It's Only A Game

This article is more than 11 years old.

“You sounded like a barker outside a strip club.”
“This league mocks female athletes, and I’m insulted by “Only A Game’s” coverage of it.”
“We are left wondering whether next week’s program will feature mud wrestling or wet t-shirt contests.”

These are a few of the responses generated by our story in last week’s program about the lingerie football league. Except for a story we did some time ago about an eating contest, we’ve never received so much e-mail about an event we’ve covered.

And not all of the mail was negative. Some listeners liked the story, and lots of people visited the website to learn more about lingerie football.

We were interested in the story because we felt the reporter who does some work in California for us, Charlie Schroeder, would see the humor and goofiness in the phenomenon and come up with an entertaining feature. We feel he did that.

But in retrospect it seems to be a good thing to have aired that story for another reason.

Though it has been an uneven climb, women’s sports have made tremendous progress over the past couple of decades. That’s evident in the existence of the WNBA and women’s pro basketball leagues in Russia and elsewhere; in the increase in scholarship opportunities for women playing basketball, soccer, softball, and various other team sports for women to which, until fairly recently, nobody paid any attention; and in the re-emergence of women’s pro soccer in the U.S.

But Martina Navratilova, Mia Hamm, Sheryl Swoops, Lorena Ochoa, and Jennie Finch notwithstanding, we still live in a culture where cheerleaders in shorts and halter tops are a big part of the NFL and NBA marketing campaigns, and where the organizers at Wimbledon recently acknowledged that they are inclined to assign the more physically attractive female players to prime courts at prime time.

The Lingerie Football League is out there. Did we promote it with last week’s story? I don’t think so. It seems to me we acknowledged it, had some fun with the silly idea, and moved on. But perhaps we also suggested that the progress in women’s athletics apparent at every level from high school sports to the Olympics and the pro leagues aside, oogling at women wearing not much has not gone away, and neither has the inclination of some to attempt to make money on that phenomenon.

The story about Lingerie Football irritated some, shocked others, and appalled a few as well...but perhaps it also served to suggest the complexity of the context within which the progress in women’s team sports has occurred.