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Women’s Gridiron: It’s not what you wear, but how you play

Ashleigh Went

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you may be aware that today is the day of Superbowl 2015 – perhaps the biggest sports match of the year in the USA. It’s the annual championship game of the National Football League (NFL), which sends fans into a frenzy, with the world set to watch as the New England Patriots take on the Seattle Seahawks.

Amidst the excitement, a controversy has been brewing – one that has been given the amusing yet appropriate title of “deflategate”. It is alleged that the Patriots deliberately or carelessly supplied deflated footballs for their match against the Indianapolis Colts several weeks ago. You read that right – the controversy is around deflated footballs.

It’s perhaps an unfortunate reality that controversy and sport often go hand in hand. Just turn on the news to find the latest scandal – be it the performance enhancing substances, the aftermath of an athlete’s wild night out, a punch thrown in a moment of passion…the list goes on. Perhaps it’s because professional athletes have such high profiles, or perhaps it’s the sheer amount of emotion that we invest as spectators. It’s rare, however, for the controversy to surround the actual sport itself. This is what makes Ladies Gridiron League (LGL) so unique – the divide between those who support the League as a legitimate sport and those who claim the sport objectifies women.

President of ACT Gridiron Cody Field says that while he has respect for the players and coaches in the LGL, he is “opposed to the LGL as a concept” and feels that “building a sport around a gimmick – being revealing uniforms and attractive girls – is a poor way to try and further the ideal of women’s sports”.

Cody explains that full kit gridiron and LGL resemble each other in the way tennis and ping pong do—a similar structure and objective that uses variances on equipment and rules.

“I think LGL does full kit gridiron a disservice by trying to associate the sport they play with ours,” he says.

“LGL is gridiron in the barest sense of the game. Gridiron is a recognised international organisation (IFAF, International Federation of American Football) that has a unified set of rules including specifications and standards for safety equipment and protective equipment that are put together for the safety and fair conduct of the sport.

“LGL do not use these rules nor do they use standards for safety equipment.”

Cody is also concerned by the affect that LGL will have on women considering taking up the full kit sport.

“I don’t think our reputation has been damaged, but I feel that our credibility may suffer due to the negative association. Full kit is truly a sport that works for all body types. We have positions that are suited to the full range of people, where the LGL is looking for a certain type of player,” he shares.

“I hope that women who may have otherwise been interested in playing aren’t turned away from the sport because the LGL is the representation they see.”

“Realistically, I don’t think the LGL will hurt full kit that much other than the negative association we may face.

“Given that this LGL is the third attempt at putting together this type of competition in five years, being the Ladies Gridiron League, the Lingerie Football League and now the Legends Football League. 7mate axed their TV coverage last year due to poor numbers and the addition of NFL on Seven. So I think as a sport we will weather what I think is a fad.”

While the exact reason that the television coverage of the league was cancelled remains unclear, Channel 7 was subject to a number of petitions and appeals from feminist organisations such as Collective Shout and Change.org. These organisations argue that LGL objectifies women in sport.

For the players of LGL however, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Bronwen Stead, Canberra Mustangs player, says she has never felt exposed or sexualised by the game.

“In response to that idea, I would say that we sign up for this sport knowing what the uniform is. If I am comfortable with that, isn’t it others that are objectifying and controlling my choices by saying it should be different?”

The athlete says the sport also contributes to her health and strength.

“I have come from a background of chronic ill health treated through chemotherapy that I now manage through health, exercise and lifestyle choices,” shares Bronwen.

“I have gone on to achieve National Champion in Fitness Modelling with the INBA (International Natural Bodybuilding Association). I am proud of my body and respect what it can achieve.

“If other are not comfortable with what we wear I respect their choice and they are welcome not to attend or support us, but they will be missing out on some spectacular action from trained and disciplined athletes.”

Having competed in the INBA and as a cheerleader for the Emeralds (the Raiders cheerleaders), Bronwen is accustomed to dealing with debate surrounding sports. “As an athlete and a fitness model, if I wasted my energy worrying what myths and rumours there were rumbling around about me, I would never get out of bed! I prefer to live a fit and healthy lifestyle, and being part of the LGL Canberra Mustangs aligns perfectly with that.”

Although Stead is only new to the sport, she’s enjoying the physical challenge that it presents . The team trains three times a week for two hours, regardless of the weather. “We have a great coaching team who take us through all sorts of drills. In addition to our field trainings, we do our own individual gym training to develop strength, and bootcamp sessions as team as well. It’s fantastic – we are really driven to set a high standard.”

Bronwen laughs at the allegation that LGL excludes certain body types. “I invite people to come down and check out our training or look at our team page or player profiles on Facebook – we have such a diverse range of body types, and they are all stunning. When people come to our games, they will be able to see that our team has been selected on their talent, not their appearance.”

Fellow Canberra Mustangs player Danielle De Groot agrees, stating that the focus is on ability rather than shape. “Anyone can come try it out, though I think people need to remember that this kind of gridiron is different from full kit. It’s extremely fast, explosive and you are constantly running, blocking or tackling, so you have to be strong and fit. You have to be 110% committed if you want to play in this league”.

As a player for the Central Spears Women’s team and the Canberra Mustangs, Danielle is more than qualified to comment on the differences between full kit and LGL.

“I don’t really side with one or the other honestly, they both have their own style. I fell in love with the sport playing full kit and have fallen even more in love with the sport from being a part of the LGL. For me, it’s all about the game.”

Like Bronwen, Danielle has never felt sexualised by the game.

“If I did, I wouldn’t be playing. I think because of the uniform people come to that assumption all the time, and I think it’s ridiculous.”

“I love the fast pace of the LGL, and the light uniform which makes you so much more agile. I also love the athleticism that all the other players bring to the game; there is such a high calibre of athlete in the LGL.”

In response to claims that the uniform poses safety risk, Danielle says she does not feel as though there is a greater risk of injury.

“You can get hurt playing in any sport no matter what kind of protection you have. Once you are a contracted player we have, as a league, an insurance policy that covers us during training and games. The LGL and our coaches also provide guidance on proper training to help avoid injury. We all understand the risks of playing a contact sport and have chosen to take that risk.”

Whether you’re in favour of the LGL or not, you have to admire the strength and dedication of these athletes. How do you feel about the sport? We would love to know your thoughts on the issue…

If you’d like to register for ACT Women’s Gridiron, visit the ACT Gridiron website. The Canberra Mustangs are yet to play a match.

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Ashleigh Went

Ashleigh Went has a passion for all things health and wellness. She’s currently furthering her studies in nutrition, but also has a Bachelor of Communication and is a qualified fitness instructor with over five years experience working in a gym. Among other things, she’s a lover of great food, coffee and fashion. She can usually be found shopping for activewear, in the gym or updating her Instagram @wentworthavenue

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