There was a furor of chatter last week as the Lingerie Football League (LFL) announced that it was starting the year with some big changes. I wondered whether they were finally going to be paying their players, or if perhaps they were no longer making the women sign ‘accidental nudity’ clauses?But on January 10th 2013, LFL Founder Mitch Mortaza announced that the LFL would be changing its name from the ‘Lingerie Football Club – True Fantasy Football’ to ‘Legends Football Club – Women of the Gridiron’.
But wait – theres more!
Mortaza also announced that all ‘sexy’ branding had been removed from their logos and the women’s lingerie had been replaced with ‘performance wear’ in an attempt to move away from their reputation as a gimmick.
“While the Lingerie Football League name has drawn great media attention allowing us to showcase the sport to millions, we have now reached a crossroad of gaining credibility as a sport or continuing to be viewed as a gimmick. In the coming years we will further establish this sport in the US, Australia, Europe and Asia as the most known form of American football globally. In order to reach the next milestone, we feel the focus has to be the sport and our amazing athletes.” –Mitch Mortaza (Official LFL Website)
Now before we go celebrating and cheering for Mortaza and his crew, let’s have a look at exactly what these ‘modifications’ look like.
Earth shaking changes? It’s hard to see how a few less ruffles and bows constitute as a renewed focus on sportswomen’s performance.Image Source
Does Mortaza expect us to believe that a few less ruffles and fringing really change what the LFL stands for? From a quick glance, there appears very little difference between the old and new outfits. Gone are the garters and lingerie, but only to be replaced with what appear to be the same outfits minus the bows. Even the new official LFL video is a testament of the ogling of women, as the camera man slowly pans up the player’s bodies, from their feet to their crotch and breasts.
I also noticed that the enormous LFL poster behind the players which sports their new ‘Legends Football League’ branding, features two of the players dressed in…oh look at that, lingerie…Didn’t Mortaza just claim in his press conference that they had moved away from using lingerie to sell their ‘sport’?
Here is what we know of the LFL so far:
Mortaza exploits college-aged women for little or no pay and refuses to provide protective uniforms.
Since 2009 the LFL has drawn much controversy for its treatment of the female players. As discussed in my article ‘The Lingerie Football League – Let’s not pretend it’s about sport’, I revealed how the LFL requires their players to sign accidental nudity clauses, doesn’t pay its players, refuses to provide injury compensation and fines the women if they put any protective gear under their lingerie.
The LFL have admitted to choosing image over athleticism.
Mortaza and his team have admitted on several occasions that image is central to his selection of players, and the majority of the women are college level athletes who would have no hope of playing on a national level without the LFL – a card which Mortaza plays expertly. I believe that Mortaza chooses these women with the express intentions of exploiting their desperation to be a recognised athlete.
“The women who play for the league are former college-level athletes that have few other alternatives if they want to continue to compete at a high level in women’s sport… These are competitive college-level athletes looking to tap back into a national stage”.
Furthermore despite Mortaza’s promise in 2011 that his players would be paid once the LFL became “financially stable”, we are still yet to hear any credible news of this happening. It would seem that even with all their success as the ‘Nation’s fastest growing sports league’ and airplay in over 85 countries, the only one that profits is Mortaza.
Some of the LFL’s biggest players have themselves revealed that they recognize the inequality within the league, but feel they have little choice if they want the chance to play on a national level. In an interview with CBC radio in 2012 Tampa Breeze Florida player Liz Gorman expressed her frustrations.
CBC: “You don’t get paid?
Gorman: “No…it does get frustrating.”
CBC: “It sounds like you’re doing it because you love to play football and you want to play, and you accept the other sacrifices that come with it.”
Gorman: “Yeah…(silent for some time)…Sex sells. It’s a business. We don’t get the same media as men… so it’s obviously not the players that are choosing this.”
Evidence of harassment towards women, physical violence, nudity, verbal abuse and the use of blow up dolls were all witnessed during LFL events.
Attending one of the Australian events last year, Deborah Malcolm from the NFP organisation ‘Compassion’ witnessed some of the most deplorable behaviour towards females both on and off the field. Some of the worst things she experienced included the harassment of a middle-aged woman by a group of drunk men, who threw their beer all over her; a contest named ‘chase and tackle the girl’ where men were invited onto the field to chase and grope the players; the humiliation of a female player who lost her bikini bottoms during a touchdown and then had the image replayed on a large screen for the viewing pleasure of the male audience; and the use of a blow up doll which was passed around the bleachers while a man simulated oral sex on it.
Proving that this was not an isolated incident, came the report from one of the Sydney LFL tryouts that women were harassed during their auditions – including young athlete Talitha Stone. Sent undercover to report on the event, Stone described how she and the other women were verablly abused by Mortaza, told to ‘pancake the shit’ out of each other, to ‘stop wasting his fucking time’ and repeatedly called ‘pussies’; all while the LFL players ran alongside the girls making ‘vagina’ signs over their heads. As Stone explained, it became very clear that this wasn’t a game built to showcase talent or athleticism. It was a gimmick that encouraged violence and humiliation towards the players, whilst making money from them.
“During this drill, other LFL players shouted “own her” and “put her in the parking lot”… We were expected to physically hurt our opponent. I think this is what disturbed me most. It wasn’t about playing football, it was about how aggressively we could act towards the other girls, how much pain we could inflict, all to entertain the crowd.”– Tal Stone
Proving they know no bounds, the LFL has also preyed on underage teenage girls.
In 2011 Mortaza attempted to recruit the then-13-year-old Paris Jackson as its official spokesperson for teenager athletes, in an attempt to secure younger girls into the LFL in the future.
Arguments for and against the LFL
Taking into consideration all of the above, I fail to understand how a few less bows and ruffles on the players uniforms and the addition of thicker shoulder pads (still skimpy enough to make sure the women’s rocket booster cleavage can be seen from space), changes any of the behaviour we have seen so far from the LFL. So, forgive me if I do not throw my hands in the air and applaud Mortaza for his supposed renewed focus on sportswomen’s performance, but I believe it will take a lot more than the current modifications to encourage the equality of women’s sport.
What’s more, the one-dimensional body image presented within the league has not changed at all. Mortaza himself has admitted in the past to being very scrupulous when choosing the ‘athletes’ for his teams, and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that all the girls who make the team look more like models than athletes (with plenty of makeup, hair extensions and fake implants to prop up their booster tops). If this sport were really about performance, Mortaza wouldn’t be choosing his players foremost by their looks, and secondly by their talent.
In light of their poor sales at the 2012 Australian games and the storm of controversy surrounding the league, it is not surprising that Mortaza is scraping to find a way to rehash the LFL in Australia. However, the Legends Football League is nothing more than an amateur attempt to make advertisers feel less disgruntled or uncomfortable, and does not at all change what they stand for. It’s like calling a stripper an ‘exotic dancer’ – same game different name.
Some of the pro-LFL arguments I have come across over the past year suggest that we should ‘leave these hardworking women alone’, and ‘focus on bigger issues’. Firstly while I am in total agreeance that the players are hardworking, I argue that anything which sexualises women and puts them in a box where their sexuality and image is valued over their abilities is both toxic and negative.
“We’ve had to cut some girls who might have been good athletes, but just didn’t have the look. It’s part of the product presentation. If you look at Victoria’s Secret, they don’t have a big girl’s’ line.” – Jason Sands, Temptation assistant coach talking about their recruitment process.
Secondly, no matter how small it may seem to some, objectification still feeds into a much larger issue – which is the overwhelming sexualisation of women on a global scale. All of those ‘small’ issues that people push aside as insignificant combine to create one giant culture of sexism and inequality.
This is especially relevant in the sports industry, where women struggle to receive the same recognition, financial rewards, and support as male athletes.
In 2012 there were many talented athletes who were up for the “Australian Sportswoman of the Year’ award, including Olympic Gold medallist Sally Pearson. However, in a blow to female sport the title was awarded not to Pearson or even any other human athlete. It was given to a racehorse, Black Caviar.
You may initially find this amusing, but what is the deeper underlying message when a horse is given more recognition for their athleticism than a human being? And furthermore, what message is being sent to women by praising their athleticism only when they play in their lingerie (or ‘performance wear’ – as Mortaza is now calling it). The current changes to the LFL’s branding and uniforms does not combat the issue of inequality in women’s sport. It is impossible to claim that there is a renewed focus on the women’s performance when the uniforms (a push up booster bra and hot pants) still exist only to maximise their sexual image.
Another argument in the Pro-LFL debate is the “It’s not exploitive, no one is forcing them to do this. You’re just jealous,” line.
Of course no one is forcing the players, however when you look at the way Mortaza plays the women it’s evident that it’s a game of control. He chooses the women who are unlikely to have an opportunity to play sport on a greater scale and trades ‘fame’for their sexuality. Just because a woman makes that sacrifice doesn’t mean she necessarily wishes it was so. It’s a trade-off which she takes because she wants the same opportunities presented to male athletes.
“Yes, no one is holding a gun to any female athlete’s head. Female athletes are smart…they see the women getting the most exposure and media coverage are the ones who conform to the sexy, feminine mold and they want to capitalize on their physical assets as well. However, if this way of being portrayed is the dominant model in the absence of a virtual black out of coverage that features athletic COMPETENCE, of course female athletes will choose to be included, rather than excluded. Choices are made within the context of sport, which is male-centered and male identified.”– Nicole M Lavoi, Opposing views of Media Portrayals of Female Athletes.
As for the ‘you’re just jealous’ argument, it is interesting how defenders of the LFL are always quick to try to steer the conversation back to an argument about feminists being jealous of sexy women. The issue is not with sexiness; but rather with women being told (through what they see and hear) that sexuality is their most important asset. For any man (or woman) who insists that the LFL does not promote inequality, I would like you to consider the following. If a male athlete wanted to join a national football league in the hopes of becoming a world-renowned player, would he be asked to play in latex penis-hugging Y-fronts while a camera panned across the crotch area of his pants, sending it to a main screen where it was enlarged for thousands of women to ogle at? Would he be asked to forgo pay and quality protective gear so that he’d have a chance to play at a national level? Would he be told that he should be grateful because this was the best opportunity he could get as a ‘college level educated’ student?
No, no, and no.
So why should we support a league that asks its female athletes to do just that?
“No Australian sportsman would ever accept these conditions. No Australian sportswoman should have to either.”– Lily Robinson.
There is an enormous need to take our female athletes seriously as sportswomen, and to provide them with the same sporting opportunities as men. When a talented Olympic Gold medallist such as Pearson is snubbed as the ‘Sportswoman of the year’, and the award given to a racehorse, you know there is something very wrong with the state of female sport recognition in this country.
Until every fully clothed female football player (and sportswoman in general) is given the same media attention and promotional opportunities as the women who do it half-naked, there is no equality.
Mortaza continues to exploit women. His tried and true system of choosing college-level athletes and trading their sexuality in exchange for the elusive ‘fame’ card is pathetic and corrupt.
No logo modification can hide that.
Written by Jas Swilks.