Ottney: A legendary tryoutWritten by Sarah Ottney | Editor in Chief | firstname.lastname@example.org
I recently found myself doing something I never imagined doing: trying out for a Lingerie Football League team.
Er, sorry, Legends Football League (LFL).
The 7-on-7 full-contact women’s football league, founded in 2009, underwent a rebranding last year. Besides the name change, the effort also replaced its lingerie-inspired uniforms with (still skimpy) “performance wear,” and the tagline “True Fantasy Football” with “Women of the Gridiron.”
I have to admit the first time I heard of the LFL was on Dec. 17, when I got a news release about its Cleveland Crush franchise relocating to Toledo. My boss, Toledo Free Press Editor in Chief Michael S. Miller, floated the idea of having someone attend tryouts — not to watch, but to actually participate. I was game.
Tryouts were delayed two weeks due to the Polar Vortex, but on Jan. 18 I arrived at Gold Medal Indoor Sports in Rossford, where I filled out an application, handed over a photo, signed a waiver and was assigned a number. The application was fairly basic: name, age, height, weight, city of residence, athletic experience — but also asked about tattoos, social media use and favorite NFL team.
The 25 women trying out ranged in age from, I’d say, late teens to early 40s. Most surprising was how far they’d traveled: Columbus, Cleveland, East Lansing, Mich., western Michigan — even Dallas.
Everyone wore regular workout clothes, but the four current LFL players who attended definitely stood out — two because of their long, perfectly curled hair and two because they were tall, blonde twins.
Keith Hac, coach of last year’s LFL champions Chicago Bliss, oversaw the tryouts. He ran us through a series of drills, including the 40-yard dash, three- and four-point cone drills, a shuttle run and pushups. We did the skill tests one at a time while everyone else watched, which meant there was a lot of time to stand around and get cold. But there was also a lot of clapping and encouragement from the other women.
After the speed, strength and agility tests, we finally lined up to catch a few balls. I felt stiff and cold. Hac threw each candidate three passes. I didn’t catch any.
I consider myself decently fast and athletic. I felt like I held my own overall, but apparently my times weren’t up to snuff. After a short break, Hac called out the numbers of those he felt were qualified to be invited to training camp. About half made the cut. The rest of us were thanked for coming.
Afterward, I asked Hac why he didn’t choose me. He said, “Your numbers weren’t good and you didn’t catch the ball.” In other words, bad all around. It was a little embarrassing, but I appreciated his bluntness.
Looks and athleticism
I also asked Hac if a player were, say, just a smidge below the athletic standards the league expects, but super hot, would she be invited to training camp? He said no. “Looks and athleticism: You can’t have one without the other,” he said.
However, Hac did allow that teams in larger cities like Chicago and Los Angeles get hundreds of women at tryouts and have the luxury of choosing the best of the best. A market like Toledo, he said, might have problems with numbers and have to make certain compromises.
No one in the league denies looks are a factor. League founder Mitchell Mortaza told theScore in 2011, “Looks are definitely a part of it. We don’t pull any punches there. We have to be able to market this sport. There are a lot of women’s football leagues out there that you never hear about — there’s a reason for that. We didn’t invent sex in sports.”
LFL players range from age 18-35, said Tyler DeHaven of the league’s media relations office. Hac said the majority of players are 21-29, although there are a few players in their 40s. The heaviest lineman listed on the league’s online rosters is 165 pounds. However, league officials deny any age or weight limits.
“Our athletes are former collegiate and professional athletes, and understand they need to be in top physical condition in order to compete in this high level sport,” DeHaven wrote in an email to Toledo Free Press. “All of our athletes are in great physical and cardiovascular shape.”
Beneath the pretty faces and undersized shoulder pads, the women of the LFL are undeniably athletes. In 2010, Danielle Monet, a Chicago Bliss cornerback, told CBS News: “I know the reason why people come and watch us is the lingerie, the sex appeal. But what keeps them in their seats is when they see the ability we have and they see our plays and that we’re the real deal.”
Meanwhile, Mitchi Collette, co-founder and head coach of local professional women’s football team Thee Toledo Reign is struggling — as she does every year — to scrape together enough players to field a team.
While the LFL sells out stadiums, Collette struggles to draw more than 80 spectators to a game. Many lifelong Toledoans don’t even know the team exists. For the past few years, Toledo Reign, which won its division title in 2012 but is now going through a rebuilding phase, have played at Central Catholic High School. This year Collette is considering playing each home game at a different regional location.
Collette rarely turns a player away. Ideally, she needs 15 more by March 1. With her military background and four decades of women’s football experience, including 13 years as a Toledo Troopers player, she’s confident in her abilities to bring inexperienced players “from Pop Warner to pro” in a short amount of time.
Collette gets a little riled up talking about the LFL. She believes the league exploits women. She doesn’t believe in 160-pound linemen or playing half-dressed. She calls its very existence “a slap in the face.” She would love to organize a game: Her girls against Toledo Crush.
Collette said a lot of people don’t take Toledo Reign seriously — until they come out to see a game. Hac and DeHaven say the same thing about the LFL.
So would I have actually done it, if Hac had given me the nod? For a hot second, a part of me considered it. But I don’t think it’s for me. I’m not self-conscious about my body, but I also don’t particularly like the idea of showing it off for an audience (or performing anything in front of anyone, regardless of what I’m wearing). Players aren’t paid, but I can understand how many see it as an opportunity for worldwide exposure (pun intended).
Toledo Crush will play two home games at the Huntington Center: May 10 against Atlanta Steam and June 21 against Baltimore Charm. I plan to be there to check out the action and welcome Toledo’s newest team.
I also plan to be there for Toledo Reign’s April 12 home opener, to cheer on one of Toledo’s oldest traditions.
Some say the LFL degrades women; others argue it empowers them. I guess I won’t make that call. Either way, it’s gotten people talking about women’s football — and gotten media talking to Collette. And maybe, just maybe, that won’t be a bad thing for Toledo Reign.
Sarah Ottney is managing editor of Toledo Free Press. Email her at email@example.com.
Tags: Atlanta Steam, Baltimore Charm, Central Catholic High School, Chicago Bliss, Cleveland, Cleveland Crush, Columbus, East Lansing, Huntington Center, Legends Football League, LFL, Lingerie Football League, polar vortex, Rossford, Toledo Crush, Toledo Reign, Tyler DeHaven, “Women of the Gridiron”