It’s 2020. We all live in an age where the gender debate in sports is arguably at its hottest ever. Women are dominating sports that were once seen to only be for big, tough men. Ronda Rousey, the women who shook up the world of Mixed Martial Arts and becoming one of the highest-paid athletes in a dominantly male field, or Danica Patrick, taking the stereotype that women can’t drive and throwing it out her speeding car window as she competed at the highest level of NASCAR. Or the US women’s soccer team taking the World Cup trophy home to the good’ole USA with a TV audience of 1.12 billion. The opportunities and exposure for women continue to grow.
Then there is American football.
There are success stories along the lines of Becca Longo, who was the first women to gain a scholarship for football for Adams State University in 2018, or Katie Sowers who became the first women to coach in the Superbowl this year with 49rsas their offensive assistant. But there has yet to be a breakout female star in the world of American Football, but it isn’t like there is a league that isn’t dedicated specifically for women, the issue is it’s just not the same as the NFL or even the XFL.
Does Attire make the sport?
The Lingerie Football League started its life as a TV special in 2004 which ran against the Superbowl’s prestigious halftime show, it was affectionately called Lingerie Bowl I. The concept was hailed to “play well with both men and women” as the man who created the concept Mitch Mortaza praised the league’s gender-defying reach, “With men, for the obvious reasons, and for women it’s an incredible lingerie fashion show, with red carpet arrivals and more.” Lingerie Football continued in this form until 2006. Then the concept faded to the background for three years until it’s revival as a full 10team league to be played under arena football rules. Where the league format differed from its lingerie bowl pre-assessor in that the rosters weren’t just made up of models and actresses looking to get on TV via football.
Being called the Lingerie Football League the sexualisation of the players was blatant, they wore elbow pads, knee pads, helmets that didn’t resemble traditional American Football wear and shoulder pads that didn’t look at all like the pads their NFL counterparts wore, the LFL shoulder pads didn’t cover the chest of the players, instead, the players wore bras decorated to look like lingerie coupling that with the choice to swap out lower pads for knee pads and garter-decorated hot pants it’s easy to see why people took issue with what the players were made to wear and why Mortaza said the prospective fan base was”mostly beer-drinking college students aged 21 and up”.
Mitch Mortaza viewpoint on the overt sexualization of the players in the LFL is that “You may come in the door lured by the sex appeal, but you’ll leave blown away by the competition.” This sentiment, however, isn’t shared by female American Football players, for example, I spoke to a female American Football player who wanted to remain to remain nameless whose viewpoint on the Lingerie Football League is “it’s stupid, it sexualises women in a sport they’re more than able to play without being objectified.”
Because many people held the same negative view about the integrity of the Lingerie Football League, Mortaza did something to try and rid the league of the stigma that it had created for itself.
A legendary re-brand
With the backlash and negative connotations that came from the name Lingerie Football League, Mortaza and the league decided that a re-naming was on the cards and the name they chose was the Legends Football League. There was also an attempt to clean up their act, for example, the garter like flourishes on the player’s gear was removed in favour of “athletic wear” however, this athletic wear still lacked a proper pair of American Football shoulder pads, as the player’s chests were still exposed and sports bras that still showed off the players chests, the same with the lowers, as even though the flourishes had been removed the outfits were still tight and revealing.
One of the things that the Legends Football League did that was revolutionary to the women’s American Football was setting up leagues in multiple different countries around the globe. The planned expansion would have seen leagues set up in South American and Europe however, though the only two countries that got an LFL league were Australia and Canada both of which folded after one season. Another aspect of the LFL that has been co-opted by another league is the mic’ing up of the quarterbacks on the field during every game and allowing the viewers inside the huddle, however, this wasn’t used by the NFL, but by the current iteration of the XFL who have been praised for their revolutionary breaking down of the barriers between crowd and players.
The Legends Football League games were hard-hitting arena football with impressive plays, Take the 2019 final for their championship, the Legends cup, the Seattle Mist vs Los Angles Temptation game featured great quarterback play from Seattle’s K.K Matheny and combined with their defence coming up with multiple pick sixes Seattle was able to win 56-20. However, but the great football still didn’t gloss over the undisguised sexualisation of the players.
But stories of great football play didn’t come out of the 2019 season, sensational and controversial stories instead became the norm when seeing the LFL in the headlines, for example when the Chicago Bliss’s head coach Sidney Lewis, got so angry during an argument with his quarterback Chaz Duson at half time he threw a chair across the room in a rage, showing that the sexualisation of the players wasn’t the only issue that the LFL faced as it began to be apparent that the stigma they tried to shed with the change from Lingerie to Legends hadn’t worked.
However, an attempt has been made to erase the stigma again, a new and extreme rebrand which will be covered in the next part of this article.