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What’s so wrong about the Lingerie Football League? It objectifies women, but the athletes know what they’re doing

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Is this just a spectacle for the male gaze? Yes. Yes it is.
It was announced earlier this week that Saskatoon and Regina will be the homes of Lingerie Football League franchises in the coming year.

This sport, in which (beautiful) female athletes dress in lingerie and play a modified form of NFL football, has been called demeaning to women, misogynistic and a poor representation of women’s athletics on many media comment boards since the teams were announced a few days ago.

These responses are not unwarranted. Both the lingerie and the padding (consisting of modified football shoulder pads, optional elbow pads, knee pads and hockey helmets with half-visors) are minimal enough to ensure none of them obscure the usually ample cleavage of the athlete.

If you’re an ass and legs person though, don’t fret; the booty shorts and required garter make sure “the girls” don’t monopolize one’s ogling.

What the league’s website calls “True Fantasy Football,” then, is just that: fantasy. Just as Nike isn’t selling shoes, but a “Just Do It” culture, so the LFL isn’t selling football, but the primetime equivalent of mud-wrestling. As much as the league’s media spin-doctors may claim the league is about football and that these women are just like any other athletes, one look at the uniforms, the equipment, the ads and the athletes themselves must send our bullshit detectors into overdrive. Don’t get me wrong, these women are certainly athletes, but if you think of them as similar to professional wrestlers you’re on your way to understanding the LFL.

The LFL is essentially just a spectacle for the male gaze. Now, I know many will throw their hands up proclaiming that most sports are spectacles for the male gaze, and they’re right. What is the NFL if not an incarnation of gladiatorial combat with a few rules thrown in? But when was the last time an NFL football team chose a player in the draft based, at least in part, on his beauty? All Tom Brady jokes aside, that has never and will never happen.

However, it must happen in the LFL. To return to my previous analogy, if we watch professional wrestlers as characters first and athletes second, then we watch LFL players as tits-and-ass first and athletes second. Is that objectifying? Sure. But that is ultimately a moot point. After all, the mission statement of the league is to “become the ultimate fan-driven live sports phenomenon — blending action, impact, and beauty” (emphasis on beauty).

Reading between the lines, one quickly realizes that criticizing only the sport’s objectification of women is redundant. Its sole purpose is the objectification of women.

So let’s tear our eyes away from the bodies on the field for a moment, because in the LFL, like any other spectacle, it’s what you can’t see that’s most interesting.

For instance, LFL athletes don’t get paid a set salary. Their travel expenses are paid and, according to the LFL website, they receive 20 per cent of the gate if they win and 10 per cent if they lose. That money is then divided amongst the athletes on the team. So how much does this amount to? We can’t know exactly, but there have been lawsuits levied against the LFL in California because the athletes claim they are being paid less than $8 an hour — below minimum wage in that state.

If this is the case, then why might these female athletes participate in a league that objectifies them? I don’t know the answer to that, but to venture a guess I’d say it’s because there is no better place to be seen than in a spectacle. Most of these women, if they aren’t already models, certainly gain the potential to break into that field through the LFL.

Because they play in a league that is marketed at the male gaze, the athletes already model as part of their day-to-day activities with the team. The league films mini-documentaries, taped in team locker rooms, hotel rooms and on the field, that are then put on the league’s website after each game.

Thus, the possibility of translating their exposure through the LFL into a career in modelling is not all that unreasonable — especially if we consider the slow but gradual movement away from the stick-thin models of the 1990s and early 2000s toward the more fit and curvy women’s body types we’re seeing in vogue today. I’m thinking here of women like Jessica Biel, Scarlett Johansson, and Sofia Vergara.

If a modelling career is in fact the end goal of some LFL players, then who can blame them for participating in the league? We live in a world where Snooki can make $100,000 per episode for getting drunk and causing drama, and where Kim Kardashian can make $40,000 per episode for marrying “the love of her life.” Imagine what people with actual talent could make.

Whenever news stories like these come along, we tend to assume that the women involved with the activity in question are somehow duped into objectifying themselves for our titillation. That couldn’t be further from the truth. In a YouTube video promoting a “Women of the LFL” Playboy shoot, Tanyka Henry of the Philadelphia Passion said, “To be a great player in the LFL, you have to be willing to play both ways.” The wink with which she delivers the line gives it away, folks. She knows she’s being objectified, and she’s fine with it.

Don’t believe me? Then turn your eyes back to the titillation on the field one last time. This time, however, notice the jerseys the women are wearing and not what’s below them for a few seconds. They differ from regular football jerseys in many substantial ways, most notably in that there is no team logo on the front of them. “You play for the symbol on the front of the jersey, not for the name on the back,” as the saying goes, but it seems we have to reverse this mantra for the LFL.

Not that there’s a name on the back of the jersey either, but there are two (usually substantial) things just below the sweater that these women are playing to promote. Oh, and a couple curvy, well-toned things a little lower if you can make it that far.

The question, therefore, isn’t whether or not these athletes are objectified. They are, and the LFL is problematic for all those reasons mentioned above. The real question is whether or not their objectification is worth it. It seems that for these athletes it is. And who are we to deny them the right to take full advantage of that system?

To quote Ice T: “Don’t hate the player, hate the game…. Every baller on the streets is searchin’ fortune and fame. Some come up, some get done up, accept the twist. If you out for mega cheddar, you got to go high risk.”

The game, however, isn’t football. It’s fantasy, and these ladies might just be winning.

Photo: John Pozadzides/Flickr

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