[This is the second of three articles I wrote regarding Oxygen’s reality show on the LFL, Pretty.Strong. For the third and last installment in the series, read here.]

It’s been about a week since I published what I think will go down as a pretty comprehensive recap of the issues plaguing the Lingerie Football League (or “Legends” Football League, if you’re so inclined). If you haven’t read it, I’d strongly suggest doing that now.

The response over the past week has been tremendous. The article generated over 4,000 views within 48 hours of being published, and a petition protesting against glorifying the league in a reality show has drawn nearly 1,000 signatures in less than a week since the premiere. Yet I’m probably most encouraged by the fact that I’ve received numerous responses from former LFL players and staff members, who have told me, in a nutshell, that I hit it out of the park. And that, my friends, is why I do what I do.

The Fundamental Flaws of the LFL

In case you didn’t read the article (and again, I suggest you do…it’ll likely open your eyes), here’s the quick version. I outlined eight key objections with the LFL:

1) Players are excluded from the league based not on athletic talent or football ability but on how sexy the men running the league think the players look in lingerie (and it is this key objection that keeps lingerie football from being a real sport and the LFL from being an actual “sports league”…no legitimate sports league has such a setup).

2) The owner of the LFL, Mitch Mortaza, owns the league and all the teams. He alone has the ability to ban players, fire coaches, fire game officials, fire medical staff, cancel games, relocate teams, and fold entire franchises solely at his discretion…control that could be abused in the wrong hands.

3) As the league’s sole owner, Mitch Mortaza collects all the revenue in the LFL. He claims that the league has always been profitable, yet he doesn’t pay the actual players a dime (and hasn’t for the past five years). So Mortaza is raking in profits, but the women aren’t.

4) As the sole collector of league revenue, Mitch Mortaza benefits financially from which teams win and lose. Furthermore, his absolute control of the league gives him the opportunity to fix the outcomes of games, either by pressuring coaches to bench players or through his direct control of game officials. With Mortaza possessing the means and opportunity to fix contests, several games in LFL history have had “questionable” outcomes.

5) The players are forced to wear lingerie-style uniforms that are inherently unsafe for a contact sport like football and that offer far less protection than the uniforms men wear at every level of football. Players are required to wear these uniforms in an attempt to increase ticket sales and consequently revenue – revenue which, again, does not go to the players.

6) Mortaza and the LFL as a league encourages players to engage in “gimmicks” in order to try to craft a “viral” moment, gimmicks that often result in player injuries.

7) The LFL objectifies its players with sexualized marketing during games, promoting them as sex objects rather than legitimate athletes.

8) In addition to being a very poor businessman, Mitch Mortaza is verbally abusive to players, staff, and pretty much everyone else he comes across.

There are other objections in there, too, but that covers the bulk of it.

The LFL’s Porous Defense

The LFL does have its share of supporters, however. Most of them either don’t know the real issues with the LFL outlined above or they are men so entranced by hot women that they will pretty much unquestioningly accept whatever B.S. line an LFL player drops on them. Even well-known folks like Steve Harvey and Warren Buffett have recently gotten in on the act.

Now, to be fair to them, I don’t think they have any idea what this league is all about. I mean, really…do you think Warren Buffett got where he is by spending a lot of time pondering the morality of lingerie football? The guy supports all things Omaha, he probably got invited to a game somehow, and there you go. I highly doubt he spent a lot of time looking behind the curtain at Mortaza’s little operation.

Those who do try to defend the LFL usually trot out the same tired lines:

“These women are great athletes!”
“These women are beautiful!”
“These women have great careers outside of playing (lingerie) football!”

Are you sensing a pattern?

All of these things are likely true. But all of them are also irrelevant in that none of it negates any of the eight points mentioned above.

Another line of argument I’ve heard from LFL supporters is that my article contains outdated information and that the LFL has somehow improved and turned over a new leaf since its rebrand in 2013. First of all, is there such a thing as outdated information when it comes to the LFL, a league that was founded just six years ago? But just for the sake of the argument, let’s go through my eight objections above and see if they still apply to the LFL of today.

A Look at the “Modern” LFL

1) Players are excluded from the league based not on athletic talent or football ability but on how sexy the men running the league think the players look in lingerie.

Still the same as always. In fact, to hear Mortaza tell it, “that’s not going to change.” So…there you have it.

2) Mitch Mortaza owns the league and all the teams.

Still the same as always. Mortaza made a major announcement last year that he was ready to sell individual franchises and divest himself of “a vast majority of [LFL] business operations.” I’ll let you guess if anything substantive came out of that or if that was typical Mortaza propaganda. Now Mortaza admits that “individuals with a vision tend to be hands-on,” so yeah, that’ll never change. (Bonus points for Mortaza considering himself a visionary.)

3) Mitch Mortaza claims that the league has always been profitable, yet he doesn’t pay the actual players a dime (and hasn’t for the past five years). So Mortaza is raking in profits, but the women aren’t.

He said that literally just this year. By the way, it’s no coincidence that the LFL has been “barely profitable” for the past six years. If Mortaza said that the league was unprofitable, he wouldn’t be able to spout his usual nonsense about how the LFL is the “nation’s fastest growing sports league”. On the other hand, if he said the league was very profitable, he’d naturally get asked when he’s going to pay the players, and he sure as heck isn’t doing that. (He balked this past year at paying even veteran “stars” like Heather Furr. When Furr asked him about actually getting paid, Mortaza responded that he’d prefer she enter the season in better physical shape. Heather Furr. Seriously…this guy.) Anyway, expect the LFL to be “barely profitable” for the foreseeable future.

4) With Mortaza possessing the means and opportunity to fix contests, several games in LFL history have had “questionable” outcomes.

One of the “questionable” outcomes I listed happened in the second-to-last game this season.

5) The players are forced to wear lingerie-style uniforms that are inherently unsafe for a contact sport like football and that offer far less protection than the uniforms men wear at every level of football.

Despite a ballyhooed removal of garters from the uniforms in 2013, the uniforms are as unsafe today as they have ever been. Mortaza gives lip service to safety and to upgrading the uniforms someday (he’s already teasing the possibility of new uniforms in 2016), but they’ve never fundamentally changed…and they likely never will.

6) Mortaza and the LFL as a league encourages players to engage in “gimmicks” in order to try to craft a “viral” moment, gimmicks that often result in player injuries.

One of the incidents I mentioned was from this season, when a defensive player did a push-up over the woman she just tackled, which led to a brawl. Rather than discourage such actions, the LFL promoted it with a separate clip on YouTube.

7) The LFL objectifies its players with sexualized marketing during games, promoting them as sex objects rather than legitimate athletes.

Yes, thank goodness they don’t do that anymore.

8) In addition to being a very poor businessman, Mitch Mortaza is verbally abusive to players, staff, and pretty much everyone else he comes across.

From an article published a couple weeks ago:

As the contracted production crew began to set their cameras up, a freak downpour brought out the best in the hustling LFL staffers—and the worst in Mortaza. During a break in the rain, he walked across the waterlogged field and snapped.

“F—K!”

Mortaza kicked a spray of water off the saturated grass. Everyone within earshot kept their head down and worked with silent intensity as his profanity echoed.

I’m sure he’s changed, though. Abusive people who don’t acknowledge they have a problem and who are surrounded by people making excuses for their behavior often do.

So yeah…the main problems with the LFL are anything but outdated. They still exist today, and with the exception of two seasons of meager salaries (that ended five years ago), they’ve existed since day one.

A Q&A With Coach Hac

With the flaws of the LFL exposed for all to see, Coach Keith “I’m gonna f—k you in the face” Hac decided to offer his own tepid defense of his league. It’s enlightening and worth a look. The blocked quotes are from Coach Hac.

“The level of playing in the women’s full gear leagues doesn’t even equate to the level of playing in the LFL. I 100% respect and support what they’re doing but it’s really hard for the players. It’s because of the equipment; it’s not designed for women. The games go very slow. It’s like watching slow motion football.”

It is complete, total, unadulterated garbage to suggest that the level of playing in the LFL surpasses the level of play by top traditional women’s football teams. As a women’s football historian, I can tell you without hesitation – if the WFA’s Chicago Force played the LFL’s Chicago Bliss in a game of football, the contest would end with the Force winning by a score of 80-0 and half the Bliss roster being carted off the field with severe injuries.

I would love to see the Bliss players attempt to slow down the front seven of the Force defense. I can’t even imagine Catherine Converse in an LFL game. One of my favorite sports writers once described a dominant defensive player in practice by saying, “He looked like a loose bear at a children’s zoo.” That’s what Converse would look like in an LFL game. It would be like something out of a Godzilla movie.

When two top women’s football teams clash, the quality of play is not even in question. No, it doesn’t rise to the level of play of the NFL or major college football. But don’t kid yourself…I’m an arena football fan and I’ve seen many AFL games over the years, and the gap between the AFL and LFL is every bit as massive – if not more so – than the gap between top WFA teams and the NFL. With 100 percent respect to the LFL players, if the top traditional women’s football teams play “slow motion football,” the LFL is slow motion arena football…in panties, of course.

By the way, I want you to think about what Coach Hac is saying here, because it pretty much exposes the LFL’s position of empowerment to be a complete sham. LFL players love to say they are “inspiring young female athletes across the world to follow their dreams”…even the male chauvinist, Mortaza-clone of an Oxygen executive who greenlighted their reality show, Rod Aissa, proudly declared that LFL players “prove there are no limits in life or sports.”

Well, according to Coach Hac, that ain’t so. Apparently female athletes can do anything…except play entertaining football without showing cleavage. That, evidently, is something folks in the LFL believe women can’t do. Inspiring…not to mention completely, blatantly false and absurd. Women can play football in full gear and play it well – not at an NFL or major college level, but at a very entertaining level. It’s certainly a higher quality of play than you’ll ever see in the LFL, which only recruits from a pool of the .01 percent of the female population that Mortaza finds sexually appealing. (Then again, that’s probably the same percentage of women that feel the same toward him…so it all evens out, I’d say.)

By the way, Coach Hac…I’d love to see the Bliss-Force matchup just to see you share a sideline with Coach John Konecki. There’s no question as to the greatest women’s football coach in Chicago – lingerie or otherwise. The talent gap between the lingerie and traditional women’s football games extends beyond the field.

“Just Enough Protection”

According to Hac, the draw is better with the LFL than professional women’s football. An average of 3000-6000 people come out to enjoy a LFL game, whereas only a few friends and family come out for the pro leagues…

“If you can’t really tell it’s a girl, there’s no difference in the draw.”

Average attendance of 6,000 may be the norm in Chicago (I doubt it, but who knows), but it’s certainly not the case everywhere in the LFL. Omaha’s arena doesn’t even hold that many, and sources have told me they’re lucky to pull a grand at home. Of course, that makes sense when you’re getting hammered by fifty points every game.

LFL Crowd

Those LFL crowds aren’t massive everywhere.

What’s more interesting is that Coach Hac made a fascinating confession: that the only difference in the draw between traditional women’s football and his lingerie league is the uniforms, or the fact that you can “tell it’s a girl”. (Don’t worry…in the LFL, you can definitely tell.) Coach Hac, probably without realizing it, acknowledged that it’s the uniforms and sex appeal that accounts for the LFL’s popularity. Not that that’s surprising to anyone with decent eyesight, but it’s always refreshing to hear someone in the LFL say it.

“LFL girls wear a smaller shoulder pad (specifically designed for the LFL) that is more compact. The smaller pads offer protection but not as much as the full pads…The girls wear hockey helmets too. People complain that they’re not true football helmets, but the girls are not trained to use their heads as weapons. We don’t have the concussion issues that you have in the NFL. Hockey helmets are lighter, smaller, and offer just enough protection.”

Coach Hac starts by admitting that the LFL’s pads – which expose bare midriffs and cleavage for what they call “marketing” – don’t offer as much protection as full uniforms. Pretty much case closed on that one.

Hac’s defense of the hockey helmets, on the other hand, is typically laughable. “The girls are not trained to use their heads as weapons.” Well, no one is, now are they? Men’s football players aren’t trained to use their heads as weapons, either, yet violent collisions still happen in the natural course of play.

Hac said, “We don’t have the concussion issues that you have in the NFL.” Thanks, Captain Obvious. Let’s think about this. First, the LFL plays 15 regular season games…not one team, the whole league plays 15 regular season games. A single NFL team alone plays more than that. Second, the LFL is a seven-on-seven league, which means only 14 players are exposed to injury at any one time, as opposed to 22. Third, the gap between the size and speed of NFL players and LFL players is…immense, to say the least. It stands to reason that the LFL doesn’t have as many concussions as the NFL.

But when Coach Hac says that the LFL’s uniforms “offer just enough protection” to the players, that’s the kind of thing that should send shock waves down the spine of any true football fan. There’s no such thing as “just enough” protection. Protecting players isn’t something you should ever, ever skimp on for marketing purposes, even a little bit. Holy cow, I can’t believe I have to explain that to a football coach.

Seriously…that attitude just flabbergasts me. Well, shoot, I guess they’re protected enough. After all, why should you bother giving them more protection than you have to, right? Good grief.

The LFL and Swimsuit Competitions

“We’re going for a particular look, but that goes with being in shape and athletic. Swimsuit competitions are judged on appearance, yet basketball teams are chosen based on the height of the players and skillsets. We have to do both! There’s still a marketing side of this. Every team has a marketing angle, and ours is athletic attraction…this is real football.”

Honestly, the ignorance…it’s just unbelievable. Let me try to break this down so even Coach Hac can understand it:

Real football doesn’t have a swimsuit competition component to it!

Read that again if you didn’t get it the first time. The LFL is part football, part swimsuit competition. But a swimsuit competition isn’t “sports”, and certainly not if the judge is one man, and certainly not if that one man is Mitch Mortaza.

Comparing this to basketball teams that evaluate players based on height is just head-slappingly ridiculous. Height is an important component of success in basketball, because it helps you get shots off on offense and defend shots on defense. How does requiring players to be tan and to cover their tattoos make them better football players? How does requiring them to pass through a “swimsuit competition” make them better football players?

Bottom line: you can be the best women’s football player in the entire world, and unless you fit Mortaza’s restrictive aesthetic, you won’t be allowed in the LFL. That’s not only a direct violation of everything a real sport purports to be, but it’s outright discriminatory. You can’t spin around it, Hac. Sorry.

Elsewhere in the article, Coach Hac said, “We don’t have a height or weight requirement.” That statement reminds me of baseball before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier. The major leagues, at that time, swore up and down that there was no ban on black players, because it wasn’t official or the league code anywhere. But yet, stunningly, no black players managed to make it into the major leagues, talent be damned. Everyone knew it was an unofficial ban…a “gentlemen’s agreement.” Signing black players just wasn’t done.

Now, does the LFL have a strict weight requirement in the league rulebook? No. There is no real league rulebook, except for rule #1: whatever Mitch Mortaza says, goes. And guess what…he isn’t letting players over a certain weight in, talent be damned. That’s something he’s been quite clear about, over and over again…that his insistence on the “marketable athlete” will never change.

LFL Marketing

“Just because we have a marketing angle doesn’t mean we’re selling sex.”
Of course not, Coach Hac. Of course not.

“It’s not powder puff, and it’s not lingerie football. It’s hard hitting, aggressive football played by girls that aren’t wearing regular football uniforms.”

It’s lingerie football. Coach Hac may not like it, and that doesn’t particularly matter. Women’s football played in lingerie-style uniforms is lingerie football. That’s the definition, whether it meets with his approval or not.

“The uniform gets the fans there, the football keeps them there.”

This argument from LFL supporters – “Come for the boobs, stay for the football” – is pathetically foolish. Heck, Hac said it himself, that the main difference in the draw between traditional women’s and lingerie football is the uniforms. If, for example, the members of the Seattle Mist all defected and joined the Seattle Majestics, do you think the Majestics would start having Mist-level attendance? Same great football players…what’s the difference? Ah, no more photos like the one above.

You know what…take the pads and protection out of it. How do you think LFL attendance would be affected if the players played with T-shirts and gym shorts over their current uniforms? I think we all know the answer to that…Coach Hac even admits the reason for the “draw”. So to say the “football keeps them there” is absurd. We know what keeps them there.

Now, LFL fans will never admit that. They’ll tell LFL football players, their wives, and their co-workers that they attend LFL games for the high-quality football. They’ll also tell those people that they read Playboy for the articles. Did you really think an LFL fan was going to tell an LFL player, “I came here for the boobs, but now after seeing you play, you’re still nothing but a sex object to me”? Silly rabbit.

Fans will tell LFL players how much they respect them as athletes, just as the high school guy tells the prom queen with a C average that he likes her for her brains. But that “respect”, naturally, doesn’t translate to fully-clothed women’s football, and actions speak louder than words. I know, I know…a man telling a hot woman what she wants to hear rather than the truth? Say it ain’t so!

Feminism or Common Sense?

The last thing LFL supporters have thrown out there is the Big Lebowski defense: “Well, that’s just, like, your opinion, man.” Several people have stated that they disagree but that I’m entitled to my opinion. Let’s be clear…these aren’t opinion pieces. They’re well-researched statements of fact that are pretty much impossible to refute (as facts tend to be).

I have also been labeled a “feminist”, a word Coach Hac used to describe LFL critics in his Q&A. I think their strategy is to recognize that feminists are perceived by many as extreme in their views, and therefore classifying all LFL critics as feminists is a way of trying to suggest that LFL critics are somehow fringe radicals who are out of touch with the mainstream.

I don’t even consider myself a “feminist”, personally. I’m just a sports fan who knows that Jell-O wrestling, while entertaining to some, isn’t actually a sport. I’m also a guy with a conscience who believes that if a league is built on the premise that “sex sells,” then the ones selling the sex should be the ones cashing the checks. Call it new-age feminism, I guess.

Look, there’s nothing wrong with being a feminist. But if you think only feminists can see through this farce of a “sports league”, guess again.

People are waking up to what’s behind the LFL’s façade. It won’t happen overnight…the LFL has been heavily marketing this exploitation for six years, and they have an army of very attractive spokeswomen spreading ignorance all over creation. But the truth has a way of winning out in the end…we’ll just have to wait and see how far we are from that end.

With celebrities and superficial men bowing like zombies at the feet of the LFL’s models, the cluelessness runs deep. People like Coach Hac honestly believe the LFL is all women’s football can and should ever be. The LFL, which has always been a reality show, now has its own reality show, and that national exposure has its proponents claiming victory. Monique Gaxiola, the LFL “Hall of Famer” (which translates to little more than Mitch Mortaza’s “Underling of the Year” Award), proudly tweeted, “We’re here to stay!”

Well, so am I, Monique, and more importantly, so is the truth. So let’s all settle in for a while.

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