Omaha’s Legends Football League players are all heart

Erin Golden’s story: Omaha athletes play for no pay and high risk, but with Heart
Photo showcase: Omaha LFL Football – All Heart

Omaha Heart's Ashley Lambrecht, at center, dances with teammates including, from left, SarahJane Thompson, Linsey Noble, Morgan Anderson, Lindsay Burnham, Shawnte' Bunting and Kelsey Lane, before the team's opening game against the Atlanta Steam in Gwinnett, Ga., on Saturday, April 13, 2013. "I love showing people that we’re real athletes. A lot of people doubt…It makes me so mad when they say, 'Is it powderpuff? Is it flag?' I’m just like, No! If you’ve seen it, then you’d know that we actually tackle. 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," Bunting said. ALYSSA SCHUKAR/THE WORLD-HERALD

The Omaha Heart’s Ashley Lambrecht, center, dances with teammates including, from left, SarahJane Thompson, Linsey Noble, Morgan Anderson, Lindsay Burnham, Shawnte’ Bunting and Kelsey Lane,before the team’s opening game against the Atlanta Steam in Duluth, Ga., on Saturday, April 13, 2013. ALYSSA SCHUKAR/THE WORLD-HERALD

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.

SarahJane Thompson, at left, and Lindsay Burnham line up during drills as the Omaha Heart practice at Millard South High School's Buell Stadium on Thursday, April 4, 2013. The women wear youth shoulder pads during practice but have much flimsier shoulder pads in games. "Down the body, we are extremely exposed. We are still 100 percent tackling. We’re taking hits, we’re delivering hits, but we don’t have the luxury of having pads," defensive player Brittany Benson said. ALYSSA SCHUKAR/THE WORLD-HERALD

SarahJane Thompson, left, and Lindsay Burnham line up during drills as the Omaha Heart practice at Millard South High School’s Buell Stadium on Thursday, April 4, 2013. The women wear youth shoulder pads during practice but have much flimsier shoulder pads in games. “Down the body, we are extremely exposed. We are still 100 percent tackling. We’re taking hits, we’re delivering hits, but we don’t have the luxury of having pads,” defensive player Brittany Benson said. ALYSSA SCHUKAR/THE WORLD-HERALD

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.”

Much to the fans' delight, Jacqueline Smyth, and Morgan Anderson, at right, are slammed into the wall while tackling Atlanta Steam's Nasira Johnson during the first half of the Omaha Heart's 42-6 loss to the Atlanta Steam in Gwinnett, Ga., on Saturday, April 13, 2013. In arena football, the field is narrow and only 50 yards long. Fans pay extra to be seated along the wall, which is considered in bounds unless a player is tackled against it. ALYSSA SCHUKAR/THE WORLD-HERALD

Much to the fans’ delight, Jacqueline Smyth, and Morgan Anderson, right, are slammed into the wall while tackling the Atlanta Steam’s Nasira Johnson during the first half of the Omaha Heart’s 42-6 loss on April 13, 2013. In arena football, the field is narrow and 50 yards long. Fans pay extra to be seated along the wall, which is considered in bounds unless a player is tackled against it. ALYSSA SCHUKAR/THE WORLD-HERALD

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.”

From left, Lindsay Burnham, Linsey Noble, SarahJane Thompson, Morgan Anderson, Nikki Koley and Ally Allen fix makeup and hair before the team's opening game against the Atlanta Steam in Gwinnett, Ga., on Saturday, April 13, 2013. The away team travels to the arena on game day and participates in photo and video shoots all day until the game that evening. "We had to be a the airport, makeup and hair ready at 4:30 a.m.," Noble said. "We were on our feet all day." ALYSSA SCHUKAR/THE WORLD-HERALD

From left, Lindsay Burnham, Linsey Noble, SarahJane Thompson, Morgan Anderson, Nikki Koley and Ally Allen fix makeup and hair before the team’s game against Atlanta. The away team travels to the arena on game day and participates in photo and video shoots all day until the game that evening. “We had to be a the airport, makeup and hair ready at 4:30 a.m.,” Noble said. “We were on our feet all day.” ALYSSA SCHUKAR/THE WORLD-HERALD

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.

Almost two weeks after a surgery to fix a torn ACL in her right leg, Leslie Walls is back at the game with her sons Colton Walls, 2, and Noah Walls, 9, outside of their home in Omaha on Friday, April 26, 2013. "These girls have worked so hard that it’s inspiring just to even watch them. It is heart wrenching not to be on the field, but it’s inspiring to watch from day one what they’ve put in to where they are now," Walls said. ALYSSA SCHUKAR/THE WORLD-HERALD

Almost two weeks after a surgery to fix a torn ACL in her right leg, Leslie Walls is back at the game with her sons Colton Walls, 2, and Noah Walls, 9, outside of their home in Omaha on April 26, 2013. “These girls have worked so hard that it’s inspiring just to even watch them. It is heart-wrenching not to be on the field, but it’s inspiring to watch from day one what they’ve put in to where they are now,” Walls said. ALYSSA SCHUKAR/THE WORLD-HERALD

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.

From left, Rayna Berryman, Jacqueline Smyth, in bandana, Linsey Noble, SarahJane Thompson, Lindsey Burse and Ashley Lambrecht shout "Heart" at the conclusion of practice at Millard Central Middle School in Omaha on Thursday, April 11, 2013. "People can get the impression it’s just a bunch of bimbos out here," Noble said, adding, "everyone has their own story. You can’t really judge people by the cover, by the book or the lingerie. You can’t really judge me by that." ALYSSA SCHUKAR/THE WORLD-HERALD

From left, Rayna Berryman, Jacqueline Smyth, in bandana, Linsey Noble, SarahJane Thompson, Lindsey Burse and Ashley Lambrecht shout “Heart” at the conclusion of practice at Millard Central Middle School in Omaha on Thursday, April 11, 2013. ALYSSA SCHUKAR/THE WORLD-HERALD

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.”

Morgan Anderson prays before the team's opening game against the Atlanta Steam in Gwinnett, Ga., on Saturday, April 13, 2013. "I couldn’t  imagine being done for the rest of my life out of competitive sports," Anderson said. "Nothing is compared to those games that actually count." ALYSSA SCHUKAR/THE WORLD-HERALD

Morgan Anderson prays before the team’s opening game against the Atlanta Steam. “I couldn’t imagine being done for the rest of my life out of competitive sports,” Anderson said. “Nothing is compared to those games that actually count.” ALYSSA SCHUKAR/THE WORLD-HERALD

 

Alyssa Schukar

About Alyssa Schukar

I have been a staff photojournalist at the Omaha World-Herald since September 2008. I'm from Lincoln and am a 2006 graduate of the College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Previously, I worked as an assistant at Malone and Co., a commercial photography studio in Omaha. My favorite pictures are those that give insight on the life of an individual or family because I understand the world better through the experiences of the people I meet. It's always humbling to be allowed such intimate access. My most challenging assignments come in many forms. Funerals, especially those of soldiers, always are emotionally draining, but I try to approach people with respect and dignity. In my time at the paper, I have covered a wide variety of assignments, including the Nebraska and Iowa National Guard's deployments in Afghanistan, Husker football at home and away, portraits of wigs big and small, rodeo queen competitions and intimate views of everyday life and love. Follow me on twitter @OWHalyssa.
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  1. [...] Omaha’s Legends Football League players are all heartOmaha World-Herald (blog)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 … [...]

  2. [...] Omaha’s Legends Football League players are all heartOmaha World-Herald (blog)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. SarahJane Thompson, at left, … [...]