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Lingerie Football League – where women play in their underwear

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Jem McCarron
WVoN co-editor

It’s half time at an American football game and the opportunity for two teams of professional sports women to show that they can play tackle football as well as any of the men.

In their underwear.

Lingerie Football League (LFL) sounds like the sort of thing a teenage boy would dream up in his bedroom. Well, it seems that some boys never grow up.

Fourteen attractive women go head-to-head in full-contact tackle American football wearing shoulder pads, helmets, elbow pads, knee pads, bras, panties and garters. Yes. You read right, garters, bras and panties.

Lingerie Bowl made its debut as half time entertainment at the 2004 Super Bowl and has been growing in popularity ever since.

The LFL was founded in 2009 by Mitch Mortaza, a former contestant on Blind Date with convictions for drunk driving and public intoxication.

Twelve teams play regularly throughout autumn and winter and it’s big business, drawing large crowds on pay-for-view, with the associated advertising opportunities.

MTV2 aired game highlights in 2010 and is carrying full games including some live matches this season.

Mortaza is planning to expand into five Canadian cities in 2012, into Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Adelaide in 2013, and Barcelona, Frankfurt, Rhein, Manchester and Dublin in 2014.

As feminist groups struggle to address gender imbalance, the growing popularity of LFL is dismaying, as is the lack of opposition to the game’s ‘uniform’.

Abbie Sullivan, 25, who plays for Cleveland Crush, defends the LFL against criticism that their uniform is harmful to women.

“Just because we play in the LFL does not mean we promote promiscuity. We are smart females. We are athletes who take care of our bodies. We are the total package. It’s about football and we’re actually pretty good at it.”

Her colleague, Marija Condric, 23, says: “Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. Sit down and watch. You’ll forget what we are wearing and you will be thinking about how hard that girl got hit on that last play.”

The LFL has players sign a contract stating they have ‘no objection to providing services involving Player’s accidental nudity’.

When Tommy Craggs at Deadspin challenged LFL on this, and the fact that despite being ‘extremely profitable’ LFL players are not paid in 2009, the official response was:

“… they become instant sports celebrities in their towns and make life-long memories/friendships. The league also covers all travel, meals, hotels, equipment, wardrobe etc. I challenge you to find another women’s pro football league that has this level of benefit for its players.”

Yet the Bleacher Report, in a picture slideshow talking about why LFL is better than National Football League (NFL), concludes with:

“I saved the best and most obvious choice for last. The ladies of the LFL are absolutely gorgeous and every game they run around jumping on top of each other in almost nothing but their bras and panties….In the LFL wardrobe malfunctions are quite common and happen on a regular basis. What’s not to love?”

How is this not harmful to women? Is the wearing of lingerie really the only way to get people interested in women’s football?

And how likely is it that, as the idea becomes more ‘acceptable’, they will be able to wear more clothes? Isn’t the opposite in fact true: that this is actually damaging to women trying to make headway in these male dominated areas?

What TV channels will show sportswomen playing fully clothed, what stadium will host genuine women’s football when they can make a mint from hot girls playing in their bras and panties?

If all this wasn’t enough to get your blood boiling, LFL has made it into the news recently for other reasons.

Given the lack of protective clothing and lighter helmets worn by LFL players in order to display their ‘natural attributes’, safety on the pitch is a common concern and quality training is essential to protect the team members from injury.

When players for the new Canadian team, Toronto Triumph, raised concerns about the lack of experience of their coaching team their requests were met with what appears to be little more than scorn.

Following an exchange of emails between the head coach Don Marchoine, Mortaza and the team, the only experienced coach and four players were sacked, prompting a further sixteen team members to leave in protest.

“In addition to not being properly prepared to play, we didn’t have the right equipment. It just felt like there wasn’t any regard for our safety. Something just wasn’t right.” said former track star, Tanja Reid-Matlock.

LFL denies that this spells the end of their move into Canada and auditions to replace the team have already been arranged.

Then, in a jaw-dropping statement that has raised some concerns, but not nearly enough, the LFL announced plans to create a Youth League.

Their website statement talks about how they have raised the profile of women playing tackle football and hope to continue that work with children.

Inherently, the LFL firmly believes that girls want to play football too, now the league is taking measures to insure many generations of young ladies have the “opportunity”.

The opportunity to play football in their underwear.

They even wrote to Paris Jackson, Michael Jackson’s 13-year-old daughter, her school football team’s only girl, asking her to be spokesperson for the league. According to the Daily Mail a family insider said Paris’ grandmother, Katherine Jackson, was furious.

“A teenage spokeswoman for a lingerie league? That’s just creepy and downright offensive.”

Jessica Hopkins, a Seattle Mist player, told Tonya Mosley at NWCN.com that she hopes the youth teams will forge a new path and maybe one day girls won’t have to wear lingerie to get people interested.

The clue is in the statement “have to wear”. What on earth will this teach young women?

All of this is made more concerning by the fact that this isn’t going on in some seedy back room, this is well and truly in the mainstream.

Is this really the only way women’s tackle football can get noticed? Do we really want to stand by and let this exploitation be exported across the world?

In a piece suggesting the LFL should come to Boston, Ryan Durling writes on Bostinnovation:

“This isn’t an argument to see more scantily-clad women in public settings …nor is it an endorsement of a product that’s built upon a gimmick – but if the (Boston) Blazers can offer lap dances at halftime, what’s the shame in women playing football in what are essentially glorified bikinis?”

When faced with ‘logic’ like that, words fail me.

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