It’s fall and for a lot of people — myself included — that means it’s time for football. (Go Ducks!) But these days it’s not just a matter of college or pros. There’s also the two-year-old Lingerie Football League, which launched a Las Vegas franchise this fall called Vegas Sin.
The question: Is this just some sexist, exploitative bullshit “entertainment” in the guise of football, or is there a kernel of real sport on the field? My gut tells me it’s a mixture of both.
I think we can dispatch with the obvious sexist overtones pretty quickly. I mean, lingerie football? Give me a break! If these female players are real athletes, this is a hugely disrespectful of their talents. Would you ask male pro football players to snap the ball in nothing more than speedos and shoulder pads? Not a chance. And if this is just some professional-wrestler-style entertainment dressed up like football (in lingerie), then it’s a diss not only on the sport itself but on female athletes who would kill to be able to play pro football. (And PS: It is also bullshit in terms of an overt agenda of hetero-normative beauty standards. These women have to be hot and be able to play. But how is their hotness measured? My guess is that you won’t see any stereotypical dykes out there.)
Indeed, women have fought hard to be able to have equal access to sports through Title IX, which allows girls and boys to have equal educational opportunities and has widely been used to require sports opportunities for women in college settings. And in regards to football in particular, women have fought hard to gain access to the gridiron. But they’ve had few chances at legitimate football fields and when it has happened it’s come at quite a cost. The only woman to ever score points during a Division 1 NCAA football game, kicker Katie Hnida, was harassed, molested and raped at the University of Colorado in 1999 before leaving for the University of New Mexico, where she got her historic chance on the field in 2003.
And lest you think that the only reason why women aren’t represented on the field is because nobody will watch, think again. According to an ESPN study, the sports viewership of girls and women is different from boys and men, but in many cases equalizes in terms of their participation in sports (rather than merely watching sports on TV) especially in the tween and teen years. But there are plenty of women watching sports. Indeed, the NFL’s viewership is 40 percent women and they are an important enough demographic that the organization launched a $10 million ad campaign for its first female line of apparel products. And they are not the only ones looking to cash in. Victoria’s Secret, Old Navy and more have launched female-oriented fan apparel lines (for pro and college football as well as baseball and other sports) this season.
So, what’s up with the lingerie league? Is this really a reflection of what football — or even sports fans — want or is it a reflection of what a handful of male TV producers want?
Looking at Vegas Sin’s website, I see young women who may or may not be athletes. But when I look at news coverage of the Sin’s season opener, it is clear that The Las Vegas Sun, at least, is definitely treating this like a real sports event (although they had entertainment reporter Robin Leach cover it… in a straight-sports style?) — with photos of some pretty real looking full-body tackles. Is it possible that the Lingerie Football League is something like a commercialized version of Roller Derby, in which players’ are still subjectively in control of their sexual commodification? The jury is out. The Sin’s own player pages show little more than each player’s photo — stat boxes are empty, despite a 1-0 season so far.
Then there’s the fact that “Lingerie Football League: Friday Night Lights,” a show following the 12-team league, premiered on MTV2. This bodes badly for the level of objectification that is probably more, rather than less, a part of this league. Worse, according to The Frisky, past league members have been denied pay or benefits for refusing to honor contractually obligated “accidental nudity.” And players can be fined $5o0 for wearing extra clothing. The scales are tipping in the wrong direction here.
The bottom line is that the concept of lingerie football is sexist and objectifying. There’s no way around it. The players themselves just don’t appear to have enough autonomy over their image and branding — which is one that definitely reinforces misogynistic beauty standards. If players were allowed to be more active in their images and to own the sexualized nature of the brand, then you could argue that there is an opportunity for empowerment (because I’m not against things just for being sexy). After all, the Olympic beach volleyball team wear pretty skimpy outfits, but are most definitely competitive athletes on an international scale. But for that to work for the lingerie league, the players would also have to be, well, players. That much I can’t discern just from what I’ve seen on the web.
How about this: If the women are athletes, then get rid of the ridiculous gimmick! If it is just entertainment, stop rubbing salt in the wounds of so many real female athletes who love the game!