1 Down and Yards to Go for the Lingerie Football League
I’d like to think that I’m really good at pretending to know about football. As a self-proclaimed Green Bay Packers fan, I can name about 5 players and can usually tell which team is scoring the touchdown. Needless to say, when I found myself watching a Packers game at a friend’s house with all of her friends (who didn’t know me, but certainly knew football), I felt pretty out of place. I couldn’t offer much to the conversation comparing Packers’ quarterbacks Brett Hundley and Aaron Rodgers, but when the conversation turned to the Legends Football League (LFL), formerly known as the Lingerie League, I had plenty to contribute.
Much like its former name suggests, the Legends Football League consists of female football players competing in well…their underwear. The current uniform: underwear which resembles track and field bottoms plus shoulder pads over a bra. This replaced the original lace, ribbon, and garter-embellished lingerie when the league rebranded from the Lingerie League to the Legends Football League in 2013. Other than the uniform, the game differs from regular football in terms the number of players on the field, field size, and timing, but operates under the same scoring rules as the NFL.
While the LFL had undergone efforts (via their rebranding) to desexualize the league by the time I was watching that Packers game at my friend’s house, I still knew that, in order for women to play football professionally, they needed to do so in their underwear. You can probably imagine that this didn’t bode so well with me. So when the topic of the Lingerie League was brought up, I, predictably, made a statement about how sexist the league is. I was (and still am) really bothered by the fact that male football players are ridiculously famous and wealthy while female football players are objectified, watched for their bodies and not for their skills, and play on teams with names like the “San Diego Seduction,” while their male counterparts are the “San Diego Chargers.”
One of the boys watching the game at my friend’s house strongly disagreed with me. He was adamant that the Legends League, which he solely referred to as the Lingerie League, is a feminist institution. He said that these female players are defying gender roles by playing sports professionally, which I admittedly had to give him. As badly as I wanted to, I wasn’t going to bring up athletes Serena Williams or Aly Raisman who play sports professionally, and not in their undergarments. Pick your battles, right? But once this young man told me that, as a feminist, I shouldn’t be shaming these woman for showing off their bodies and that I “can’t just be okay with showing off cleavage when it benefits [my] cause,” I was caught a little off guard.
Is the Lingerie League fundamentally feminist? I didn't know. And if I was going to go about accusing the fastest growing sports league in America of being sexist, I felt I probably should know.
The first result that shows up when you google “Legends Football League feminism” is an article titled “Feminism Is Now Literally Killing Boners: Lingerie League Will No Longer Involve Lingerie,” which details, in a very disappointed tone, that the league’s rebranding would mean less “tits and asses” on the field. However, as I continued to scroll down the results list, I stumbled upon an article excitedly announcing that the LFL Nashville Knights had just hired the league’s first female coach. My first response was “first?” This is the ninth season of the league and they’re only having their first female coach now? But as I looked further into former LFL player and new coach Danika Brace, I found myself becoming excited for her too. In an Instagram post, she called her new position “another great accomplishment for women,” and I had to give in. Fine, LFL, you win this one.
But what about that uniform? The Los Angeles Temptation wide receiver Cynthia Schmidt said in article for Fuse that players “do not feel objectified for playing in what is essentially a swimsuit. [They] all work hard on and off the field in training and with healthy eating for [their] bodies, and [they] should not be embarrassed to show that.” In the same interview, the Chicago Bliss wide receiver agrees, and adds that the “bruises and turf burn are like a badge of honor.” To be fair, if I had abs like theirs, I’d probably want to show them off too.
That being said, other players, like Tampa Breeze’s Liz Gorman, would rather wear what she calls “full clothing.” The Chicago Bliss quarterback, Heather Furr, put it bluntly: she told ESPN that she “wasn't thrilled with the uniform.” Others express their hopes that women’s sports won’t need to utilize women’s sexuality in order to gain viewers. The Seattle Mist’s offense-woman Megan Hanson, agrees that “lingerie is something you wear… in the bedroom” and that the word inappropriately links the sport to sex. She tells Fuse TV that she hopes people will be able to look beyond the uniform to see the legitimacy of the sport.
If you want to wear lingerie while you play sports, I say go for it. If you don’t want to wear lingerie while you play sports, I say go for it. If you have to wear lingerie while you play sports, that doesn’t settle as well with me. This is the crux of the issue. Clearly there’s debate within the league itself, but it’s hard to get past the fact that this is the mandatory uniform, and whether particular women like it or don’t like it, it clearly establishes the focus on women’s bodies, not on football.
So, is the Legends League fundamentally feminist? In some ways, yes. Allowing women to play sports professionally is breaking down stereotypes left and right. And the body empowerment? Who could argue against that?
Is the Legends League fundamentally sexist too? Yes. Forcing women to play sports in their underwear only serves to enforce the sexist mentality of our society, even before you consider other issues such as the players’ pay.
But is it important for us to support these female athletes, lingerie or not, in this incredibly patriarchal industry? Absolutely.
This piece was written as part of JWA’s Rising Voices Fellowship.
How to cite this page
Harder, Natalie. "1 Down and Yards to Go for the Lingerie Football League." 5 February 2018. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on June 18, 2019) <https://jwa.org/blog/risingvoices/1-down-and-yards-to-go-for-lingerie-football-league>.