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On Second Thought

Not worth scant attention

Tampa Bay’s Jennifer Langston fights for yardage before getting tackled by New York’s Charlie Byrne in LFL action. Tampa Bay’s Jennifer Langston fights for yardage before getting tackled by New York’s Charlie Byrne in LFL action. (File/Chris O’Meara/Associated Press)
By Kevin Paul Dupont
Globe Staff / October 23, 2011

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The Patriots are off this weekend, resting up over their bye week. New England football junkies are left to seek their NFL fix on TV or revisit the lengthening “to do’’ list, which grows ever deeper from September through January.

TV ratings tell us that no sport captures America’s attention like the NFL. The USFL and XFL tried to divert some of that ardor, and the billions of dollars that go with it, but were beaten into oblivion for many reasons, including NFL brand loyalty, quirky “out-of-season’’ scheduling, and ill-conceived business and marketing plans, just to list a few.

In case you have missed it - and I truly hope that’s the case - the LFL is now in its third season. That’s the Lingerie Football League, which this season has 12 teams, each with 20 women on the roster, all vying to play in the championship game (Lingerie Bowl IX) in Las Vegas Feb 5. The Super Bowl will be the same day, and the LFL, keeping to its standard practice, will stage its big PPV event as alternative viewing when the Super Bowl breaks for halftime.

For equipment, women of the LFL wear shoulder pads, sports bras, knee pads, panties, and hockey-style helmets with visors. Their panties are, shall we say, downsized, and often include dangling garters because, after all, this is football and accessories give every woman a wardrobe edge. Every man-caver knows that. But LFL players mostly sport their natural accessories, which means they flaunt a lot of leg, derriere, midriff, and cleavage.

All LFLers must sign a basic playing contract that includes a line about the risk of accidental nudity during games. The 2011-12 season opened with a Sept. 11 game in Philadelphia, where the hometown Passion crushed the Tampa Breeze, 48-0, and the league’s star runner suffered a “depantsing’’ on one of her dashes up the middle. The unintentional “streak’’ was a bit awkward, even in a league that thrives in part on such serendipitous and prurient wardrobe malfunctions.

I have never seen an LFL game, I don’t intend to attend an LFL game or watch one on TV (MTV2 most Friday nights). And none of that is because my wife regularly checks this column to see what I’m up to.

Not surprisingly, those connected to the LFL try to convince those new to their league that it really isn’t about sexy women dressed in next to nothing, hunkering down in revealing, risque football stances and tackling each other for the sake of pleasing a young male fan base. That’s right, it’s about the football, stupid. Yup. Pass me one of them Four Lokos and a shot of tequila, OK?

“It is not the Bimbo Bowl,’’ Dion Lee, coach of the Las Vegas Sin, recently told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “You’re going to see some real football . . . real athletes who look good and can be models.’’

Nikki Johnson, the Sin’s starting quarterback, agreed with Lee, though she was honest enough to acknowledge, “Initially, it’s going to be sex sells, and this is what’s going to get [fans] out there.’’

The LFL has teams in Philadelphia, Orlando, Tampa, Baltimore, Cleveland, and Toronto in the East, and Seattle, Los Angeles, Minnesota, Green Bay, Chicago, and Las Vegas in the West. A six-team Canadian league is scheduled to open for business next season, and the LFL reportedly has set its sights on Europe and Australia.

“I don’t know anybody who can play in their underwear,’’ the league’s founder, Mitch Mortaza, said recently about his female athletes, “and not be confident.’’

True enough. I am equally certain it would take a confident, self-actualized man to play near-naked football, too, but thankfully the world thus far has been spared the FOTLFL (Fruit of the Loom Football League) or the Speedo Football League. Can you imagine the pain and suffering among viewers if someone invented the SWFL (Sumo Wrestling Football League)?

There must be plenty of nice women, a fair number of them fit and committed athletes, among the LFL’s rank-and-file. Why in the world any of them would choose to dress up in sports bras, Barbie-sized panties, and garter belts and willingly objectify themselves to play any sport is beyond me. If they don’t think they’re doing that, first and foremost, they are either kidding themselves, frighteningly desperate, or totally in denial.

Thankfully, we live in a free society, one that allows men and women to make choices both good and bad. For her part, Sondra Miller wishes both women and men would ignore the LFL. Miller works in Cleveland, home of the LFL’s Crush, and last month she wrote an opinion piece for the Cleveland Plain Dealer with the headline, “Turn a Cold Shoulder to Lingerie Football Team.’’

Miller, 33, is vice president of community engagement for the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center, a 24/7 help center. She told me last week the CRCC annually provides care for some 3,000 rape victims.

Miller made the case that the LFL exploits women, objectifies them, and thus adds to an increasingly violent culture against women that often leads to sexual attack. Going by what she says is a widely accepted industry standard that 1 in 4 US women will be the victim of rape or attempted rape by the age of 18, Miller said last week that she expects about a quarter of the LFL’s players have been the victim of some form of sexual assault.

“Statistically speaking, I have no doubt,’’ she said. “There must be survivors in the league.’’

Her story in the Plain Dealer, said Miller, drew the requisite vulgar, hurtful comments from anonymous on-line posters. She was not surprised. She is married, the mother of a 3-year-old daughter, and has learned over time to discuss her career sparingly, if at all, when meeting people for the first time in non-work settings such as cocktail parties.

“Look, I talk about rape all day, and I realize what an uncomfortable subject it is in our society,’’ she said. “Who wants to be the buzzkill at the party, right?’’

Her opinion piece, said Miller, led to a healthy, productive conversation with her husband, and some of their mutual male friends. Days later, she said, after her husband initially said he felt the LFL was harmless entertainment, she overheard a phone conversation in which he both confirmed and supported her viewpoint.

She is convinced her writing led to similar conversations among other married friends, and that at least a few more people understand how subtle or overt the message of sexual objectification can be, its dangers, and how difficult it can be to reverse it.

“If a woman chooses to play in the league, I hope it’s her choice, and she’s not there for any other reason,’’ said Miller. “That said, I wish they all had better choices, more opportunities, for education or jobs.

“I think it’s sad. We live in a society in which men believe they should ogle over women, and I think it’s sad that we’ve got young women who think they’ve got to run around a football field in their underwear to be noticed.’’

There is no football today in New England, but Patriots football will be back next week. Meanwhile, the LFL plods on as a football alternative, peddling its flesh for all to watch. Or ignore.

Kevin Paul Dupont’s “On Second Thought’’ appears on Page 2 of the Sunday Globe Sports section. He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @GlobeKPD.