Erin Golden’s story: Omaha athletes play for no pay and high risk, but with Heart
Photo showcase: Omaha LFL Football – All Heart
Nebraska is a football state. Love it or hate it, the game is a part of our culture. When I read that the Lingerie Football League (now the Legends Football League) was starting an Omaha team, I wanted to work on a story that would say something unexpected about who the athletes are and why they play.
I met the players at the first tryout in June last year and learned quickly that they were athletes first and that the lingerie was, in their minds, an unfortunate necessity. Many admitted that sex appeal was the reason fans attended the game, but talk to any woman who’s played, and you’ll learn that it’s no powder puff or flag football.
“If you’ve seen it, then you’d know that we actually tackle,” Shawnte’ Bunting told me. “You’ve seen that it’s not just models or pretty girls just trying to play football. It’s pretty girls that have careers, that are moms, that can actually play football and are good at it.”
I admitted to several of them that I couldn’t imagine myself playing a physical sport in such scant clothing. Some admitted to having the same hesitation initially. “People can get the impression it’s just a bunch of bimbos out here,” Omaha Heart quarterback Linsey Noble told me. “Everyone has their own story. You can’t really judge people by the cover, by the book or the lingerie.”
Of course, Noble is right.
My job offers me the opportunity to get near something, to examine it up close and yet be separate, though not entirely a third-party observer. Truthfully, I really enjoyed getting to know the players, hearing from them and understanding their points of view. I saw women who dedicated exhaustive effort, months of their time and thousands of dollars to a sport with little reward, to a league that takes more than it gives.
The league doesn’t compensate injured players, but even Leslie Walls, above, who had to pay out of pocket after tearing ligaments in each leg, defends the sport. “I wish I could really tell you why these girls play, why they literally every day risk themselves. We’ve had girls with shoulder injuries, neck issues. You literally sign waivers that obviously, you get hit in the head wrong, sorry. I don’t have a reason why except for the joy of competition and the team camaraderie,” she said.
Many players hope that one day the league won’t be about the sex appeal but instead a showcase for female athleticism. “The sport’s obviously fun. The games are fun. But in my mind, the most important and the most positive things have been the relationships that I’ve built,” Noble told me. “I can’t say that I agree with everything that goes on with the league, but for the most part I’d say it’s been a positive experience, and I don’t regret it.”