When the Lingerie Football League (LFL) announced that it was starting the year with some big changes, I wondered whether they were finally going to do something really radical. Perhaps like paying their players. Or could it be that they were going to stop making the women sign ‘accidental nudity’ clauses?
But no, apparently not.
Last month LFL Founder Mitch Mortaza announced a name change: from the ‘Lingerie Football Club – True Fantasy Football’ to ‘Legends Football Club – Women of the Gridiron’.
On the LFL website Mortaza claimed that all ‘sexy’ branding had been removed from their logos and the player’s lingerie had been replaced with ‘performance wear.’
“While the Lingerie Football League name has drawn great media attention allowing us to show case 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.”
Now before we go throwing our hands in the air to cheer for Mortaza, let’s have a look at exactly what these ‘modifications’ look like.
Does Mortaza expect us to believe that a few less ruffles and fringing really change what the LFL stands for? Looking at the old and new outfits side by side, there appears very little difference. Gone are the garters and lingerie, but only to be replaced with what appears to be the same outfit – minus the bows – leaving the players still mostly unprotected and at risk of injury. The new official LFL video shows that the ogling the women is still their main tactic, as the camera operator slowly pans up the player’s bodies, from their feet to their crotch and breasts.
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.
LFL Chairman Mitch Mortaza has 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”.(see here)
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 the Sydney event last year, Collective Shout’s Deborah Malcolm witnessed 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 men simulated oral sex on it.
Mortaza’s disrespectful treatment of the women was exposed firsthand when 23 year old student and athlete Tal Stone tried out for the games. Stone described how she and the other women were screamed at and 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, 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.
I fail to understand how a few less bows and ruffles on the players uniforms and the addition of thicker shoulder pads 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 them for their supposed renewed focus on sports women’s performance.
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 a pathetic attempt to make advertisers feel less uncomfortable. Nothing really has changed.
There is a positive alternative – Gridiron team the Western Foxes
Player loses underwear replayed on giant screens, sex doll shared, chosen men get to ‘tackle’ players, fans leer and jeer – and they call it sport
On Saturday night I was in the crowd at the Lingerie Football League game at All Phones Arena, Sydney Olympic Park.
I’m a former athlete. I have coached a number of sports including soccer. I made it to the Youth National Trials back home in England (until I did something stupid involving a bucket of soapy water, some friends who were not unknown to law enforcement, and a moving car, which ended my short lived career. But that’s another story).
A friend, who is a triathlete, agreed to come with me. We both follow sport. She didn’t make it to half time. As a serious athlete, she couldn’t handle the degrading treatment of women under the guise of ‘sport’. She asked her boyfriend – also an athlete – to come and get her. He commented: “I think men don’t go there for the sport the same as men don’t go to a strip club to see a good dancer.”
I stayed on to be able to report to my Collective Shout colleagues – and anyone else who cared – what took place that night. But it wasn’t easy.
There were many low points. Probably the worst:
• A player’s lingerie bottoms fall down (not entirely unpredictable, it’s what the mostly male crowd seemed to be hoping for). They go wild. The scene is then replayed on the large screen for their viewing pleasure. A man standing next to me says “This is the perfect sport!”
• The MC invites men to stand and be selected in the ‘Chase and tackle the girl contest’ to come onto the field and ‘tackle’ a real LFL player. Men stand and cheer, pointing at themselves while others fist pump the air. Three are chosen. The female player is brought to the ground. I wonder what protection the players have against sexual harassment and inappropriate touching. And what would happen if she were injured, given players have to sign a waiver of compensation form.
• A blow up doll is passed around near me. One man simulated oral sex as others laugh. Men pass the prized doll along until someone throws it into the VIP area, where an attendant confiscates it. The crowd boos.
• Some men opposite me make a stack with their beer cups. I have seen this done before. What I have never seen at any sporting venue was what happens when the host, an older lady, asks them to stop. The men insult her and throw their ($7) beers over her. She appears shaken and leaves.
Touchdowns are celebrated by slapping thighs and making ‘Pussy Signs’ above the players’ heads. Apparently it’s a great thing to attract the hand vagina signal. The new Sydney recruits selected from tryouts on Thursday night stood to one end clapping and dancing to ‘I am sexy and I know it’.
Men hang over the fence to get close-up camera shots of the player’s backsides.
As the player’s leave the field during half time a group of women enter wearing stockings, black high heeled boots and lingerie and hand out freebies to the men. The NSW team are introduced to the crowd. They run out and perform a set move – the sexier the move, the louder the roar from the crowd. A blonde woman who did the splits got the biggest reaction.
The second half gets underway and the men, fuelled by copious amounts of beer, become more aggressive. The music is pumped up.
The MC reads an ad for ‘Mobile Tanning Service.’ Given there were few women attending, of what interest would this be to the bulk of men in the crowd?
One player goes to the VIP section on field level and some men break the fence as they tried to grab her as she walks by. Security moves in.
When the game finishes the MC quickly announces that the party zone will commence in about 10 minutes for those with tickets. Fans who had paid could could stay back and take photos and do “whatever you want”.
LFL founder Mitch Mortaza made a statement over the intercom about how LFL was a new sport to Australia and how, despite the criticism, “You came the fuck anyways”. This is greeted by loud cheers from the fans.
The NSW team are sent out to parade around the field again. “They are all gorgeous girls, can’t wait to watch them,” the commentator says.
A group of men walk past me as I’m sitting by myself. One asks “What are you doing here? Are you a f-ing lesbian?” I said no, but I am reporting on the game. They didn’t elaborate further on their lesbian theme.
I decided it was time to leave. I walk out, depleted.
Lingerie Football League is hailed as the all-new Australian sport and we are supposed to celebrate? It wasn’t sport. It was a meat fest. It had the feel of a giant buck’s night. But it was on a sporting field so apparently that made it sport.
I call on sporting bodies and our Government, to step in to stop this. The game encourages sexist behaviour, it does nothing to promote women in sport on an equal footing with men.
What a sad day for women who do work hard for their sport, who go unrecognised, who can’t get attention for their outstanding abilities because they wish to play in practical, protective clothing and don’t want to be some man’s lingerie fantasy dressed up as sport.
It wasn’t about playing football – it was about how aggressively we could act towards the other girls
Last Thursday I found myself walking towards the bright lights of the Sydney’s All Phones Arena at Homebush. Turning the corner, I realised I was in the right place when I saw a line that would have done any night club proud – dozens of attractive young women in full hair and heavy make-up, long tanned legs bared in defiance of the winter chill, eagerly waiting their turn.
I took my place at the end of the line. Like all the women here on this cold night, I had come to try out for the Lingerie Football League (LFL). Though my motives were a little different. I wanted to see how we would be treated, what would be required of us, and to test the notion that this was real sport.
I was handed an application form, talent release and ‘Waiver of Compensation’ form. The last informed us that the League would not be liable if we were injured. Was that even legal? I saw one of the American players on crutches and wondered how she was paying for her treatment.
The girl in front of me offered me her pen, and helped me figure out the entry process. She told me that she was a surfer, did athletics, and had brought her father along as her support. There were many men in the stands, male friends and some other fathers.
With the paperwork out of the way, we made our way through to the change rooms. The girls in front of me had already started stripping down to their tryout clothes, none as extreme as the lingerie we would be expected to wear if we got through.
We each had a number written on our arms that would become “Your Name” on field – failure to respond to this number meant running a lap of the field, and a repeat of this offense would see us cut from the group, with no chance of selection. A girl ahead of me received number ‘69’, an honour which saw the US LFL team members cheering and joking that this girl had just received a free ticket through to the final selection. Every time number 69 was up, any athleticism or skill she displayed was overlooked in favour of continuing the joke that a numerical reference to oral sex was all the proof she needed of her potential.
We entered the floodlit arena to find it transformed into an astroturfed miniature gridiron field. I nervously made my way down to the field, where a large group of about 80 milled around waiting. Amongst this group were a handful of obviously serious athletes. I later discovered that one LFL hopeful was already a part of a semi-professional women’s football league, and another had represented Australia in baseball.
We were put into numerical order for the first drill. Along the sidelines were a number of US LFL players in red tracksuits. They walked around demonstrating drills and pumping the girls up through the night.
LFL founder Mitch Mortaza introduced himself and some of the star players. We then commenced with a warm up before three hours of drills as Mortaza patrolled with a clipboard, looking us up and down, watching our moves.
A cameramen appeared, lying on the ground taking upward angle shots of us running past. I was very thankful to be wearing long tights. I felt less exposed than some of the other women. I wondered how the photos would be used and where.
It wasn’t long before the music pumped up and the LFL players surrounded us, firing us up, urging us to be aggressive to each other. They then went on to insult us, screaming “You’re a pussy!” followed by a hand gesture in the shape of a vagina. As well as acting as an insult, the vagina hand shape was also later held above the heads of the top 20 as a victory sign.
We were shown the drill once and then expected to be able to mimic it. If we failed to do so we were screamed at, called a pussy and then Mortaza would yell “Stop wasting my fucking time, if you are here to fucking sight see, get the fuck out!” The way he spoke to us, made us feel like what we had to offer was never good enough.
Along with being ruthless he also showed a lack of knowledge of the sport. Mortaza made a fool of himself as he attempted to demonstrate a simple drill, leaving players confused as to what signal he was trying to communicate.
One drill was girl against girl. If we didn’t fight with all we had, we would be pushed to the ground, but that wasn’t good enough for Mortaza. He didn’t just want us to wrestle the girl he wanted us to “pancake the shit out of her”. The girl that ended up getting smashed to the ground was laughed at and along with the hand gesture, was called a pussy by all the LFL players.
During this drill, other LFL players shouted “own her” and “put her in the parking lot” and “haul your arse”. 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.
For most of the girls this was the first time they had encountered American-style football, playing a sport that isn’t actually Australian. Yet we received incredibly harsh criticism when we failed to match the skills shown by the LFL players who were professional players.
One of the girls I became friends with was behind me and I expressed my concern at the uniform we would be required to wear if we were chosen. She seemed oblivious as to as why this would be a concern. The tall blonde went on to be selected for the top 20, despite lacking the skill, speed and strength of other hopefuls.
After the drills we were then asked to gather around and hear two stories of ‘inspiration’ from two of the most popular LFL players. One story was not give up if you didn’t make it through, the other was to give us insight into what life was like in the LFL. LFL All Star Liz Gorman joked about it being the “fat story” as she had to lose weight when she was picked for the team. (I had already read that players who gained weight were humiliated). ”It is it about image,” she said. She also made a comment about the uniform,“The uniform it is was it is”. We were also warned about the amount of criticism we would receive from being a LFL player and that people would be harsh about our appearance so we had to look after our bodies.
Mortaza then read out the numbers of the girls who were chosen for the final round. Despite my ability to perform the drills, it was clear Mortaza wanted a certain ‘look’. So I was not particularly surprised that a number of us who had displayed greater football skills remained on the sidelines.
While a couple of the girls who made the cut were obviously talented athletes, in the end it was clear to everyone that our ability to play gridiron was a far lower priority than how our body would fill out the uniform.
The night ended with a pep talk about how to look sexy on Saturday night when those selected for a Sydney team to play competitively in December 2013 would be presented during half time at tonight’s LFL game in Sydney. They had to make sure hair and make-up was done and they were showing themselves as sexy, hot girls who had had a lot to offer – on or off the field.
A number of us worked hard and I’m still recovering. We faced constant belittlement and abuse. But our form wasn’t important if we weren’t stereotypically hot.
I’d love to be able to play gridiron someday. I love to test my body and mind to the limits of endurance. But I want to play a game where we are respected and valued for our abilities on the field. I want to know that our clubs would take care of us in terms of salary and insurance. I don’t want to play some pseudo sport where we are expected to wear sexy underwear and engage in girl-on-girl violence, and be called pussies, because that’s what we have been reduced to in a strip show style spectacle for the gratification of men, under the guise of sport.
Tal Stone is a 23 year-old Sydney university student and athlete.
Hinch employs an argument relating to male divers and their brief bathers. I pause then say I had hoped for a sensible discussion on the issue. Undeterred, Hinch presses on, at his blustery best. I respond: are male divers pulling each other’s bathers off? Do they have to sign contracts agreeing to accidental nudity? Are we watching them in action because we hope their bathers will fall down around their ankles?
Having dispatched the divers, I’m then faced with Warwick Capper and his footy shorts. I am not making this up. How can I stand up in the face of such compelling, blistering arguments? Warwick Capper wore tight shorts (and a mullet, but that’s not important right now), therefore women playing porn sport is fine. Put your sunglasses on or you will be blinded by the logic.
Trying to get Warwick Capper’s shorts out of my brain, onFriday I see the following twitter stream from journalist Latika Bourke capturing an exchange at Senate Estimates between conservative Liberal Senator Cory Bernardi and Minister for Sport Kate Lundy over this piece she wrote, critical of the LFL.
Wish Senator Bernardi had done some homework beforehand. Er yes, they are running around in their lingerie actually. That’s the whole point. And I understand why he would wish to score points against a political nemesis and to point out what he believes are hypocrisy on other issues, but would he really be “delighted” to attend a game to learn more about it?
We spoke on the phone. While Bernardi said he is on the “same page”, he compared lingerie football to male wrestling. As Jan says when she’s inspecting the dinner in the oven while her bored and half starved guests wait, in an episode from The Office, “not even close”.
What I am realising is that many men who make these arguments think that we look at male sportsmen the way they look at women. Surely we are hoping to get a closer look at the bulge in a sportsman’s shorts/bathers/wrestling attire? Surely the skin shown by a male wrestler has the equivalent effect of women dressed in lingerie with garter and suspender belts? It’s the same male sexual lense focus applied to Stonemen underwear.
We don’t see promotions for True Fantasy Diving. Or True Fantasy Wrestling. That’s how lingerie football is promoted. Women in sex industry wear, getting hot and sweaty with other women on a sports field, catering for male fantasies.
As I’ve argued already, this game sets back the cause of equality in women’s sport.
And according to sport’s blogger Cleveland360 (see interviews with ex players here) there’s many other reasons to condemn the game Mitchell Mortaza is now about to export to our country:
• Mitchell Mortaza subjects players to verbal abuse
• Players have to pay for their own health insurance but the LFL do everything to stop injured players making a claim on the insurance fund
• Mitchell Mortaza rumoured to fix LFL games, and one coach has quit because of this
• Players have to submit regular pictures of themselves and are put on ‘fat watch’ and suspended from play if they are suspected of gaining weight.
• Mortaza uses ‘fat watch’ to rig games by benching key players
Please sign our petition at Change.org. Tell the sponsors including including the Brisbane Entertainment Centre, Allphones Stadium Sydney, Telecafe, Seven Yahoo, Yahoo Sports Triple M and Fuel TV what you think.
And please, if you can, spare me from any more arguments invoking men in speedos and Warwick Cappa’s shorts. I’d be eternally grateful.
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