Wash. U. grad wins national football title
Football fans around the country tuned in to NBC last week to watch the Denver Broncos rout the Baltimore Ravens on the NFL’s opening night. But four days earlier, a different football season ended, and those who missed it also missed a Washington University alumna celebrate a national championship victory.Alli Alberts, a 2009 Wash. U. graduate, scored two touchdowns as the Chicago Bliss defeated the Philadelphia Passion 34-18 in the Legends Football League’s championship game, the Legends Cup. The LFL, formerly known as the Lingerie Football League, is an all-female indoor league in which players dress in just sports bras, Spandex, shoulder pads and helmets as they play seven-on-seven football. In the 2013 season, the Bliss marched through the playoffs untested en route to their first-ever championship.
Alberts was a national champion in college, too, as a member of Wash. U.’s volleyball team in 2007. A two-sport star in volleyball and track and field, Alberts was the Most Outstanding Player for volleyball’s championship team and a Second Team All-American in 2008, and on the track, she was a three-time All-American and holds the school record in the heptathlon.
After graduating, she went to dental school at the University of Illinois-Chicago, where she searched for a way to continue her athletic career. She joined the Bliss a season ago after seeing a league game on TV, thinking, “Oh, I’m better than those girls” and looking up a tryout date online. She made an immediate impact in her rookie campaign—Chicago was the top team in the LFL in points and total yards last season, with Alberts tallying 147 receiving yards and five touchdowns to lead the team in both categories. Three more touchdowns came from running the ball, and in her role as safety, she added 17 tackles and two interceptions.
But the entire season wasn’t so magical for Alberts, who experienced a rude awakening to the sport in her debut game. Playing safety against the Los Angeles Temptation, she attempted to tackle the opposing ballcarrier on a quarterback sweep; what happened next will live on in “best hit” compilation videos.
“I’m going in to take her down, and I just go in way too high, and she shoulders me in the jaw, and you can see me just kind of immediately go to sleep,” Alberts described. “I don’t remember anything until I get to the locker room, and I’m like, ‘How did I get in the locker room? Why am I wearing this uniform? Why is my mom here?’”
Alberts sustained a “pretty bad concussion” from the hit, which gained her Internet fame as video of it made rounds online. While that injury is the most severe from her rookie season, she also suffered broken ribs in her second career game and, at the time of her interview with Student Life, had not “been able to walk straight for the past week” due to a leg injury obtained in practice.
This kind of physical play is new to Alberts, who has played co-ed flag football since graduating college but had never played tackle before joining the LFL. But she said the intense nature of the game fits her personality better than either of her varsity sports in college ever did.
“Even playing in volleyball sometimes, I would get too crazy and they’d be like, ‘Ali, calm down. You need to calm down.’ Football, you don’t have to calm down—you can use all that energy, aggression, and intensity toward the next play, and it’s just going to make you better. For me, I feel like this sport was made for me…It’s the best thing I’ve ever found, I think. It’s awesome that girls get to play [football] nowadays because we didn’t get to play it ever before this,” she said.When discussing the league, however, it is difficult to avoid mention of the controversy it has incited in its brief existence. Its former name, the Lingerie Football League, thoroughly explains the league’s marketing campaign to appeal to male viewers: a gaggle of girls playing football in lingerie and pads for teams with overtly sexualized names like ‘Bliss’ and ‘Temptation.’ The LFL’s image contrasts with that of the 32-team Women’s Football Alliance, in which names and uniforms bear far more resemblance to those of the NFL.
In a well-read 2009 post on feministing.com, Courtney Martin wrote that the LFL is “gross all around. This is objectification at it’s [sic] most pernicious—give women an opportunity to participate in a sport that they haven’t had the chance to do for pay and publicly previously, but only let them do it if they’re stereotypically pretty and willing to do it in their underwear.”
Changes to the league in 2013 were designed to reduce this kind of disgusted perception. Beyond renaming the league, exchanging “Lingerie” for “Legends,” the lingerie uniforms were replaced with performance apparel—which still covers, or leaves uncovered, the same areas of the body—and team logos were altered to remove provocative images of women.
The rebranded league still receives ample criticism for objectifying women, but Alberts said she has no problem competing in revealing clothing if that’s what it takes to play.
“I wouldn’t be playing in the league if I had any qualms about it. For me, it’s really just an opportunity to play in front of a bunch of people, and I absolutely love it,” she asserted. “You know, I played volleyball, I ran track, so it’s not like I’m not used to wearing Spandex—the only real difference is now my midriff is showing. I know the only reason we even got people at our volleyball games was because we wear Spandex. The only reason people start coming to these games is…they come for the uniforms, but then when they watch a game, they come back because they know we can play.”
The fans might keep coming back, but the question looming over Alberts’ budding career is whether she can. Although her rookie success would seem to portend a promising future for the young receiver, she graduated dental school in May and has taken up a more time-consuming residency position.
With the LFL providing an outlet for both her athletic desires and competitiveness, she remains hopeful that her increasingly hectic schedule will allow her to continue playing next year. The Bliss, too, should hope she can return—after all, they have a title to defend.