By: Ashley Akers
Imagine a large group of young women, whose profession forces them to wear nothing but underwear, using their skill sets to be placed in the spotlight of millions of men all over the world. What are you thinking about?
These women are often underpaid (if at all) for the career choice they have chosen. They often get spit on because of their choice to continue enjoying an interest in something that is frequently sexualized and judged. Their bodies are used as a means to make money, and yet all that is left with them after a night of hard work, is torn up clothing, messy hair, cuts, bruises, broken bones, and often times a love hate relationship for the job they put their body, mind, and dignity at risk for.
Still racking your brain for possible professions?
I’m guessing that your first choice probably would not have been that these women play the ‘tough’ and ‘rugged’ sport of football. Yes, I am talking about the infamous Legends Football League, formerly known as Lingerie Football, where women are dressed up in lace-trimmed underwear, a bra, and hockey helmets while playing ground stomping, body bruising football. Primarily, these women are judged more
so on their physical appearance instead of their hard hits, MVP records, high tolerance for pain, and their endurance throughout the season.
Many of these women are moms, teachers, doctors, and former D1 college athletes; they are everyday people like you and me, yet they have a desire to play a sport that they have found to truly love. These athletes may risk a lot out on the field, but one thing they do not hold back from is putting up a fight.
The presence of hegemonic masculinity has been around in sports since the beginning of time, which is the systematic ideal of men being dominant over females in society. These ideals range from believing that men are tougher than women, less emotional, stronger-willed, more prevailing, and therefor more fit to play low and high-contact sports. However, there are in fact women with the will, drive, and ‘toughness’ needed to play football, and that can very clearly be seen in the LFL.
Women are told that sports are for men. Football is for men- because in order to play football, you must be tough, ruthless, and hard-minded. When notable individuals state that women shouldn’t be playing “manly” sports, there becomes a hegemonic belief that women shouldn’t play in areas such as football, soccer, and basketball simply because the ‘men do it better’ (unless of course the women are objectified by wearing skimpy clothing). Just last year Gilbert Arenas stated, “NOW this is what America was hoping for when they announced the WNBA back in 1996… not a bunch of chicks running around looking like, cast members from Orange Is The New Black…don’t get me wrong, they have a few cutie-pies but there’s a whole lotta beanpies running around still.” By insinuating that the only way for women to gain viewership is for them to “wear tighter shorts next time (Sepp Blatter),” by yelling “get your ti*s out for the lads (Richard Keys),” and by forcibly changing their attire to fit a man’s liking, it is both degrading and insulting to the women who truly want to play the sport for what it is, not for what they look like.
Quarterback Heather Furr on the Chicago Bliss has been known for her intense moments on the field. After becoming a teacher she decided that she needed more from life, and ended up finding her way into LFL tryouts one weekend. Her family was skeptical about her choice of being on TV with an outfit that resembled a bikini while being pummeled to the ground. However after her first appearance, they immediately showed their support. “If I walk around, people are like ‘Wait…was that you?!’ It’s good to know they were actually watching it! After that I say ‘yes’ and answer all of their 1,000 questions… after they stop giggling.”
Giggling? Furr among many of the other LFL players are nowhere near amateur athletes. After holding down 9 single tackles, 3 assists, and an interception against the All-Fantasy quarterback Linda Brenner which solidified a win over Dallas, along with a 46.4 passing percentage, 4 touchdowns passing, 6 touchdown rushing, and 173 yards combined offense with only 1 interception… it is clear that there is nothing to giggle about.
The LFL is fierce- there is no doubt about that. The athletes take each other down with a momentum that could easily knock the wind out of you, they slam each other into walls without hesitation, and they often curse and throw a punch the moment something goes wrong. No one can say that this is a game for ‘sissy’s’ or the light-hearted. LFL athletes go into each game knowing that there is a high risk for injury, and they do so without an ounce of financial help or reimbursement because the league requires individuals to have health insurance, yet doesn’t provide it. Beyond this, the women were paid peanuts the first year the LFL was started, and then were not compensated at all years after. If we want to discuss who is ‘tough,’ I’d have to say that any individual who risks their body (breaks, bruises, and tears), and their mind (countless concussions), to play a sport that they receive no benefits or a salary from is beyond what is considered to be tough; it shows commitment, determination, and ultimately, one’s love for the sport.
The humorous juxtaposition to the LFL, is that they recruit women who are badass, yet they require them to not only be the ideal ‘tough,’
strong figure, but they also expect them to make the league money through entertainment.
At first, the locker room seems like a typical, dingy, sweat-filled space with benches and athletes preparing for the big game. However, the room is momentarily transformed into a beauty salon as the girls are forced to put on fake eyelashes, pounds of makeup, polished hair, and their ‘petite’ jerseys. Yashi Rice, the defensive tackle on the Chicago Bliss has stated multiple times to people who ask about the use of makeup and lingerie, “I get why people feel that way, but at the same time we are serious. Its not just a costume.” A costume provided by individuals in the league who regardless of player’s athleticism, still uses the business strategy of “sex sells.” The principle of these women not getting paid for playing the same sport as men do, on live TV, in front of an audience that tickets are sold to is not only disgraceful, but it is immoral. Women in today’s society are still paid 78 cents to the dollar that men are paid, and yet here we have a whole sector of women who are barely getting paid at all for the sacrifices they are making on their bodies just like the men do in the NFL.
Along with the makeup, ‘sexy’ outfits, and the emphasized femininity, teams are told to run out onto the field as their loyal fans cheer them on. The difference in how this appears in the LFL and the NFL is that the women do not run through a banner looking ‘tough’ and ready to whip the other teams butts; instead, the women are told to strut onto the field and recite a dance that usually involves ‘booty popping’ and is used as an entertainment purpose. The difference here is that these athletes are not the half-time show. These are women who do not want to shimmy up and down the field as if they were the designated cheerleaders. These women are quarterbacks. Tight ends. Running backs. Nose guards. Line[wo]men.
After doing research on the different statistics and highly ranked players in the LFL, I stumbled across the frustrating and once again insulting response for these female athletes: most of the first 10 hits on Google were titled “Top 15 Sexiest LFL Players.” This proves the point that the emphasis is not placed upon how well these women play or whether they were the MVP; the emphasis is placed on how hot they are and how many inappropriate pictures were taken of them and placed online. So what can be done currently for women wanting to play football professionally?
Here’s what they can do. Women can try out for an NFL team, which has been done before, and then they can be mocked the moment they make a mistake. Men can make mistakes in the NFL and the response is, “oh he was having an off day,” “his injury was probably acting up again,” or “he is under a lot of pressure,” but when a woman does something wrong in a male dominated sport, she is immediately eliminated from having a spot on the team. This is because, you cannot say no to a woman simply because of her gender, but you can use the excuse to say no to someone if they mess up.
Women like Heather Furr in the LFL are constantly struggling with the desire to play a sport that that they can put their aggression into, yet they are continuously mortified by the tiny outfits, lack of financial and health support, and backlash that the LFL is only used as a place for men to come and watch ‘sexy’ women run up and down a field. Many of these women have children in which they are trying to instill in them a sense of strength and dignity that all women have the ability to possess. Yet, it seems that no matter how much blood and sweat they leave on the field, and regardless of the broken bones, the bruises, and the pulled muscles, all these women are to fans are objectified bodies who were viewed as not good enough to play in the NFL.
The questions then roll in about what can be done to fix the LFL so that it isn’t just a way for the objectification of women’s bodies to be thrown into the media. Perhaps we should make the men dress just as absurdly as the women? Maybe we should have the coaches go out with the women to perform their booty-shaking dance? Or maybe the best option would simply be to allow the women to wear what they want to wear, and continue to allow them to tackle just as hard as they did yesterday and the day before. How about we pay the women who are playing a sport that is televised and has football stands sold out so that way at least their wallets aren’t as naked as they are?
No one can honestly sit back and watch the LFL without questioning why their eyes are glued to the television. Sure, some people truly do watch it because of the hard hits, the cursing, and the dedicated women fighting for a win; but how many more people are watching because it’s an excuse to watch women half naked tackle each other without needing a subscription to a site that they don’t want their significant other to see?
This is not a matter of whether women are tough enough to play the sport of football; in reality this is the pure objectification of women through systematic hegemonic masculinity and emphasized femininity by stating that the only way a woman can play a sport that requires you to be rough and tough, is if they are forced to take a step back by the means of being sexualized and taken advantage of. In the end, there needs to be more celebrations of touchdowns, and less celebration in hoping women will get their tops ripped off during a tackle.
To all of the ladies fighting their way through the LFL in order to play a sport that they love, as stated by one of the toughest women in our society, Maya Angelou “I love to see a young girl go out and grab the world by its lapels. Life’s a bitch. You’ve got to go out and kick ass.”