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Controversy over women’s American football

June 15, 2018

Photo courtesy of Flickr

The women’s football league, LFL (Legends Football League), has been the cause of dispute on social media. Though it was previously titled the Lingerie Football League, the league’s misogynistic suggestions offended the public and, ultimately, was renounced. However, it still raises discussion ranging from the defense of empowered women to arguments over excessively-sexualized football.

 

The league has been receiving criticism since its launch in 2009, due to its uniform requirements: a helmet, shoulder pads, a bra, underwear and nothing else. The provocative attire triggered mixed reactions. Columnist and radio host, Sarah Spain, wrote in an ESPN commentary:

 

“They're the kind of women you'd want your daughter to look up to: strong, athletic, passionate, empowered and confident. Only problem? Those damn uniforms. See, the name of the league might have changed, but the uniforms haven't. Players still wear push-up bras, spandex underwear, shoulder pads and helmets with clear masks that allow their faces to be seen. The only real change since the days of the lingerie league is that they no longer wear chokers and lace garter belts.”

 

Spain’s article clearly states her disapproval of the games, but she does agree that the women of the sport are not the problem; the league managers seem to be aware of the controversial aspects included in the games. For instance, a typical halftime in the LFL consists of a man being selected from the crowd to tackle one of the players. Additionally, a player wearing any layers under their “uniforms” could be fined. Traditions such as these can be seen as sexist, but the players seem to have a different perspective, as player Nneka Nwani remarked, “While I was playing college basketball I was kind of depressed that I had to dress like a boy. I want to be an athlete, but I also want to be a woman. I believe that a jersey and shorts hide everything that's powerful and beautiful about my body.”

 

However, there is an even darker side than the outward appearances of the women’s football league. Multiple lawsuits have been filed against the LFL for not providing health insurance to the athletes, an aspect that is crucial to the sport. On top of this, the hard-working women make very little income compared to male football players. They also have to maintain their figures, tans, hair and makeup, according to previous LFL athlete Tessa Barrera.

 

In an interview with VICE, Barrera said, “There were over 200 girls at my tryout. We ran the 40-yard dash, did footwork, speed and agility drills, and we were required to wear athletic gear that showed off our figures, which, yes, was taken into account. We had to be marketable.”

 

The apparently vicious cycle circles back to misogyny. The women are regarded more for their bodies than their athletic ability, and they are paid very little to support the high demands of their superiors. However, players like Nwani believe that their external beauty is a thing to admire. Though the league’s controversy raises important debates on either side, the one thing it comes down to is personal opinion: is the LFL objectifying their players, or does the uniqueness of the league bring about a feminist approach to a male-dominated sport?

 

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