Ten reasons why the Lingerie Football League sucks

It’s no secret that I find the Lingerie Football League completely repulsive.  A lot of people do. The emphasis on the “lingerie” is a deliberate push-back against the ascendancy of female athletes by reminding them that, once again, their most important calling on this planet is to serve as spank material for hetero men.  Because we as a society are totally deficient in spank material, amirite?

But it turns out that the uniforms worn by the players are the least of what’s wrong with the Lingerie Football League.  I came across an article by Andrew Bucholtz at Yahoo! Sports Canada the other day, and, well, to say it was eye-opening is an understatement.  My eyes were so wide open my eyeballs nearly rolled out of their sockets and landed with a thud on my desk.

I was inspired to go do some more digging around and what emerged was a horrifying portrait of an organization with no concern for matters like safety, an organization built entirely on the exploitation of female athletes. I was seriously repulsed by what I came across, and I’m going to share it on my blog because I think it’s important that feminists know that the sins of the LFL do not begin and end at those tacky uniforms they make the athletes wear.

1.  Those uniforms.  My god, the uniforms.

Have you ever touched Astroturf before?  It’s not pleasant. Can you imagine playing full-tackle football on it?  Can you imagine playing full-tackle football on it while wearing a bikini?   The epic amounts of turf burn those women must experience on a regular basis makes me wince just thinking about it.

And evidently the women themselves are not the biggest fans of the uniforms.  Angela Rypien, the quarterback for the Seattle Mist, recently said on Fox News that she would like to wear a less-revealing uniform one day.  But hey, as long as straight dudes can have as many places to ogle ass and titties as they want, who cares?  Right, Gretchen Carlson?

2.  And the names of the teams!

A commenter in the afore-linked Jezebel post said the names sound like they were thought up by “Danielle Steele after five wine spritzers.”  I mean, the Mist? The Seduction?  The Sin?  These are women who are crushing each other on the field, and yet the teams’ marketers are treating them like commercials for Designer Imposters perfumes.

3.  The athletes don’t get paid.

This should actually be the top of the list, because oh my god.  The players are not paid; their compensation is limited to travel expenses.  This, despite the fact that the league officials say the LFL has been “highly profitable.”  There’s a word for this people, and that word is “exploitation.”

When I learned about this, I was reminded of Amanda Hess’s article about the Washington Redskins cheerleaders.  The cheerleaders are part of the squad at considerable personal expense, and their images are licensed for merchandising by the NFL for calendars and such.  How much of the NFL’s multi-billion dollar pie do these women get?  About $75 per game.

This was evidently not always the case.  The players originally received a cut of net revenue, but the commissioner changed the league to “amateur status” in 2011, which exempts the LFL from having to pay them.  What’s more, the players now have to pay to participate.

4.  The league management uses union-busting tactics on the players.

When players for the Toronto Triumph expressed dismay about the firing of the only member of the coaching staff with pro football experience, the league commissioner responded with threats to fire the players who complained.  The rest of the team called his bluff, and ultimately 22 of the team’s 26 players quit.  Now that’s some fucking female solidarity.

Here’s the email exchange between the league commissioner and some of the players.  I particularly like how the commish brags that the LFL is the most popular women’s sports league in the US.  *gag*

5. The league has threatened to sue players for asking about health coverage and wages.

This is a sport where the players get seriously hurt.  They break bones and tear ACLs and separate joints, and yet the league doesn’t provide them with health coverage?  Even though the league is “highly profitable” because of these women and their willingness to get hurt?  Can you imagine if the NFL told their players, Sorry bro, I know you ripped your knee to shreds for the pleasure of a national audience, but you’re on your own with that one.   And then not only doesn’t cover them, but then threatens to sue them just for bringing it up.

6. Players say the league provides subpar equipment.

Deborah Poles, who played for the Chicago Bliss and was once the league’s defensive player of the year, said the league cut costs wherever they could – including the protective gear for the players:

“We were sustaining really severe turf burns … because we had basically elbow pads and knee pads that you could just buy at the dollar store,” said Poles, who added that she got a staph infection from the burns after the league’s championship game last February.

When you don’t pay your players, skimp on their gear and refuse to provide them with health coverage – well, it’s no wonder the league is “highly profitable,” right?

7.  The players are set up to be physically violated and sexually exposed for the audience’s entertainment.

The Toronto Triumph recently held a contest in which the winner was given the privilege of tackling one of the players at half-time.  Need I say more?  Okay, I will.  The contract signed by the LFL players said the athletes cannot wear anything beneath the uniforms, like underwear or bras, because the “accidental nudity” is enshrined as part of their contractual obligations.  Basically, the league wants the players to be okay with being naked and groped.  SWEET.

8.  The league is aiming to hit the underage market as well.

It’s one thing for a grown-up woman to make the decision to play in the league.  It’s another thing for a young girl to take part.  I don’t even know what to say about parents who would approve of their teenage daughters suiting up in underwear so they can go play tackle football.  Will the “accidental nudity” clause remain intact?

This is the thing – the idea to expand the league is fueled by the fact that more and more girls (like Michael Jackson’s daughter!) want to play tackle football.  And why shouldn’t they?  The informal prohibition against women and girls playing tackle football comes from an idea of women and girls as delicate and in need of protection, but if there is anything we’ve seen in a post Title IX world, it’s that women and girls love to get rough and rowdy, just as much as the boys do.

9.  Players say the league has low standards for coaches.

Want to show how little you regard the physical exploits of your players?  Make sure they have shitty coaching staffs!

As one of the players told me, it’s troubling that the league doesn’t have higher standards with regards to their coaches.

“Mitch needs to ask himself what the requirement is to become an LFL coach!” she said. “These guys pick up any Tom, Dick and Harry off the street. Those interested should go through a series of tests to qualify just like the players do.”

I was happy to see that the league at least bothered to find some coaches with pro football experience, unlike the Toronto Triumph, whose coaching staff consists of a high school basketball coach and a flag football ref.

10. The league exploits the genuine desire of these women to play football.

Quotes I found from athletes during my research:  “I just appreciate playing football, I don’t care what they put me in.” When a player’s friend was drafted by the NFL: “But I kept thinking: ‘That could be me. That should be me. I can do this. I know I can play. I know I’m next.’ ” “If there’s ever a place where I can play professional football, you’ll see me there.” “And I was like, ‘I don’t care. I just want to play football.’ I’d play football naked if I had to. I just love the sport.”

These women want to play football.  They want to play football for an audience.  They want the bright lights shining down on them, the roar of a crowd, all the trappings that go along with being a professional athlete.  They want the same thing generations of male football players have dreamed of.  The league management knows this, and they treat the players like crap, knowing their desire to play football is so strong that they will put up with it.

This is what is saddest about all of this to me.  These women want to play.  They are legit athletes.  And look at how they are treated.

Listen, I’m a third-wave baby, born and bred.  I respect that women will make different choices than I will.  I respect women who choose to strip, who do sex work, who perform in adult movies.  That respect extends to women who say, “Sure, I’ll play football in my underwear.”  But I believe in backing that respect up with action.  I believe people should get paid for their work, and that they should be able to do their work in safe environments.  I do not think this suddenly becomes optional just because your work takes on an “adult” nature.

I respect the athletes of the Lingerie Football League.  The problem is, the Lingerie Football League does not respect its athletes.

Edited to add that I’m closing the comments on this article.  I’ve had my fill of bros barging in like the white knights of the internet, all offended by my criticism of the LFL.  Dear bros, your critique is boring and tired and I’ve heard it all before.   Please find somewhere else to spew your garbage because we’re not interested here.

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46 responses to “Ten reasons why the Lingerie Football League sucks

  1. As a hetero male, I would like to say that I found the whole concept of the Lingerie Football League gross and demeaning before I read you article. This sort of exploitation should have gone out with the dark ages.

    • Totally agree. The concept is problematic in and of itself but the way they actually carry it out goes way beyond that.

      I wonder how the recent switch to amateur status will affect the players’ willingness to put up with this kind of stuff? People will put up with a lot if they are getting paid, but if that money stops coming…

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  3. Wow, thank you for posting this, I had no idea. Like others, I’ve always rolled my eyes at the idea of the LFL but I never gave much thought to the players themselves. It’s absolutely infuriating to read this, although sadly, it’s not surprising.

  4. Holy, freakin’, crap! This is abominable. I had no idea this league existed, but now that I do I sort of wish I still didn’t. Why would anyone want to be on one of these teams? That would be an interesting interview…

  5. Perhaps they could start a league the way the flat track roller derby association has. It’s certainly growing in popularity. (Thought it is still technically amateur, and most of the players pay to play.) At least the players get to play in front of an audience, and they run their own league. Though, the expense involved in maintaining a football league may be too prohibitive without some major financial backing.

    • They could, but the problem is that there are already several amateur women’s tackle leagues in place. I imagine the allure the LFL held over the other amateur leagues was that players did actually get paid at one time, and that the league was also pretty high-profile. Now, though, I’m not really sure why someone would play. I would love to talk to a player, though, because surely there has to be something I’m missing, you know?

  6. I think the more publicity they get for all this, the less women will want to join. If there’s a serious shortage of players, this may be the only thing that forces change.

  7. Wow this is pretty terrible. I hated it because legitimate [clothed and compensated] women’s professional sports barely get any attention, and then they come up with this crap. But I had no idea the “crap” extended so far beyond the uniforms.

  8. The problem with your argument is that you are giving men all of the power and acting as if these woman have no control over their actions and what is happening. You say that you respect the women who chose to take part in the LFL, and dress this way instead of being taken seriously, but that it is horrible for the men to exploit these women and make a profit off of it. So it is okay for these girls to allow themselves to be exploited like this? To take part in a league that sexualizes female athletes? There are legitimate female football leagues established across the US that they can take part of- especially since they’re not getting paid to play in this league. The fact is, these woman are allowing themselves to be exploited, and degrading themselves by taking part in this. We cannot say “those men are awful objectifying woman and making them wear lingerie” while the women choose to participate in it. As awful as it is that it’s so popular and that it actually exists at all, it wouldn’t if the women refused to be a part of it.

    • That’s the thing – up until this year, they WERE actually getting paid. As far as I know, it was the only full-tackle football league for women that did pay their players.

      This is how I look at it – if a woman wants to use her sexuality to make money, I’m okay with it. It’s not a choice I would make, but that doesn’t mean I insist everyone makes the same choices that I would. Certainly there is room for critique but there are a lot of women out there who engage in sex work, for whatever reason, and I’m not about to sit and wag my finger at them. All I ask is that the people who employ them compensate them fairly and ensure they have a safe working environment, which is my main issue with the LFL. They put the players’ safety at risk and they don’t cut them in on the profits (which I have to imagine are not as considerable as the founder/head of the league likes to pretend they are).

      Would I love it if the LFL didn’t exist? Sure. But I also think that there will always be women who, for whatever reason, find the LFL appealing. All I ask is that the league take steps to keep the players safe and compensate them fairly.

  9. This is inhumane an horrific is amazing how women still say okay to this humiliation. I believe in the sport and the equality and hope to see one day a real women’s football team. This players can play and deserve respect.

  10. I stumbled across the LFL just about a week ago when my boyfriend was watching it…needless to say he wasn’t watching it for long after…I was disgusted for the concept, even more disgusted now.

  11. Fantastic post! Initially when I heard about the league I was trying to be as opened minded as possible. I don’t want to judge other women based on their own choices. However I think that you articulate it well when you stated, “But I believe in backing that respect up with action. I believe people should get paid for their work, and that they should be able to do their work in safe environments.” I could not echo that statement more!

  12. I find it ridiculous and repulsive. I wished everyone realized their is a difference between men and women.Women want so much to be the same as men, why? Obviously they can’t be, men would never work without pay or safety precautions and health coverage.

    • Thanks for your comment but I’m not sure I understand you.

      1. How is “wanting to play football” the same as “wanting to be so much the same as men”? Can’t a woman, who has likely grown up watching football, want to play football without it being a question of her wanting to not be a woman? Or is football one of those things that is “uniquely masculine,” like it’s encoded in the Y chromosome or something?

      2. Plenty of men work without safety precautions or health coverage or adequate compensation. I see it all the time. It would be nice if everyone decided they would not work in such conditions, but the fact is, there will ALWAYS be someone who is so desperate for whatever (pay, exposure, the ability to work in that field) that they are willing to do so while being undercompensated and underprotected. The onus is incumbent on the employer, as the one with the power in the relationship, to provide these things, and since a lot of employers wouldn’t if left to their own devices, I’m grateful that we have a body of labor law that is meant to protect workers for these precise reasons.

  13. Awesome post! I was recently in a debate about this, of course it was wrecked by immature men. But lots of good points were brought up!

  14. Hello, I came across your blog/article today while trying to do some research to solve a moral dilemma. The LFL is coming to Australia (where I live) to do some exhibition games before rolling out an expansion league next year. I’m a female gridiron referee for the regular mens league and was asked to join the officiating crew for the exhibition games as the LFL is only bringing out 2 officials. My very first reaction was to say no way! because I find the LFL so repugnant (yes I am a proud modern feminist). Plus, they require officials to be “fit and athletic looking” for the television broadcast, which is as narrow minded as the physical requirements for the players. As a marathon runner I fit the requirements but I hate that they specify it because I hate how so much of our culture is focused on appearances.

    But I’ve been considering the benefits of officiating and for one thing, the officials are proper NCAA officials that are independent from the LFL organisation so they are respectful and professional. I was thinking that being an official for the games might be a good thing to show the league, players, audience etc. that women are good for more than just running around in lingerie. We can actually hold important leadership positions and control the game whilst wearing clothes and being paid! I was thinking, if there are girls out there who like gridiron but don’t want to play nearly naked, maybe they might see me and say, “hey, maybe I can be a Ref instead and still participate.” I know that female officials are few and far between – there are only a few of us in Australia and I think none who work professionally in the US.

    Anyway, I would like some thoughts as to whether or not working as an official would be a good thing or if I’m selling my soul . . . because I really can’t decide!

    • Hey Joanne, sorry for the delay on this response – I wanted to think about what you had asked before responding. I’ll probably email you too in case you don’t see this. Anyway, my first thought has been whether or not you’ll be asked to sign a contract of any sort. I ask that because my inclination is to say that you should give it a try and see how it goes. If it works out like you are hoping it might, then that’s awesome, but if it ends up being a bad thing, then it’s good to have an escape route out.

      I do think the situation sounds very complicated and it would be hard for me to say what is the right thing to do. I like what you are saying, about how you want to show that there are legitimate ways for girls to be involved with football while not running around half-naked, but I also think that the people who will mostly be watching you are going to be grown men.

      And of course, there is the fact that you’d be getting paid to ref…it’s so frustrating, isn’t it, that an opportunity like this can’t just be an unequivocally cool thing, that it has to be all tangled up in all of these retrograde ideas about gender and sexuality?

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  16. No one is going to pay to watch women play football. The lingerie is the only thing that makes it worth watching. I can’t be bothered watching it because female sport frustrates me because of their lack of ability. They should get paid yes, but the rest of the article about coaches and a girl wanting to play in the nrl is a waste of time. The game is clearly not marketed on actual skilful nfl. Hence no need for proper coaches. The girls can want it to be a proper sport but the fact is that nfl is a sport based on speed and explosiveness, females will be second rate.

    • “Females”? We are people, not specimens. And as far as the lingerie being the only thing that makes it worth watching, does that mean you watch LFL games? Why do I doubt that you do?

      Finally, even if you want to watch women play football in their underwear, why should they be subjected to playing in unsafe conditions with no pay just so you can have yet another way to get your rocks off? At the very least, they should be provided with padding and access to health care. The fact that you don’t seem to think they deserve this because they are providing you with spank material shows just how highly you regard women you perceive as sex objects.

    • Caitlin, I have to agree with Jack about the whole “worth watching” thing. I’m actually a woman who has been interested in playing lingerie football for the longest. The uniforms im not so crazy about, but the thought of playing football? yes. The public will not be interested in watching girls play football if we were fully clothed.

      The media thinks about what would sale. And if that means taking off a few layer to be able to play the sport we love on national television, then it shall be. Of course the health coverage thing sucks, but thats not the picture we’re looking at. Would it be cool if we can wear clothes and play football as if it were the NFL? Yes. Sadly thats not what people want to see. The worst part about it is, I would rather see men play than women.

      Long story short, I like lingerie football. You got to give the people what they want. Right?

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  18. I am sure you contacted the exploited and vulnerable women who have been polluted by the oppressive patriarchal system and have gathered their view on the manner right? I wonder if these liberators speak for women or argue in order to mask their own insecurities?

    • Actually, if you had bothered to read the post before spouting off, you’d see that a lot of the complaints were lodged by former players themselves, and that conditions are so bad that most of one team quit rather than play. But don’t let things like “facts” and “evidence” get in the way of such a sorry attempt at an insult.

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  20. Please everyone who commented here –
    sign the petition to stop the LFL from coming back next year and forming teams here, we can’t stop the two promotional matches but we can stop them coming back
    find the petition at http://www.collectiveshout.org – click on the LFL picture, the link for petition is in the article.
    we have over 3500 signatures and need for more people to add their voice. it’s great people are blogging about this disgrace, but we need your support on the petition to tell all hosts, promoters and sponsors we do not want the LFL in Australia for all the above reasons and more.
    You can also find many links to the petition through my wordpress blog.
    Please add your voice and your support to this petition. The government won’t step in, in fact they tell you how to buy tickets on the Qld gov translink site, the sports minister, though strongly apposed, cannot do anything, and the Australian sports, though opposed, can do nothing as they are not a regulatory body.
    this is up to us!
    sign the petition, share with your facebook friends, email contacts and blog followers, and take a stand against this sexploitation.
    I counted the signatures myself two nights ago and 1 in every 4.5 signatures are from men, and xyonline – an Australian men’s pro-feminist website, published an article today about the petition, so more good men will be signing.
    http://www.collectiveshout.org http://www.freedomfrompornculture.wordpress.com

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  22. I am across your blog WAY after you wrote it. I was actually researching how to create a franchise in Northern California. I completely agree with everything you are saying though. The fact that these players are being exploited is because of greedy entrepreneurs. If I were to put this together, I could tell you players would get paid, taken well taken care of, and get recognition for their efforts. I would personally coach the team and make sure that each girl is treated with the same respect I would my own daughter.

  23. I just think that they are strong beautiful woman that love football and themselves so they have no problem with showing off a little skin because they arent insecure its not demeaning to the girls its more like letting them show their confidence with a sport they love playing

    • That would be true if the players hadn’t said it themselves that they feel demeaned and unprotected by the gear they are wearing.

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  26. Ok. This is absurd. These women are choosing to participate and to pay what ever is required to do so. Apparently they want to do so. What right do you have to deny these women the ability to pursue their goals?

    Personally, I’m not interested in the sport. A women’s league in any sport is stupid, slow, and boring. However, the lack of clothing causes me to watch on occasion. Let’s face it. They are good looking. Even my wife agrees with that.

    Take the lingerie off, and I would watch every game.

    • If you had bothered to read the post, you’d know that I’m not saying the women SHOULDN’T be allowed to play. I’m saying that the women should not be forced to play in unsafe conditions and for no money. I’m not making this up, by the way, merely reiterating the same complaints actual players have made. Again, you’d know this if you’d actually read the post. I’d recommend you do that next time.

      Also, I find it interesting that you say you watch on occasion. For some reason, I don’t believe you, but then I don’t believe that the vast majority of men who defend the LFL actually bother to watch it.

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