October 27, 2015

DENSON | The Misogyny of the Lingerie Football League

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By BEN DENSON

“It’s about women taking over a man’s game,” read a 2010 statement from the newly formed Lingerie Football League. “This is our game now.”

The LFL is a 7 vs. 7 female football league, founded five years ago, and as per its namesake, its players compete in lingerie-like gear.

Recently renamed the Legends Football League, the association was founded based on the idea that the sex appeal of women would attract fans, while its competitive play will keep the fans watching. As a 16-year-old boy, I couldn’t help but watch these athletic, scantily clad women play the game that I’ve known and loved through watching the NFL.

But I noticed something (and it took me a few years of (hopeful) maturation to realize it); I wasn’t watching these gifted athletes play because they were good at football. I watched them because they were sexier than a brand new, right out-of-the-box Rolex watch. Sexier than Brad and Angelina combined. Sexier than Daniel Murphy bringing the Mets to the World Series.

But it’s not “about women playing a man’s game.” Let me first say that Football never was, and never will be, a man’s game. The social construct of the male gender does not have ownership over a sport that all humankind shares. No matter how many times league founder Mitchell Mortaza says otherwise, the LFL is based on sex appeal – not competitive play (although the LFL consists of some gifted athletes).

If the fact that these women leave almost nothing to the imagination on the field is not enough to convince you of the league’s “sex first” attitude, than the fact that there was once an accidental nudity clause in all the players’ contracts should do it. If the quarterback’s bra falls off when it’s 3rd and goal, down by a touchdown, just sit back and let her throw topless. Are women really okay with this? Are people okay with this? According to a Grantland article by Jordan Conn, these women have to worry if they should wax before games.

Sexualizing any athlete marginalizes his or her achievements on the field, let alone sexualizing an entire sports league. It almost seems like the LFL is a collection of giant traveling strip clubs- that play football. This is not powderpuff football. These women play an aggressive brand of competitive gridiron. Watch a game (all games are streamed on the LFL website) and see how intense the play is. While you’re watching, try to notice how the obvious objectification of these women steer the attention away from the players’ considerable athletic talent.

The issue is that the LFL markets itself as a competitive league, but even my cat understands that is simply a façade. I have a very smart feline.
And I forgot to mention that the players of the LFL do not get paid. The women of the league are considered amateur athletes, and therefore do not get a penny.

We have a so-called “competitive” football league, which sexualizes all of its athletes and refuses to pay its players. As there are a few class-action lawsuits against the LFL, I believe it is only a matter of time before the NLRB rules in favor of the league’s players forming a union.

For women looking to play football at the highest level, the LFL is it. It is the most competitive female football league in the U.S. It’s the LFL or bust. Ergo, this creates a vicious cycle of objectification and exploitation for all these women athletes. They are trading their dignity and integrity for the opportunity to achieve their dreams. It is the goal of all athletes to play at the highest level and since it seems unlikely that women will be playing in the NFL anytime soon, they have no choice but to play for the LFL.

“If Mortaza (league owner) deems a player below league aesthetic standards, he has been known to instruct coaches not to let them play, several former coaches say. On game days, Mortaza has arrived to find athletes who have gained weight and then had their teams bench them before kickoff,” Conn wrote for Grantland.

All I can say is that women should not be playing football at the expense of male exploitation. I just don’t know how in 2015 the LFL is still operating this way. We admire Alex Morgan and Danica Patrick because of their exceptional talent and endless determination. They are thought of as athletes first and “female athletes” second.

There is nothing wrong with posing nude, or nearly so, in Sports Illustrated or ESPN the Magazine. Both Rob Gronkowski and Danica Patrick have done so. However, there is a problem when a player does not get paid because of his or her gender. It is an archaic setback when a player is forced to parade around in almost nothing in order to be allowed to play a sport at the highest competitive level. They are not enslaved gladiators fighting for freedom in a Roman coliseum. Russell Crowe will not be starring in a movie about the plight of the LFL players.

I feel so sorry for young American women who want to pursue a career playing football. To all these potential superstars, I tell them to look elsewhere. Play soccer – a sport in America where women are admired for their athletic achievements and not their aesthetic attributes. Changing the name to the Legends Football League is all part of the façade. In an interview with King 5 News, Seattle Mist player Jessica Hopkins recognized the disconnect here.

“Maybe one day” she said, “girls won’t have to wear lingerie to get people interested.”

2 thoughts on “DENSON | The Misogyny of the Lingerie Football League

  1. I agree with every point you make. However, the reality is that there is really no professional football for women because there is no college, high school or club football leagues for women. Most of the athletes in the LFL have come to the league from other sports. Due to the lack of professional team women’s sports leagues – with the notible exception of the WNBA – if these women want to continue playing organized sports when done with college they don’t have many choices. You may not like the ethos of the LFL, but at least it is providing them with an outlet to continue to participate in team sports on a high level. The sad truth is that if they were not scantily clad, the league wouln’t make any money and would cease to exist. The television or spectator market likely would not be accepting of a standard female football league due to the diminished caliber of play vs. NFL or D1 college football. Perhaps the success of the WNBA and hopefully new female professional leagues in ice hockey and soccer will begin to fill the void for female athletes who want to continue their sports beyond college graduation.

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