Friday, October 21, 2011

LFL's Battle with Image: Michael Jackson's Daughter and Toronto Triumph Walk Out

To many the mixture of LFL and youth is ill conceived.

STOB has been working closely since May with the local LFL team, the Minnesota Valkyrie.  It has been a fruitful relationship for a young sports blog like STOB, and we hope it has been rewarding for the LFL to have us on board. 

We've freely admitted that when we joined on to write/podcast/opine on this league we expected a league of ladies more in it to look good than to actually play football, coaches more in it to try to get dates than to coach and for ourselves to not really care about the team that much but cover them for experience.  It didn't take long for us to realize that our preconceived notions of what the LFL was and what the Minnesota Valkyrie team and coaching staff were made up of were wrong and we were surprised at how much we've enjoyed our time covering the team.  The Valkyrie players are in this to learn the game, play the game hard and extend athletic careers past what is normally a glass ceiling for 99% of college women athletes, which almost all of the players are/were. 

The Valk's coaches, Tony Nguyen, Everett Lindsay and the elusive and mysterious Coach Z are professionals at what they do.  This became obvious in the practices we attended and then more obvious when we witnessed them dismantle the coaching staff of the Green Bay Chill in game one in August.  The players are great young women who all have careers in the world of business, healthcare and more.  They truly love the competition and challenge of learning a new sport, while the outfit in which they play is much more of an afterthought.  The league itself is focused on the football side of things, sure in promotion there is obviously mention of  the "lingerie" but check out, to which we contribute, or watch a Friday night game on MTV2, you won't find articles or color commentary about how good looking the ladies are or how the outfits are awesome.  It is true X's and O's breakdown of the game of football.

So for us the good has outweighed the bad in the LFL multiple times more than we had expected when we took on the challenge of covering a league that's main selling point "lingerie" is both a gift and a curse in terms of public relations.  It had been pretty smooth sailing in the third season of the LFL up until this week.  Now we read a story on Yahoo! about how the Toronto Triumph are pretty much staging a revolt against the LFL after only competing in one game of their inaugural season after the players voiced concern over equipment and lack of competent coaching after the release of a player favorite assistant coach.  In the Yahoo! story it gets ugly as a Triumph player has released the assumed private emails to Yahoo!, in which the commissioner Mitch Mortaza doesn't look quite as caring about the players as maybe Yahoo! writer Andrew Bucholz wants him to. 

The LFL is really light on staff, almost every decision is made by Mitch Mortaza, the commissioner.  He doesn't and really probably shouldn't have to answer to anyone for his decisions.  Whether or not a coaching change in Toronto was needed or not, Mitch says it was the current staff's decision with possible advisement from the league.  As for the somewhat insensitive responses to the player's emails, I think if Mitchell knew his email would end up on Yahoo! would've taken a more caring, lubby dubby approach but in no way was he overly rude it was handled the way that many have experienced with their bosses.  There isn't a requirement that a boss isn't stern and short with "employees".
In the LFL there is a huge commitment taken by the players who are unpaid, due to them not being paid the LFL has to always be on their toes for players just walking off the field and quitting.  In another Yahoo! LFL article it states that the players have a fine if they break their "contract" and quit the team.  There is a fee if you leave the team but I see why the league has this policy.  In the end Mitch allowed the players to leave the Triumph without the fee after all the concerns were voiced, many took him up on this offer, 20 in total.

The LFL has a long season for teams only playing 4 games, it starts in August and ends in February, they need commitments from the players stating that, if healthy, they will show up when their next game is to be played due to the LFL already selling tickets to the game.  If the LFL was run like an intramural flag football team where players were free to come and go as they choose, there would be the issue of players, that fans expected to come see play, not showing.  Which would cause serious issues for the league's credibility. 

As for players being easily replaced by frequent try-outs.  Women rarely get the opportunity to play football, because of this players who try out rarely have football skills outside of just being athletes.  For a LFL franchise that is starting from scratch, like Toronto, they will take pure athletes then attempt to transform them into capable football players.  Unfortunately this sometimes just doesn't work, and even more unfortunate at times it takes a regular season game to realize that it hasn't worked. 

So for an expansion team like Toronto, after an embarrassing loss in which they looked totally over matched, it is understandable that the league and the staff of the Triumph would look for another tryout to try to find new players to try to enhance the team.  This isn't an isolated incident in Toronto, most teams have more tryouts mid-season, including the Minnesota Valkyrie who may be making more roster changes after now two games being played.  For players who haven't been playing to a level that they should, it has to be realized that they will possibly be replaced.  This isn't some novel idea that is just now being used by the LFL.  Every sports team and league does this, your spot is never guaranteed.  The same though can be said of coaches, and if indeed the coaching staff is inept and poorly prepared their players they need to be held to the same standard as the players.

On to the next news maker in the LFL this week...Michael Jackson's daughter being recruited to be a "Youth Spokesperson" for the LFL.

After news broke of Paris Jackson making a boys flag football team, Mitchell Mortaza sent a letter to the Jackson estate asking if Paris would be interested in being a spokesperson to youth girls about playing football and in theory developing future LFL players.  Here is where the LFL's battle with "image vs. sport" becomes more blatant.  Behind the scenes of the LFL, where we have been some as bloggers at now two Minnesota Valkyrie games, the "image vs. sport" battle is waged at almost every turn.  The league wants good football on the field and that is it's main objective, but is forced to use the "lingerie" as a selling point to get people in the door.  At this point I think the overall public perception of the league is still that it is a side show, meant to mix three of most males age 18-50's favorite things, women, beer and football in no particular order.  Truly that is what the league wants right now to create a fan base, but not forever.  They realized that if you create a just pure women's football league, nobody will watch, no matter what the quality of football, it isn't going to get people in the seats.  Heck it's tough enough to have another male football league outside of the NFL, women would have no chance if not for a gimmick to get started, it is just reality. 

So with that, the LFL decided that in order to get people in the seats they would have "arena style" football but with jerseys that were scantily clad, insert "lingerie".  The thing is though, Mitchell Mortaza and the LFL aren't trying to create a league in which there are a bunch of strippers tossing a ball around, they do want really good football.  So there is the dilemma that brings us back to 13 year old Paris Jackson.  Mitchell realizes that for there to be higher quality football on the field's of the LFL, development of the players will have to start prior to post tryout practices for players.  They need to create a talent pipeline via youth outreach.  Issue here is, you bring up youth and lingerie in the same sentence and you are heading towards being registered as an offender of something you don't want to be an offender of. 

So to many the idea that the LFL is trying to recruit young girls to start working towards playing in their league is insane.  To the LFL it is an attempt at starting the trend toward just being a women's football league and not just a lingerie football league.  Whether or not the public is ready to start working towards that goal is the issue for the LFL.  After only three years in the spotlight that isn't as bright as they want it to be, atleast on the football side of things, the public still thinks of the LFL as lingerie first, football maybe second. 

Until the league changes that perception, press releases like the two above will be met with chuckles by some, outrage by others and ambivalence by still more.  The LFL is the fastest and right now the most successful women's professional league, but legitimacy is going to be won not by the bottom line but by what the league puts on the field athletically to force people to talk more about the plays the players are making than the uniforms they are wearing.

Tell us what you think of the LFL's new youth campaign and also the Toronto Triumph situation!

FYI - As more information has come out about these situations we've edited some of our takes within the story from original post date.

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