"It's like football only... better
Fans at the sold-out Lingerie Football match between the Chicago Curie and the New York Red Cross were treated to something extra-special this past weekend as the ten-year-old league, the most successful women’s league in the country, announced that the 150 millionth ticket holder in league history was in the audience. The lucky fan, and the rest of the 60,000-strong crowd, witnessed an epic late season contest won by the Red Cross on a last second, 70-yard field goal by all-star kicker KeLeigh Green.
The announcement was made at halftime by league commissioner Diana Daniels. The lucky fan was announced to be 11-year-old Rebekah Ben-Chayil, who was part of a group of Israeli and Palestinian children flown out to the game by the league for their 5th annual World Outreach Day. In a surprise twist, Commissioner Daniels invited the 150 million-and-first fan, 12-year-old Gaza resident Hama Ayloush, down to the field to join Rebekah. The two squealed and hugged as the commissioner awarded them signed jerseys and other gear and donated $15 million to the trip’s sponsor organization, Israelis and Palestinians for Peace.
The game itself wasn’t short on the entertainment either, as both teams fought to maintain top seeds in their respective conferences as the playoffs draw near. Curie quarterback Mona LeMain extended her streak of consecutive completed passes to a staggering 115 before it was snapped on a sideline fingertip interception by Red Cross linebacker Shawnee Price. After the play, the fans, and both teams, gave LeMain a standing ovation for her achievement, the second longest completion streak in league history.
Contrary to the league’s official name, WLFL players compete in standard, if smaller, protective gear under regular sportsbras and tights—not unlike a woman’s regular jogging kit. The uniforms feature original team colors and designs from the standard to the funky; the 8-4 Los Angeles Impression’s unis are based on Claude Monet’s 1886 Study of a Figure Outdoors, Woman with a Parasol. I caught up with SI contributor LZ Granderson, the only sportswriter present at the game, during the 3rd quarter break to talk about the league. We chatted near the concession stand, where vendors sell organic meat dishes along with a mind-boggling range of vegetarian options. “Yeah, they’re not wearing as much as they could. It’s a summer league, it’s hot!” He chuckles before continuing. They also wear relatively thin but very impact resistant leather helmets, specially developed by DuPont and made available only to the League. Incidences of concussion are about a 10th of the NFL’s.”
"I don't care how much brian damage she got, this is still hot!"
Despite the league’s overwhelming success it receives no coverage in the mainstream sports press, a fact Granderson laments. When pressed about it, Granderson throws up his hands. “These girls are really good. I know we say that all the time about all female athletes, but seriously. I don’t know what else to say.” He shrugs as he chews on a delicately seasoned string bean.
A former employee at ESPN, speaking on condition of anonymity, recalls the league’s start in the summer of 2002, when it was a sketchy and sparsely-attended operation run by Diana Daniels’s then husband, former Hustler senior executive Steven Daniels. Five weeks into the first season, Mr. Daniels lost the league to the current commissioner in their divorce. “We wanted to send Erin [Andrews] to cover the story, but when she saw the name of the assignment she blew her stack. And once she said no, none of the other ladies wanted to undercut her.” The image-conscious network demurred at the idea of sending a male reporter, and soon forgot about the story entirely. Meanwhile, Diana Daniels transformed the league into a silent power. ESPN and the other sports outlets, the source says, remained ignorant of the organization’s success as they continued to believe a “lingerie football league” story was radioactive. ESPN did not return calls seeking comment. When asked about the league, a current major network sports personality replied, “pffft. It’s just a bunch of chicks in their underwear slapping each other, right?”
Granderson learned about the league when Sports Illustratedsent him for a light half-pager in 2004. “‘I know, let’s send the gay dude to the lingerie football game,’” he
They were sued by the Jaguars for stealing their jersey ideas
says with an eye-roll. But it was amazing. Rough around the edges back then, but there was some incredible talent. Athletic talent.” When he told his editors about it, he says, “they just laughed and walked away.” The writer and CNN contributor still attends the games, but now as a committed member of the Red Cross fan base, lovingly dubbed “Florence’s Machines.”
And what does the commish think of her astounding success? The league is very profitable, and has added to Daniels’s already substantial fortune. “I prefer to look to the future,” she says, sitting behind a large oak desk in her suite at the league’s Lower Manhattan office. “There’s big interest in Canada, and we’re looking to maybe expand up there. Everything’s preliminary at this point.” But in the face of staggering success, are there any plans to finally change the league’s name to more accurately reflect the style and level of play, maybe get more media exposure? Daniels leans back and smiles. “Why ruin a good thing?”
– Rony Josaphat