Injury concerns, threats of litigation, and a mass exodus of players from the Toronto-based team are issues which have centred around the Lingerie Football League, which will bring games to Abbotsford this summer.
While the provocative nature of the sport has created public controversy, some former players have voiced concerns regarding medical coverage and other safety issues.
Asked about these complaints, LFL founder and chairman Mitch Mortaza said most of the reports are a result of “disgruntled” players “spreading misinformation.”
“There are a handful of players that have not followed very simple league policy and, as a result, their coverage has been delayed, but all have been covered up to their contracted coverage,” he said.
LFL players are encouraged to take out their own health insurance policies, or buy the league policy at a cost of $250. The policy covers up to $100,000 in medical expenses for injuries which occur during a game or practice and there is no deductible.
According to Mortaza, if an injury takes place, the player must report it to the medical contact at the league office within 24 hours. Then an examination and treatment by a physician will be scheduled. If a player does not contact the league, or “goes outside of the league’s network of physicians” they risk not being covered.
Mortaza said the league deals with a network of more than 400 women playing full-contact tackle football. Injuries are part of the game.
While there are a “handful” of players voicing concerns, he claims there are another 80 to 100 injured players who were “well taken care of because they simply followed league policy.”
The LFL, which features women in bikini-style uniforms playing tackle football, has landed at the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre (AESC) with the formation of the BC Angels. The team joins the Toronto Triumph and a newly announced squad in Regina as the first half of a six-team Canadian league. Three more locations will be announced in the coming weeks.
All the Canadian teams will be owned by the league.
Players in the LFL are amateurs and are not paid.
They pay the league a $45 fee each season to play.
Canadian players would be covered by their provincial plans when playing in the country.
Jason Blumenfeld, general manager of the AESC, confirmed the league provides insurance options for athletes and patrons.
“We are not liable,” he said.
The season consists of just four games, two home and two away, with the possibility of up to two playoff games.
Mortaza said the short season allows the league to control the growth of the sport, and protect its players.
“Their body types, most of these women, until they get conditioned for the game of football, are not made to sustain a six-, eight-, 10-game season.”
The B.C. squad will be made up of local players from around the Lower Mainland. No date for tryouts has been set.
The LFL’s first Canadian team, in Toronto, formed last year and after one game became the centre of controversy.
Players voiced concerns regarding safety, including inadequate equipment, ill-fitting shoulder pads and the use of hockey rather than football helmets. Players also complained about the coaching.
They appealed to the coaches and the league to improve playing conditions, but claim nothing was done.
In the end, four players were released from the squad and another 16 resigned.
Mortaza said the incident had little to do with safety, noting the team was issued “exactly” the same equipment used by U.S. squads. All the LFL teams use hockey helmets, he said.
“The actual issue was the head coach. Don Marchione fired an assistant coach, Sebastian Clovis, who was a team favourite. The players threatened to quit unless the assistant coach was re-hired. When he was not re-hired, those players quit … blaming it on safety,” claimed Mortaza.
On more than one occasion, the LFL has threatened legal action against former players who publicly complain. Mortaza said “any business would” if someone was spreading “misinformation.”
Since the announcement of the new Abbotsford-based team, public reaction has been mixed. Critics maintain it is sexually based entertainment rather than sport.
Mortaza responds, “The unique thing about the LFL is that we’re blatantly honest – in fact, to a fault. You know, sex has been used for decades and eons as far as marketing individual athletes and a sport. Today you see David Beckham in his boxers in Times Square on a big billboard.
“This goes on, on both sides of the fence, and it’s gone on well before the LFL. We’re just more honest about it – that, hey, that’s part of our gimmick to initially bring fans in, bring in media attention.”
The lure of scantily clad women has some complaining that fans are merely hoping to see some “accidental nudity.” The league has a disclaimer stating that nudity could occur, and that players are forbidden from wearing anything under their uniforms.
Mortaza said the clothing policy is there to prevent players from wearing “brand apparel” that competes with league sponsored clothing. And the recognition of the possibility of accidental nudity protects the league from any backlash, especially since many games are televised live.
Despite the explanations, it is likely the LFL debate will continue in Abbotsford.
Mortaza said he isn’t concerned.
“We’re dead set on Canada, there’s no question. In fact, I’ve gone on record to say that we believe Canada, or I believe that Canada, will be a greater success than even the States.”