I would’ve made a great Tight End. Ok, I don’t have the height, but I have the body and the hands. As my mom always told me, I’m built like a mailbox, definitely capable of putting on a serious block. And, because I spent much of my life playing baseball and softball, I might not be able to go long, but I could certainly catch a 5-yard dump and stiff-arm my way to a first down.
The closest I ever came to achieving this dream was in my junior and senior years in high school when I joined Powder Puff, a one-hand-touch girls’ football league. This, however, was not as much a league as it was a few practices and one game each year – Juniors vs. Seniors. Each time the game ended, I was left wanting more. I wanted to wear the pads. I wanted to tackle people. I wanted to play more than one game.
Fast forward ten years. I was sitting at a bar with a girlfriend of mine, and on the TV screen above us, ESPN is on. I saw women on the gridiron, dropping back for passes, running the 40-yard dash, and tackling dummies. My heart started to race. Underneath the reporter standing on the sideline, the words “LFL Underway” appeared…like a message from God.
“Ladies Football League!” I shouted. My friend, who cared not for sports of any kind, was nonplussed. I could not wait to get home and look up everything I could find on this glorious addition to the semipro-sports world. (Ok, I was 28 at the time, out of shape, and hadn’t caught a pass in a decade…Do they have a team in Philly?).
Yes. They do have a team in Philly, and it’s called the Philadelphia Passion. They also have a team in San Diego called the Seduction. And, there’s the Dallas Desire, the Los Angeles Temptation, and the Miami Caliente. Wait a minute…
After searching “LFL” on Google, I discovered that LFL does not, as I had naively assumed, stand for Ladies Football League. Nope, LFL = Lingerie Football League. I almost threw up in my mouth guard, which, by the way, many of these women are playing without.
On the homepage of the LFL , sweaty women in bras, hot pants, and lacy garters, gaze seductively at the viewer, eye black – the quintessential symbol of athletics – smeared across their cheeks. It is unclear if this site is actually advertising a football league or a night at Cheerleaders.
So, I decided to do some research. What’s the deal with the LFL? Is it merely just a spin-off of a Superbowl half-time show? Are these women really playing football, or are they just running around mindlessly in their skivvies, trying to entice a bunch of 21-year-old frat boys and middle-aged bald men with beer guts? Is there a chance that this league will ever be fully realized or legitimized? Will these women ever be awarded NFL-like contracts or endorsement deals? (well, maybe if they sign with the Redskins).
While some of the women that play in the LFL are or have been adult film stars and models, there is, indeed, a good number of women who are actual athletes or, at least, have played sports in college. For example, Rachel Carroccio of the San Diego Seduction has been playing sports her whole life and even competed on the freestyle ski team at the University of Colorado. For many of these women, the LFL is their only shot into the semipro-sports world, and, therefore, they must endure the skimpy outfits and degrading catcalls.
In terms of the game itself, the LFL is full contact and the tryouts are pretty rigorous. In fact, many of the women who signed on to advance their modeling careers were dismayed by the level of physicality. So, on the surface, these women are playing football. However, what happens behind the scenes is another story.
In its inaugural 2009 season, the LFL came under fire for a lot of shady dealings. For example, the “tryouts,” while rigorous, did not actually result in the teams getting the best talent because, of course, the best talent isn’t always the best looking talent. Then, for the first eight months of the season, the players played without a contract, and many of them, while not necessarily expecting the big bucks, did not see a penny for their efforts. It has even been rumored that a few of the women were fined $500 for covering themselves up too much in an advertisement for the LFL. Not only did these women get stiffed, but they also did not get proper equipment needed to play tackle football. The girls have some padding, but most of their body is exposed, covered only by a bra and panty set and cleats, which cannot possibly protect them from turf burn and tough hits. Additionally, many of the women have come out to the media, complaining that the LFL does not compensate the players for medical bills when they get hurt. Of course, the league denies all of these charges.
The degrading nature of this league is too obvious to even spend time analyzing: it’s Playboy with a ball. However, what does deserve some air time is the fact that female athletes have few places to turn once their college athletic careers are over (unless, of course, their sport du jour is tennis). The WNBA was a major flop, and other pro or semipro women’s leagues just don’t get the attention that they need to develop an actual following. For example, there is the Independent Women’s Football League (IWFL) that does not dress its players like Victoria’s Secret models and actually gives the teams real “sporty” names that make sense, like the Baltimore Nighthawks and the California Quake. But, one look at its boring, barebones website (versus the flashy, sexy LFL website), and you can see where the dollars and cents are. What’s sad is that many women have to resort to these porn leagues just to get some playing time.
Just like the days of pitting slaves against each other in the Coliseum, these women are playing a dangerous, full contact sport in front of spectators with no physical or financial protection. It would be a different story if these women were fully padded and fully compensated to take these hits, like NFL players; but they’re not. These women are simply there for our pleasure with no actual gain for them at all. And, what exactly are we taking pleasure in? The LFL is alluring for some of the same reasons that horror and action movies are: because deep down in those dark recesses, people – especially certain kinds of men – like to see women get beat up. We can feel less bad about ourselves for indulging in the guilty pleasure of the LFL because, after all, it’s only women beating up on other women.
Early this week was the 58th anniversary of Lucy snatching the football from Charlie Brown. Being reminded of this classic moment in Peanuts history reawakened my desire for the game. So I looked it up, and, amazingly, the IWFL has a team in Philly – the Philadelphia Firebirds. Unfortunately, I missed the tryouts for the 2011 season, but, as they say, there’s always next year. The good thing is that I won’t have to show them my Tight End to become theirs.