Sex still drives sports entertainment

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Imagine (but not too hard since you may forget all else) half-naked models running on a manicured grassy field, smacking their voluptuous bodies into one another – legs splayed, exposed, tight bellies breathing heavily above tiny bicycle briefs while another player adjusts her sports bra, (slightly) worried she may be exposing more than Janet Jackson ever dreamed.

You won’t have to fantasize about this scene much longer. Inspired by a Super Bowl stunt (Lingerie Bowl), the Lingerie League kicks off its inaugural season next September. The teams have adopted equally flirtatious and titillating names, such as Seduction, Temptation, Desire, and, of course, Euphoria. Apparently, the league will put 10 teams in larger cities for an eight-game season. Sex, violence and exploitation. Yup, the league has the key elements for drawing fans and advertisers. No surprise there. However, I was sent into a full barrel laugh when I read this from league spokesperson Kyle Bolin: “This is not fluff. They take it very seriously.” Excuse me while I wipe the tears from my eyes. Woo. That’s a good one.

Exploiting young women is nothing new. Roone Arledge used to require T&A camera shots that included close-ups of pretty girls in the stands and of cheerleaders waving pom-poms. Cameras still linger over attractive females in stadiums across America. Just ask any Cubs or Lakers or Florida fan. (Wonder how many girls got depressed over these gratuitous camera shots.) Arledge’s producer Andy Sidaris, who created this staple of TV sports, said: “Once you’ve seen one huddle, you’ve seen them all … So you either look at the popcorn, the guys, or the ladies. The choice is clear for me.” Obviously, that choice retains its clarity several decades later. At least, that’s what the Lingerie League is counting on.

This league can offer some good lessons in journalism. First, sports writers may now comprehend professional sports from a new perspective. Sports is a business. Businesses use sex to sell products and make money. Therefore, sports leagues purposefully use sex to sell their teams and players. How else to explain the meteoric rise of women’s beach volleyball? These women are amazing athletes, to be sure, but how many male viewers were more interested in shapely butts in tight bikini bottoms than those one-handed, diving saves during the Beijing Olympics? Donna Lopiano, former chief executive officer for the Women’s Sports Foundation, offers some ways journalists can better assess images of female athletes.

Second, sports journalists need to challenge everything that anybody tells us – especially comments we get from public relations professionals whose agenda is to sell something. Do not be a stenographer who mindlessly jots down whatever anybody says. Instead, ask the tougher follow-up questions. That’s what we do. Consider these comments from the Lingerie League’s spokesperson:

“This is not fluff. They take it very seriously. They’re not out there worrying about fingernails being broken, but they’re worried about their necks being broken.” …

Bolin said 92 percent of the players are college grads. And he doesn’t think Lingerie Football is sexist, noting that teams have female cheerleaders and 40 percent of fans registered on the team sites are women.

The league is working hard to convince reporters (and fans) that this league is not sexist. That idea needs to be intercepted by journalists willing to take on a bigger topic, by someone more inclined to report than to snicker. So far, many journalists are either panting over the possibilities of this league or poking fun at the ridiculous nature of this scenario. Yes, sports are fun. And this league is an easy mark. But how about a few stories addressing the culprit beyond this league’s appeal – sexual exploitation, something that can lead to sexual abuse and violence? I’m not advocating the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders wear slacks or that Victoria’s Secret models wear business suits. But we should characterize the Lingerie League for what it is – another sports league trying to cash in on sex.

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