Part 2: The Legends Football League – We ARE Athletes
A common stereotype associated with the LFL is that they’re not “real” athletes. There’s no denying that the women who play in the LFL are athletes. The majority come from a sports background, former high school athletes, and most participated in Division 3 to Division 1 sports. KK Matheny, quarterback from the Seattle Mist, played high school and Division 2 basketball and in her 5th year of the LFL, thinks it is the most competitive level of any sport she has ever played. In a phone interview she said “The league is showcasing phenomenal women athletes.”
In the 2014 season, the top 3 passing teams in the LFL had similar passing yards per game as the NFL, averaging between 175 and 260 yards per game. In 2014 the Chicago Bliss led the league in passing yards, averaging 200 yards per game in reach of Super bowl Champions, the Seattle Seahawks, who averaged 203. Coach Keith Hac, head coach for the Chicago Bliss and former Arena Football Coach, commented on the league’s transition from the “model look” to real athletes “it’s true football, true athletic players that have taken over.”
The LFL premiered in 2009 as a spin-off of the Lingerie Bowl, a pay-per-view event that aired alternative to the Super Bowl’s halftime show. From that the LFL was born. Originally called the Lingerie Football League, the league was re-branded in 2013 as the Legends Football League. In its early years rosters consisted of players that were trying to boost their modeling careers or trying to get TV time. Today, the league’s rosters consist of athletes. The LFL is home to 10 teams nationwide and has also spread to Australia and Canada.
There is a certain physique required to play in the league. When asked about physique requirements, former LFL Media/Talent Relations Coordinator, Tyler DeHaven found it “hard to comment.” He did disclose the differences between tackle football and LFL gear. In the LFL instead of traditional football helmets, they wear hockey helmets, and custom shoulder, elbow, and knee pads. Matheny was also vague when asked about the league’s physique requirements, she did speak to the fact that there are no height or weight requirements, but she did say that the physical expectations for the players varied for each person. “You have to be in shape, you have to be in football shape.” – Matheny. In a YouTube video published by Vocativ in April 2014, Matheny, was shown pre game getting spray tanned by a teammate, and disclosed that it’s a league requirement to be tan.
One of the biggest questions that I had for the interviewees was what type of image the LFL sends to young girls. Most of the interviewees spoke to the fact that there are more women and families that attend the LFL games than when the league first started. Dehaven’s thoughts on the message it sends to young girls, “You can play football, and you can be a beast, and be fit, and strong, and play a sport similar to men, and get the same respect.” But do they get the same respect as men? I asked Matheny, how it made her feel that athletes in the NFL bring in fans fully clothed, and they have to show skin to generate a fan base. Her response “It’s not fair, at the same time it’s what makes us unique to women’s sports.” In my opinion, the LFL to a young girl says you can play tackle football, you can be an aggressive and tough athlete, IF you are half-naked, IF you are beautiful, and IF you fit a certain body type.
Coach Keith Hac made a point about attractiveness and female athletes “When you really start to think about it, when you start to equate exceptional fitness and athleticism, that person tends to be attractive.” This is an interesting point; however, female athletes in the LFL are portrayed as sexual objects, instead of the accomplished athletes they are. This takes away from their talent and their athletic ability on the grid iron.
So why not play tackle football? The WFA/IWFL and LFL exist independently of one another, why does one chose to play in one league versus the other. Both leagues are striving to make women’s tackle football a professional sport, why divide and segment into three leagues. According to KK Matheny, “I honestly would probably get murdered by some of the defensive girls that play in the tackle leagues. I like the quick fast pace of the arena style opposed to tackle football.”
According to Matheny “People always come for the uniform, but they stay for the level of athleticism that me and my teammates have.” What would happen if one of the LFL players suited up for a game in football pants, and a full jersey? If the fans are there for the competition, to support women’s professional sports, and to see great athletes perform, would they stay if the women were fully clothed? It’s an interesting question, and I wonder if any of these athletes would ever dare to try?