Sam Donnellon: Talent is a bust at tryouts for new Lingerie Football League

Martina Randall puts a hit on a tackling dummy during tryouts for Passon lingerie football team.
Martina Randall puts a hit on a tackling dummy during tryouts for Passon lingerie football team.
Posted: May 14, 2009

MARTINA RANDALL was caught in between: Gym shorts off or gym shorts on? A 4-year starter for Cheyney University's basketball team, Randall felt out of place at yesterday's tryout for the Philadelphia entry in the newly formed Lingerie Football League.

And for good reason.

She was overdressed.

Stretch pants under the shorts and a tight T-shirt over her athletic bra might be a little risqué for a workout at Cheyney, but it was a wool coat compared with the low-cut tops, buttocks-taut bottoms and bare bellies surrounding her.

So she pushed the shorts down. Then she pulled them back up. She repeated this a few times, until finally they came off.

"I felt I had to," she said. "To fit in."

Randall was one of nearly 80 women who showed up at the Tri-State Sports Center in Aston to vie for what league founder Mitchell S. Mortaza said was 12 to 14 available slots for the local entry in the league, the Philadelphia Passion. At least two women seemed to have made the team already as a quarterback and a receiver, even though, to the naked eye, there seemed to be at least a dozen athletes there - Randall was one - capable of running, catching and throwing better than either.

Ah, but there's the rub, if you'll excuse the expression.

The lingerie league does not put a premium on those skills.

Really, on any skills, unless makeup application is considered.

"We're not looking for the best athletes," said Mortaza, whose self-description as a "35-year-old backup quarterback" seemed one of many enhancements evident during the 4-hour session.

Foremost, Mitchell wants babes who are willing to wear skimpy lacy underwear while they tackle other babes in skimpy lacy underwear. As for the athletic part, well, running with your palms turned sideways rather than straight down was enough to get you through the first couple of cuts yesterday.

After that? Again, to the naked eye, it looked a little rigged. During a drill to evaluate pass coverage abilities, for example, passes were repeatedly thrown waywardly into the hands of the most attractive and well-asseted defenders. Amanda Walsh, a healthy-sized 26-year-old project manager from Manayunk who plays football in a recreational league, was dismissed after she wrapped her hands around the male receiver following a catch.

"If this was real football," she said, choking back tears, "I would have slammed him into the ground."

Ah, but it's not real football, despite Mortaza's occasional references to a league of "aggression" and "intensity."

"First of all, we're trying to market here," Mortaza said. "So if we went for just the best women athletes, we would become one of the myriad of women's tackle football leagues that nobody knows exists. They play in high school fields, they may get a hit on a blog somewhere. For us, first and foremost, you've got to be marketable."

So, goodbye, Rachel Tisera, a 28-year-old legal secretary from Philadelphia, who was cut early. "I ran out, and he didn't even throw it."

At least she got to go home early. Ever the tease, Mitchell kept more than half the girls around for nearly 3 hours - including a woman who arrived and competed in her very own lingerie. A tackling drill even caused the day's only true wardrobe malfunction when her uniform became a true uni. In that respect, the 4 hours were filled with adjustments, although not football-related ones.

The lingerie league is a byproduct of the pay-per-view "Lingerie Bowl" that has surfaced over the last few years as an alternate Super Bowl halftime show. Mortaza noted that a significant portion of that audience had no interest in such acts as Sting, the Stones or even Bruce Springsteen, although this year's event had to be canceled because the members of the nudist colony where it was being held planned on attending in their regular attire.

Go figure.

And, no, I'm not making this stuff up.

I wish I was. Wing Bowl, the popularity of women's beach volleyball, the strip-club garb of NFL and NBA cheerleaders - all this has come in the same era in which we seriously considered a woman for president, an era that has seen huge gains for women as people and athletes.

At an NCAA Women's Final Four a few years ago, they held a symposium that addressed the lack of preparation women in major college sports receive for that time when their athletic careers are over. Randall is not one of them - she had a 3.6 GPA at Cheyney and will attend medical school at the University of Pittsburgh after taking next year off. But many of the more athletic women there yesterday were simply looking to play something, and get paid to do so.

Mortaza said the women will receive a percent of the gate, an incentive for them to go out in public and promote the league, preferably in their official underwear. The winning team also will receive a greater percent, which he hopes will improve their aggression, and thus the spectacle.

Not surprisingly, the concept has already been met by protests. "Misguided and misinformed," Mortaza said. "Those who protest or say this might be objectionable to women are those who have a knee-jerk reaction to this. Which is understandable. And I can almost guarantee you they've never seen a Lingerie Bowl."

Got you there, eh? But then he got caught piling on again. "This brand of football is opening up football to a demographic that never cared about it before - women."

Yeah, women love to watch other women play football in lingerie.

Even Mortaza can't believe that, or sell it. Even to the players.

"It is kind of male chauvinistic," Randall said. "At the same time, I watched some of it on YouTube and it looked pretty serious.

"Besides the fact that they were in really short shorts."

Randall said that if she makes the team she'll probably feel uncomfortable with that aspect, at least at first. Others said that it's not much different from playing beach volleyball or being an Eagles cheerleader, and they're right. Mortaza said he was envious, wished he could play out there.

In his underwear?

"Probably not," he said. "It's not my thing. It's not everybody's thing." *

Send e-mail to

donnels@phillynews.com.

For recent columns, go to

http://go.philly.com/donnellon.

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