It’s only been a few weeks since the Super Bowl, but if you’re like me and millions of other fans around the world, football can’t come back soon enough. The NFL Combine this week is a sight for football-deprived eyes, where we strain to ascertain any tiny indicator of a player’s future based on watching him work out (and apparently asking him questions about family and dating history). But after the Combine, the NFL Draft and college football spring games, then what? Reruns of “A Football Life?” An in-depth review of your fantasy football team’s big time drop off mid-season? Hope like hell Rob Gronkowski turns up on “Dancing with the Stars?”
What about … stay with me here … lingerie football?
I’m serious (kind of).
The Legends Football League (the artist formerly known as the Lingerie Football League) has been around since 2009, changing its name and branding around 2013 in what appears to be an attempt to be taken more seriously as a competitive sport situation, given its former tagline as “True Fantasy Football.” The league itself evolved from halftime Super Bowl specials beginning in the early 2000’s to a franchise that’s now represented in nine different countries.
At a time where discussions surrounding the sustainability and profitability of women’s professional leagues (both on the player and business side) remain more relevant than ever, this league is baffling to me. It has expanded across continents and cultures (as far away as Australia) while also remaining in a state of flux, with its most popular event in the US, the LFL Bowl, either outsourced or canceled, including being canceled in 2015.
There are a myriad of problems to grapple with concerning the LFL, and the “sex selling women’s sports” debate may not even crack the top ten. Whether it’s lawsuits over the league’s handling of injuries (see, it’s more like the NFL than you think!), players making less than minimum wage, or the league’s inadequate equipment, there’s definitely room for growth. And I’m not talking about another expansion league on a different continent.
And then of course, there is the unavoidable issue surrounding the need for women to wear as little as possible to attract the male gaze (and dollars and interest in female football players). Other leagues have sprung up, like the Bikini Basketball League, looking to capitalize on the perceived profitability of the LFL. But from a feminist perspective, the LFL is both empowering and problematic. With so many other semi-pro women’s football leagues (rocking traditional shoulder pads and jerseys) struggling to survive seasons in their local areas, the interest in this multi-million dollar league is rooted in its marketing of sex appeal. Let’s face it, the LFL is only a step or two away from a Hooters.
So in the interest of deciding for myself whether or not this league was an opportunity for women to carve out a space to play the sport they love or just another sports entity making bank off of the bodies of its athletes (it can, of course, be both), I decided to tryout for the franchise in my city, the LA Temptation.
I immediately regretted this decision the morning of the tryouts. I had eaten horribly the past couple of weeks, had barely gotten into the gym and was really hoping this tryout was going to be a glorified casting call where I would surely be eliminated first.
I was sure my footwork was atrocious, my speed subpar and that I was gonna get destroyed during an Oklahoma drill. And what are these people looking for anyways? My guess is tall, fitness model, toned and like many other areas and industries, very blonde. I kept studying the videos of tryouts trying to imagine myself crushing it. I had resolved to treat the tryout as seriously as possible while not taking my athletic shortcomings to heart.
When I get to the park, other athletes are slowly rolling in–all body types and shapes–all of us showing just enough skin. We check in, have our picture taken, and I start trying to warm up, throwing a football around and trying not to notice how swole a lot of these girls are. When we all eventually join together on the field, there are about three dozen of us vying for who knows how many positions. Some are wearing makeup, almost all of us are pretty tatted up, and there’s more of sense of camaraderie than cattiness. A couple of the louder girls make a very funny, very locker-roomesque joke as we stretch in a circle (it’s the equivalent of a dick joke.)
As we are corralled into lines to commence a group warm up with the veterans, I suddenly realize that I kind of want this. Yes, there are issues here. But I haven’t been on a sports team in forever and I suddenly regret my lack of preparation and more apprehensively, the pizza from the night before.
After we stretch, we take a knee and the coaches introduce themselves and the vets. They run down the list of accolades for each player and the overall success of the team throughout the league’s history (the Los Angeles franchise is the winningest team in the league’s short history with three titles). They run through the three-part tryout–we’re starting with footwork (my weakness even if I was prepared) and I won’t get to hit anyone (or get trucked) unless I make it to the final round. Before we break off into stations, there’s one more order of business.
One of the vets pulls out a uniform. It’s basically a more revealing version of a triangle top swimsuit with a skimpy bottom.
“Before we begin, we need to make sure that you are all comfortable with this uniform. THIS IS WHAT YOU WILL BE WEARING.”
“If you aren’t comfortable with this, then you should step off of the field right now.”
Silence. No movement.
“Ok then, let’s do this!”
We start the drills and I’m honestly already a bit winded given that we just finished a warm up that included a chunk of “up downs” that coach ordered up “just to see if we could do them” (HOW MANY DID HE NEED TO SEE?!?!?!). We’re now running through bags, clocking our 40 time and trying to crush the five-cone drill and shuttle run.
We’re given examples of how the drills should look by the vets, but it’s crazy to do drills you’ve seen a million times on TV or in real life and still feel completely inadequate. At one point, we’re all gathered together and told, “Don’t run like a girl,” which immediately reminded me of that Super Bowl Always commercial. There’s another point where we’re reminded that “This isn’t soccer, this isn’t basketball” and I’m suddenly very aware of exactly that fact. It’s over 80 degrees outside, we’re all getting more confident with each drill, and it’s suddenly very fun. No one’s staring each other down; we’re all clapping, yelling, slapping hands and getting hype for our next turn. And I’m really sure I’m not gonna make it, but somehow can’t stop thinking about how epic it would be to play at the Coliseum.
We finish the drills. There’s a deliberation period and then Coach starts calling out numbers that have made it to the next level. There’s a pretty cool girl (31) that went in front of me each time in our group that was pretty much neck and neck with me, so I figured if she gets in, I’ll get in. The numbers are rolling in, but I’m still not hearing mine: 32 (yup, Jim Brown and Franco Harris. And dammit, O.J. Simpson.)
Finally, they call 31 and a couple of other numbers around mine, but no 32. As it’s dwindling down, I realize I’m not even going to be around to touch a football for the next cut. A girl whispers to me “I was sure you had it.” A position coach starts to give his spiel about how this “isn’t the end for us” and “we might still be calling you” just like they do on “Hard Knocks.” It’s the exact same speech. If you have a similar body type / position as one of the vets, they aren’t going to bring you in. If you were the third best in your potential spot, you won’t make it. I really felt as if I did the very best that I could, but I’m listening to him and already thinking about how I can beast on these drills and kill it next year.
I’m fed up. I hate losing.
In any case, Coach is counting and realizing his numbers are off and is checking his list.
“I must have missed one. Is there a 32 over there?”
I start my slow victory jog and all of the girls are clapping for me–the ones that made it and the ones that didn’t. And then he says, “no, not you. Uh, 26?”
So I jog it back to the sideline where all of the other athletes that didn’t make the cut are gathering up water bottles and (at least for me) disappointment. I’m talking with a chick that didn’t make it who tells me she played college rugby and that while she can’t run at all, she would have crushed the one-on-one drills. Looking at her, she’s right. I would never want to be lined up across from her. And I realize that as I walk to the car, my stereotypical pick, a tall, gorgeous blonde chick, is walking with me. They’re really out there to build a championship team.
The LFL is intriguing to me–there are issues, many of which I have listed, others that I wouldn’t begin to understand unless I made the team. But there are also triumphs, some big, some small. There is something to be said about women doing anything they’ve been told not to do or that they can’t do. Whether you hate the idea of women playing sports in panties and ill-fitting bras or love it (understandable in either case), you gotta respect the fact that they’re out there crushing in a serious way.
Maybe, just maybe, I’ll be out there one day too.