I reiterated again that we can’t make this event happen without the housing assistance from the city,” McClendon said. “Why I say this is because it’s hard to host a season without ticket sales. It can only happen if we have the support of the city. What sparked the interest of the city was that they would have 420 players for the duration of 90 days. With that, it would have an economic impact for the local business community.”
WANE 15’s Briana Brownlee asked for written proof that Visit Fort Wayne offered to front the cost of the hotel rooms. McClendon said he would send the documentations Wednesday.
Dan O’Connell, the president of Visit Fort Wayne, disputed McClendon’s take of the meeting, and said the tourism organization offered to advocate for lower hotel costs but never agreed to pay the cost.
“Joe McClendon asked Visit Fort Wayne to assist him and the National Gridiron League in finding hotel rooms in Fort Wayne for his players to stay in. He assumed we’d pay for the hotels when all we said is we’d find places for the league to stay. We told McClendon we’d advocate for lower prices for him from those hotels and we got those low rates for him. We spoke to five hotels, who reserved rooms for the NGL because they had availability. From what we understand, McClendon told players he would pay for food and lodging expenses for tryout camps in Fort Wayne. No commitments were made by Visit Fort Wayne to pay for players’ expenses. We have also been informed that McClendon’s league credit cards were not authorized, and that he had no venue secured to play games at. Visit Fort Wayne does not want to comment specifically on any past conversations with McClendon. We will have no further dealings with him because information has been misconstrued. “Dan O’Connell, President of Visit Fort Wayne
McClendon told WANE that he was now planned to “change locations” from Fort Wayne because the city was no long “operating on good spirit.”
When asked about the players not being reimbursed for their travel and booking of rooms. McClendon stated that the NGL is not obligated to pay any player while they are in training camp.
“Players aren’t compensated during training camp, it’s a two- week period. In their contract it states they aren’t compensated during this time. Their travel arrangements aren’t obligations to the league,” McClendon said.
The team has started a gofundme page.
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