The Trash Talk is No Fantasy: The League as a Representation of Trash Talk in Fantasy Sports

by Michael Davis, Alysia Davis, and Chang Wan Woo



The popular FX show The League demonstrates the ubiquity of fantasy sports and, more importantly, fantasy sports trash talk. Through the use of exaggerated and extreme examples of trash talk The League seeks to create a representation of fantasy sports and the chatter associated with it as standardized depictions of the subset of American sports dialogue known as fantasy sports. This essay seeks to explore the ways that representations of fiction fantasy competition and trash talk create normalized expectations of what “competitive fandom” looks like in an era dominated by fantasy sports. We examine the implications that fictional exaggerations of fantasy sports might have on reinforcing male dominated sports arenas. The League’s representation of trash talk as a reflection of societal expectations in fantasy sport create expectations of the type of fantasy participants that is comfortable with traditional trash talk and those expectations are necessarily coded to match particular gender norms.

Keywords: Communication; Gender; Rhetoric; Television & Film; Fantasy Sports



<1> Nearly 70 percent of professional sports fans are men (Jones), and, as the argument goes, male fans’ connection with sports is rooted in masculine reaffirmation. Sport is consistently presented as a “male practice” (Kidd 33); and sports participation—both as a contestant and as an observer—is primarily marked as masculine. Thus, as an extension of the male-centric nature of participation in sports, it is no surprise that sports marketing primarily targets men and that sports featuring men receive almost all the primetime coverage. Our analysis aims to explore masculine coding in sports by evaluating gendered talk in popular culture representations of fantasy league participation. We examine the ways in which characters’ engagement in sexist and homophobic banter in the television show The League reify hegemonic masculinity in sport [1].

<2> Sports franchises, networks, and advertisers focus sports marketing dollars squarely at male sports fans. While marketers certainly attempt to bring women into the fold, commercial sports messaging remains firmly focused on men’s continued engagement. Messages directed at women sports fans often suggest that women are a tertiary or peripheral audience, particularly in the realm of women’s sports (Malloy). For example, in a 2005 study, Marie Hardin found that newspaper sports editors feel no commitment to covering women’s sports (70). Despite some improvements in the derogatory way that sports announcers address women athletes, Michael Messner and Cheryl Cooky found that the overall coverage of women’s sports has declined precipitously in the last two decades (8).

<3> A particularly notable gender chasm is apparent in the world of fantasy sports. Out of the more than 57 million Americans who participate in fantasy sports, 66 percent are male (“Industry Demographics”). Additionally, men participating in fantasy sports tend to demonstrate greater commitment to their fantasy sports efforts than do female participants. Brody J. Ruihley and Andrew C. Billings argue that while fantasy sports represent a potentially level playing field for men and women, the reality is that men spend more time each week and commit to more long term or “keeper” leagues than do women who engage in fantasy sports. One potential reason that men demonstrate such high levels of commitment to cultivating fantasy sports teams is that fantasy leagues are a proxy for “virtual masculinity.” For men fantasy sports leagues offer a women-free zone where “boys can be boys” (Ruihley and Billings 449), a seemingly innocuous cliché that belies dismissive and dangerous stereotypes about masculinity and mollifies the onus of male fantasy sports participants to perform more inclusive masculinities.

<4> Ashley Fetters declares that, “[t]he season-long phenomenon in which groups of friends form leagues online, simulate games, trade players, and sign free agents—and sometimes get really, really into it—has created a new model for male bonding since its rise to popularity in the late 1990s.” Sport is a perfect conduit for the “enactment and perpetuation of the male bond” (Curry 120). Timothy Curry explains, “Since men’s bonding is based on shared activity rather than on the self-disclosures, it is unlikely that teammates will probe deeply beneath these surface presentations” (120). Sports participants, both players and fans, become part of the sports experience because of their collective and shared adherence to specific rules and codes that are stereotypically masculine. As Eric Anderson’s, this analysis, therefore, draws on Robert Connell’s notion of hegemonic masculinity to argue that fantasy sports promote “one form of masculinity (which includes being exclusively heterosexual and physically powerful)” and which “maintains its dominance by suppressing all others” (861).

<5> Now that fantasy sports adds $5 billion a year to the sports media industry (Crupi), it is a foregone conclusion that networks and advertisers would turn their attention to the male dominated world of fantasy sports. Billings and Ruihley describe this shift in industry resources towards fantasy sports as a “game changer” because commercial investments are no longer concentrated in traditional sports media outlets (1). Another way of understanding this phenomenon, however, is that the move to advertise in fantasy sports is merely a re-articulation of masculinity into a different male dominated sports market. Fantasy sports provides marketers familiar with appealing to male sports fans with a convenient avenue for helping such fans reinforce their own masculinity.

<6> Nickolas W. Davis and Margaret Carlisle Duncan explain the motivation for fantasy sports participation by describing it as a “haven for affirming masculinity in the sport domain” (247). Fantasy sports provide players with an opportunity to demonstrate sports knowledge, to engage in strategic interactions, to place supreme value on statistics and sports analysis, to wield power, to practice commodification, and to “experience the thrill of competition and victory” (Davis and Duncan 247). This thrill is enhanced—and participants’ masculinity is firmly established—not simply by succeeding in fantasy sports, but by succeeding in the talk related to fantasy sports. Trash talk is divisive. Language used in trash talk can be harsh and incite a desire for retaliation. Trash talk can be vulgar and crass. The premium placed on competition in fantasy sports, therefore, is a predictable conduit for gloating and trash talk between players.

<7> One of the defining characteristics of a fantasy sports league is the trash talk perpetuated between members. Ruihley observes that many individuals who participate in fantasy sports do so because of the trash talk (65). Erica and Richard Halverson found that for many fantasy league players, winning and losing are secondary concerns. As much energy is invested in winning the trash talk battle as is invested in winning the season long competition. Study participants agreed that the ability to talk trash created a bond that kept them engaged in their leagues even when they had little chance of competitive success. Such “competitive fandom” (Halverson and Halverson 286) drives fantasy sports competition. This type of fandom is based on shared experiences, not personal disclosures. The ability to play owner and talk about one’s perceived dominance over others creates an incentive for sports fans to become competitive experts in fantasy sports.

The League

<8> Trash talk is such a ubiquitous part of fantasy football that it is portrayed as a primary focal point in the fictional television series The League. The League centers on a group of friends who participate in a small but hyper-competitive fantasy football league. Created by husband and wife team Jeff Schaffer and Jackie Marcus Schaffer, The League aired on FX for seven seasons from 2009 through 2015 (and for the final three seasons on FXX). Although shown on a minor cable network, The League acquired cult status (McHenry) once the show migrated to Netflix (O’Connell).

<9> The semi-improvised comedy follows the antics of six main characters as they trade barbs and compete for the Shiva (a trophy created as an homage to a high school classmate). Pete Eckhart (Mark Duplass) is the loveable slacker and three-time league champion. After his divorce in the show’s opening episode, Pete has little going on in his life besides fantasy football. Like Pete, Rodney Ruxin (Nick Kroll) is obsessed with fantasy football, often at the expense of his personal and professional relationships. He is paranoid and assumes that fellow members of the league are conspiring against him (which is often the case). Dr. Andre Nowzick (Paul Scheer) is the most professionally successful member of the league, but also is the most frequent target of league-wide taunting. Andre is a trend-follower which invites mocking by other league members who feel that being hip makes him less manly.

<10> Kevin MacArthur (Stephen Rannazzisi), commissioner of the league, is an endearing loser who struggles to field a competitive team year after year. Kevin’s inability to perform as the owner of a fantasy team becomes fodder for other league members to call his masculine performance into question. Kevin’s wife, Jenny MacArthur (Katie Aselton) adds to the league members’ perceptions of Kevin as being less than a full man. In the first two seasons, any league success that Kevin enjoys is thanks to Jenny’s superior fantasy football abilities. Kevin is so concerned about Jenny’s threat to his manhood that he eventually fights against her inclusion in the league during season three. Despite his objections, she joins the league. Jenny’s character underscores that one does not have to be a man to participate in masculine trash talk and belittlement. The final main character, Taco MacArthur (Jon Lajoie) is Kevin’s brother and a stereotypical stoner. Taco does not know much about football, but tends to succeed in both fantasy football and in his professional endeavors. The varied ensemble cast provides ample opportunity for multiple trash talking plot lines to develop over the course of the show’s seven seasons.

<11> The League ranks very highly among its target demographic: men. Buoyed by male interest in sports and particularly in fantasy sports, the comedy plays on the raunchy nature of trash talk in fantasy sports. Crass dialogue is often taken to the extreme (“‘The League’ Renewed”). While fans flock to the show, some critics are less than kind. Aaron Barnhart describes the show as “reprehensible,” James Poniewozik as “plain creepy,” and Jonathan Storm as “offensive and shockingly unfunny” (qtd. in “The League: Season 1”). Mary McNamara of the Los Angeles Times states:

If these are “real guys” then heaven help us all, and if this is a show about friendship, marriage and parenting (parenting!), the social institution of adulthood is doomed.

There’s nothing wrong with a show about lovable losers, but they have to be, you know, lovable. Here, the men seem to be products of their writers’ contempt; they’re such babies that even their profanity doesn’t rise from the potty. Yes, their wives are awful, their lives are empty and the only thing that connects them is fantasy, but they don’t seem to have an original thought among them and for that they’ve got no one to blame but themselves. And, of course, the Schaffers.

<12> Defenders of the show, however, argue that precisely this disavowal of common courtesy makes the show so popular. The League’s fans argue that those who malign the show for the characters’ insults miss the point. Anthony Crupi explains that the “(anti)social element helps make fantasy football so engaging to so many.” Further the Schaffers were inspired to create The League as “an indictment of human nature in general, its central thesis is that everyone secretly hates his or her friends and revels in tormenting them” (Crupi). Schaffer argues:

Fantasy football is a perfect medium for that, because one of the main reasons people play is it gives them an opportunity to humiliate one friend for the enjoyment of the rest of the group. If you treated a stranger the way you treat your fantasy football friends, you’d be put in jail. (qtd. in Crupi)

<13> This study argues that those who are critical of the show and its defenders both identify elements of hegemonic masculinity as the base of their critiques and defenses. The show provides social commentary about human nature that appeals to many viewers, and it does so in way that calls attention to masculine behaviors pervasive in fantasy football leagues. In its social commentary, however, The League does not subvert the trappings of hegemonic masculinity in any meaningful way. The show, rather, reinforces masculinity in sports and normalizes behaviors that make sports fandom a male dominated space.

<14> The following analysis first examines how The League’s male characters employ trash talk as a technique to prove their manliness. Our attention then shifts to Jenny’s use of trash talk. Jenny is the sole female main character. The hegemonic masculine trappings of fantasy sports compel Jenny to engage in crude talk similar to that of her male counterparts. Failure to follow the rules and codes of masculinity in sports—for example, if Jenny attempts to bond by sharing personal stories—will render Jenny an outsider. Other members of the league, as well as the show’s viewers, bond with Jenny because of their shared experiences of masculine trash talk.


“The Guys”

<15> The League focuses on fantasy football and the rivalry that it provokes. Trash talk is at the center of such rivalry. Each member of the league exerts their dominance through an elaborate game of insults. It is not enough to win the fantasy sports competition; to truly prove one’s self, league participants must win the trash talking battle. The show’s creators design an extreme version of an already often sexist medium, trash talk, to demonstrate the capacity of people to treat each other poorly. By choosing to play on the hegemonic masculinity of sports as their foundation, the show’s producers create a vulgar and sexist portrayal of male bonding within the world of fantasy sports fandom.

<16> Therefore, nothing is off limits in The League, including the normalization of gender violence and sexual assault. During the first season, league participants strike a sexist and violent tone by describing a lopsided trade as “trade-rape,” a phrase that persists throughout the show. The phrase gains traction in the first season and is oft repeated. This is but one example of the show’s commitment to more and more offensive phrases, a ploy to gain and keep the (male) audience’s attention. The discursive practices of trash talk depicted in The League reinforce that sports are a stronghold of hegemonic masculinity, heterosexism, and homophobia [3]. Specifically, the discursive practice of heterosexism—safeguarding heterosexuality as noble while simultaneously marginalizing and stigmatizing homosexuality [4]—is a central component of male bonding through fantasy sports trash talk in The League. The characters’ sexual exploits provide a framework for ongoing trash talking tropes, particularly those of heterosexism and emasculation.

<17> Pete, for instance, is a playboy with a penchant for younger women. Kevin, whose league performance is inferior to his wife Jenny’s, is the emasculated man in the group. Because of the closeness of their relationship, Kevin often lives his life vicariously through his unmarried friend Pete. When discussing Pete’s new girlfriend in “The Credit Card Alert,” the characters have the following exchange:

Kevin: When do we get to meet this secretive lady you’re keeping from us?

Pete: Eh, whatever.

Ruxin: Have you crossed over the perv Rubicon into…underage ladies?

Pete: No, it’s nothing like that. I just got involved with a… married woman.

Jenny: [appalled] Peter!

Kevin: [smiling] Man, that’s… [off Jenny’s look, changing tone] that’s wrong. You shouldn’t do that. That hurts people.

Jenny: Try that again like you’re not in a hostage video. (“The League”)

<18> Pete’s character is that of a stereotypical masculine playboy or player. Other male characters revel in details of his sexual encounters. The endless string of women that Pete dates throughout the show affirms an important sexist media trend over the last 20-plus years: television programming overwhelmingly conveys messages that “stereotype and objectify women by portraying them as passive, dependent on men, compliant, and sexual objects—namely mere bodies” (Galdi et al. 399). Pete, an immature and unmotivated man, enjoys sexual prowess with unnamed female characters whose primary purpose in the show is to serve as sexual objects.

<19> Kevin’s character stands in stark contrast to Pete, the ultimate playboy. Kevin is a committed husband who, despite being married for years, is sexually unskilled. In “The Expert Witness,” Kevin describes his own sexual competence, saying to Jenny that he “will give you 100% for four minutes, and then, like, 60% for the five minutes after that. And then after that, you’re on your own” (“The League”). Jenny repeatedly reminds Kevin that, because she controls sex in their relationship, she controls him. In sports, emasculation is a strategy often employed through the exertion of physical dominance of one player over another, through “low blow” tactics which inflict genital pain/injury, and through using feminizing language (Soulliere 8). In the world of fantasy sports, however, talk reigns supreme. Using feminizing language—such as speaking of Kevin using stereotypically feminine adjectives and descriptors—and flipping the script—discursively placing Jenny in the sexual driver’s seat—functions to emasculate Kevin. Jenny uses her sexuality as a weapon to get what she wants, which in this case is preferential treatment from Kevin, the fantasy league commissioner.

<20> The show manages to simultaneously depict Kevin’s sexual ineptitude and the other characters’ objectification of women. A common reoccurring character is Shiva, a woman for whom the league’s trophy is named. Shiva was Kevin’s first sexual conquest in high school. At the time, she was awkward with glasses and braces, but she is now a very attractive doctor. The characters treat her as an object to be desired, like a trophy. Shiva the person is not introduced until the second season. Until that point, she is literally objectified by the members of the league as they try to win the “Shiva.” When Shiva first appears on the show in “High School Reunion,” she is introduced as Kevin’s former love interest in the following scene:

Shiva: [to Pete] Stu didn’t have sex in your mom’s car. Kevin did.

Pete: What?!

Andre: [offering a high-five] Oh, yeah!

Pete: I’m sorry, how do you know this?

Shiva: Because it was with me.

Andre: [taking it back] Oh, no. What? What?

Pete: Why don’t they put these things in the reunion books?

Shiva: Kevin lost his virginity to me in your mom’s car.

Pete: I’m sorry, can I get some more details?

Kevin: No, no. Good.

Shiva: He was so excited that when he came, he kicked through the window and then he yelled my name. “SHIVAKAMINI SOMAKANDARKRAM!!!” It was funny actually. (“The League”)

Shiva’s introduction typifies Kevin as an incompetent sexual partner, and concurrently ensures that the audience only sees Shiva as a sexual object. Such sexual objectification refuses to acknowledge the individuality of women, particularly women who do not “buy in” to the hegemonic masculine expectations of trash talk, such as Jenny. Sexually objectified women are the “other,” and thus cannot exist as part of the fantasy sports league in-group.

<21> Some fans of the show see Jenny’s character as a critical foil to the league members’ hyper-masculinity. However, her role in Kevin’s ongoing emasculation is a relevant point of analysis. Kevin’s emasculation is obvious and consistent. The characters openly acknowledge the emasculation, as in this exchange between Jenny and Ruxin in “The Sacko Bowl”:

Ruxin: You know, I am so glad Sofia’s not in this league because you are just a brute of a wife.

Jenny: I am a great wife.

Ruxin: Oh yeah, because every wife completely emasculates her husband. For shame, Jenny.

Kevin: Babe, are you ready to go?

Jenny: Get back in the car, Kevin.

Kevin: Yes, ma’am. (“The League”)

The acknowledged emasculation matters because adding Jenny to the league purportedly makes her equal with the men. However, such feigned equality is only possible in that she is successful in emasculating Kevin. Jenny’s character only gains acceptance through her participation in hegemonic processes of masculinity that are typical in sports, including emasculation, objectification, and heterosexism.

<22> Kevin’s brother Taco, like Pete, has numerous sexual relationships with peripheral female characters throughout the show. His relationships are casual, and despite being unemployed for most of the show, his character tends to draw a great deal of attention from women. The combination of his professional ineptitude and sexual success is a primary focus of the trash talk directed at him. Taco’s own sexual encounters and relationships do not shape the nature of his talk. Rather, Taco’s character relishes in descriptions of others’ sexual escapades. Such talk is a form of fraternal bonding in sports fandom. Curry explains, “Conversations that affirm a traditional masculine identity dominate, and these include talk about women as objects, homophobic talk, and talk that is very aggressive and hostile toward women—essentially talk that promotes rape culture” (128).

<23> As an example of such talk, consider Taco’s continued use of the term “Eskimo brothers,” introduced in “The Bounce Test.” An Eskimo brother is “when two guys had sex with the same girl” (“The League”). Taco creates a database so people can search for their Eskimo brothers; creates a rewards card so that men can get benefits from frequenting their Eskimo brothers’ businesses; and eventually creates the EBDBBnB (Eskimo Brothers Database Bed and Breakfast) where Eskimo brothers can meet up for threesomes with the women whom they have had common sexual encounters.

<24> Taco’s ideal of Eskimo brothers not only gains traction in his group of fantasy league friends; the database becomes so popular that he sells it to Mark Cuban for a six-figure payday. In creating the Eskimo brothers, Taco perpetuates hegemonic masculinity. Women are merely conduits to connect men in fraternal bonds. Men gain status and affirm their masculine identities as Taco creates an entire enterprise built upon the shared conquest of individual women.

<25> Ruxin, like Kevin, is married. His wife Sofia, however, only sporadically appears in the show. Ruxin’s character enjoys self-deprecating humor which often centers on the fact that he is married to someone who is more attractive than himself. This disparity is the focus of much of the characters’ discussions of Ruxin’s personal life. Early in the show (“The Bounce Test”), Ruxin emphasizes the low probability of his finding another mate who looks like his current wife. He states:

If Sofia and I split up, 50% of my time, I would have to spend 100% of my time with my kid. Right now, I’m rocking, like, 50% coverage 30% of my time. You cannot beat those numbers. Also, if we got a divorce, she would get half of my money, making me ostensibly poor yet still paying her to just get pounded by other dudes, which will happen because she is still smoking hot, whereas I look like a Nazi propaganda cartoon of a Jew. (“The League”)

Even despite his self-deprecation, Ruxin’s character cements his masculine relevance through his ability to objectify his wife. Sofia has few scenes over the course of the show where her appearance is not the central focus point. There are multiple scenes where every character, including Jenny and Sofia’s own brother, comment on their desires to have sex with her. Sofia is reduced to a one-dimensional sex object not just for her husband, but for the entire cast.

<26> The final male character, Andre, is mocked for his sexual ineptitude, even though for most of the show he is in a series of serious relationships. A major driving force behind the characters’ perceptions of his sexual incompetence is his dress and demeanor, which the group views as less than manly. Trash talk directed at Andre follows two main lines of humor. The first is emasculation. League members continually make fun of his outfits as being too feminine. For instance, in a scene where Pete accuses Jenny of being a spy in “Sunday at Ruxin’s,” she points to Andre and says, “Me? You don’t trust me? I don’t trust him. Look at that shirt” (“The League”). Numerous characters allude to Andre having sex with his mother and sisters. Each woman he dates additionally forces him to adopt exaggerated personas. The members of the league treat Andre as the least masculine person in the group, and continually remind him of that fact.

<27> The second line of humor and humiliation for Andre is based in his cluelessness regarding sexual jokes made at his expense. These jokes are rooted in heterosexism, and most rely upon the premise of Andre’s alleged homosexuality even despite his serial monogamist history of heterosexual romantic relationships. For example, the following conversation occurs when Andre discusses an energy supplement he is taking before entering a marathon (“The Marathon”):

Pete: What are you drinking?

Andre: Oh, it’s this amazing energy supplement. It’s Sports Performance Utility Nutrition Kick.

Kevin: SPUNK.

Andre: Yeah, Oh, you guys heard of it. Yeah, it’s the best. SPUNK is amazing.

Jenny: Yeah?

Andre: It just gives me so much more energy. I just suck these down. I love SPUNK.

Pete: But what does it taste like, just out of curiosity?

Andre: It’s a little salty. But when you’re running, you just want it. Like, I want some SPUNK, you know?

Kevin: Do you have, like, a favorite flavor SPUNK?

Andre: I don’t think they have flavors, just different colors. I like the black kind.

Pete: So where do you get this stuff?

Andre: I got a guy. (“The League”)

This scene is standard fare for conversations with Andre. Thus, the character that is framed as most feminine is viewed by other members of the league as the person most likely to have a homosexual encounter. The fact that homosexuality is portrayed as a legitimate reason to mock a person underscores the heterosexist nature of trash talk.

“The Girl”

<28> The only major female character is Jenny. Some contend that Jenny’s inclusion in the league represents a challenge to the male dominated and highly sexualized world of trash talk. Fetters argues that instead of reinforcing the masculine nature of trash talk, The League subverts the dominant narrative because Jenny is included as an equal and active trash talker herself. Fetters states:

Even though its dialogue is littered with magnificently rude female-anatomy slang words, The League actually subtly subverts some notions about the hegemonic nature of fantasy football—largely thanks to Katie Aselton’s Jenny. Jenny isn’t just an affectionate, potty-mouthed wife and mom. In her own sly, smack-talking way, she’s also a gender-parity pioneer.

Instead of being a revolutionary feminist, we argue that Jenny’s inclusion and her participation in trash talk reinforces dominant masculinity as the norm. Jenny is the only female character with any depth whatsoever, and she does nothing to challenge the traits that lie at the basis of hegemonic masculinity. Jenny acts exactly as the male characters do, and thus gets inscribed into their male dominated and masculinity reaffirming trash talk.

<29> Male dominated arenas like fantasy sports maintain their insular nature by both creating jargon and norms that are foreign to others, and by encouraging an internal posture which is unwelcoming and hostile even to those who regularly participate. While Anderson speaks primarily of sports participation, his characterization of sports can equally be applied to fantasy sports participation. He maintains that male dominated sports spaces reproduce “orthodox masculinity in men’s team sports…are largely influenced by segregating males into a homophobic, sexist, antifeminine, and misogynistic gender regime that only promotes those who aptly conform to the orthodox sporting ethos” (Anderson 258).

<30> Sport is not simply a manifestation of hegemonic masculinity; it is a primary force in its maintenance. Non-masculine gender performances are punished with deprecation and belittlement (Anderson 260-261). Individuals who do not participate in the “right” way are less worthy and are marked as athletic failures. The reproduction of hegemonic masculinity in sports has resilience rivaled by few other social institutions. Americans are taught at an early age that success on the sports field (and many times in life) hinges on one’s ability to dominate an opponent not just physically, but emotionally and verbally as well (Anderson 263-269).

<31> Fantasy sports operate in almost exclusively male domains and the ability to trash-talk is a key component of “fitting in.” The fantasy sports arena, therefore, is a primary place to exercise hegemonic masculinity. Female fans already are viewed as less competent and knowledgeable about the sports they follow. In the specialized world of fantasy sports, there is even more pressure on women to “prove themselves” since fantasy sports do not rely on “actual physical athletic competition” (Kissane and Winslow 820). While women should be able to participate as equals in fantasy sports, their male counterparts fixate on gender difference as their defining characteristic (Kissane and Winslow 821).

<32> Women who participate in sports as fans tend to adopt personas typical of male fans as a way to differentiate themselves from female non-fans (Kissane and Winslow 822). This is certainly the case with Jenny. To appear credible and competent, women entering traditionally masculine arenas are obligated to alter their behavior. Women gain credibility when they meet norms established by male counterparts (Lester 282-284). Jenny’s credibility in The League is amplified by her participation in vulgar and highly sexualized trash talk with her male league counterparts.

<33> For example, Jenny’s first action after being added to the league is to refer to Andre by his nickname, “Dick Cream” (“The Kluneberg”). She discursively establishes herself as superior to Andre while simultaneously establishing that she is “one of the guys.” A common line of humor in the show after Jenny’s addition to the league is the identification of Jenny and Andre as both being female members of the league. Even celebrity cameos emphasize this gender dynamic. In “Vegas Draft,” Chad Johnson, an NFL wide receiver, defends Jenny’s inclusion in the league despite her gender by stating, “Wow, I would’ve voted for you. There’s already one woman in this league. Ain’t that right, She-Dre?” (“The League”).

<34> The association of Jenny and Andre as feminized characters is interesting when contrasted with the relationship between Jenny and Kevin. Jenny’s femininity is emphasized in relation to Andre, whereas she is assigned a dominant and masculine role in her relationship with Kevin. Her dominance vis-a-vis Kevin is manifested through trash talk that repeatedly emasculates him. Prior to her full inclusion in the league, Jenny runs Kevin’s team—a fact the other members use to demonstrate that Kevin is not a “real” man. In another episode, Jenny pays off Kevin’s bet by walking naked in public while Kevin holds her purse and lip gloss (“The Usual Bet”). In this scene, Jenny is sexualized in a manner that is inapposite to the male members of the league while Kevin simultaneously is emasculated as punishment for “not being man enough” to run his own team (“The League”). Jenny is a respected and valued member of the league not because of her team’s performance (she only wins the championship a single time), but rather because of her ability to trash talk as well as the others, often at the expense of her husband’s perceived masculinity. The emasculation of Kevin is constant, public, and acknowledged.

<35> Jenny’s character gains power by performing in a stereotypically masculine manner, all the while succumbing to familiar sexualized trappings of femininity. The League clearly focuses on women characters’ sexual abilities and desirableness. Despite Jenny’s dominance over Kevin and acceptance as “one of the guys,” she is a willing participant in objectifying discourse. In the middle of season four (“The Vapora Sport”), a guest sees Jenny and excuses himself to masturbate in the bathroom. Jenny is not disgusted or offended, but rather is flattered and considers her objectification to be a compliment.

Kevin: Michael Moore came in here and J’d off in our bathroom.

Jenny: What?!

Kevin: Cracked his meat all over the place. It’s disgusting!

Jenny: He just jerked off in our bathroom?

Kevin: Yes! He saw you, and then asked to be excused to go to the bathroom and…

Jenny: What?! That is disgusting! He went and jerked off in our bathroom [gets a little flattered] after he saw me walk by? (“The League”)

Jenny is not just willing to be objectified, but is complimented by it; her character’s acceptability is contingent on her willingness to be a sexual object. She is repeatedly shown having sex; talks about sex like one of the guys; and proves that she is “one of the boys” by opting to walk naked in public.

<36> Other female characters cannot escape being sexualized either. Even Jenny and Kevin’s daughter, Ellie, is framed through a sexual lens. Jenny and Kevin’s daily conversations about Ellie center on how they can have sex without her catching them, and how to prevent Ellie from becoming sexually active. Ellie’s femininity is sexualized and described as something in need of control. Femininity, in this sense, is antithetical to autonomous choice. Consider the following dialogue from “The Vapora Sport”:

Kevin: I’m not even really convinced this whole piano thing is a good idea. I just want to start her on an activity that ensures she’ll never have sex.

Jenny: Me too.

Kevin: Okay, I still like my idea. I really think we should consider ballet. She can dance around with gay guys, and she won’t have sex ‘til she’s, like, 30.

Jenny: Are you kidding me? Everyone wants to have sex with ballerinas. Did you see Black Swan? Ballerinas wanna have sex with ballerinas. I think musical instruments are the way to go, and we should just be thankful it’s not a woodwind.

Kevin: What do you mean?

Jenny: Really? Woodwind?

[She mimes playing a clarinet, but it looks like…]

Kevin: Oh! God, Jenny! (“The League”)

In describing their daughter this way, Jenny and Kevin reinforce the idea that every woman is a sexual being, no matter how young. The male characters’ exploits with younger women, the shallow character development afforded most female characters, and the highly sexualized banter directed toward women affirm the show’s deep-rooted misogyny.

<37> The men in The League are depicted as being in control of their sexuality, however, even when they are portrayed as buffoons. At the same time, women characters are objectified and portrayed as powerless. Shiva is literally won as a trophy each year by the winner of the league. Sofia, Ruxin’s wife, is the subject of sexual banter much more often than she ever appears on screen. Ellie’s sexual autonomy is stripped away, and she is described as a subject of sexual control. Despite defenses by the show’s fans that Jenny’s character is equal to her male counterparts, Jenny’s esteem still primarily comes from her portrayal as a sexualized other with a formulaic sexuality subjected to the whims and predilections of men. For example, Jenny loses bets that require her to have sexual intercourse with her husband; she is tasked with walking naked after losing a bet; and, upon seeing Kevin defecate in the ocean (“The Von Nowzick Wedding”), Jenny announces that she must “have vacation sex with that!” (“The League”). Instead of The League using its one major female character to challenge gender norms implicit in masculine fantasy football trash talk, Jenny’s character reinforces them. The League suggests that the only way that women can gain entrance into exclusive masculine arenas such as fantasy football is to embrace sexist and misogynistic discursive norms.


<38> The League offers a peek into the world of fantasy football, and more specifically into the world of fantasy football trash talk. While the show’s producers claim that The League operates as a social critique of the debasing potential of people in social interactions, their work reinforces many tenets of hegemonic masculinity that are apparent in all levels of sports, including fantasy sports fandom. These tenets include heterosexism, homophobia, emasculation, and the sexual objectification of women. Women characters in The League lack depth. Even the main female character, Jenny, only achieves a semblance of equality with her male counterparts because she both participates in sexualized and vulgar discourse and is willing to sexualize herself repeatedly.

<39> In an ideal world, fantasy sports should offer women an equal playing field wherein both men and women compete without the fear of gendered discursive reprisals. The League misses the liberating potential of including Jenny as a primary character, however, because of the show’s predominant depiction of women as sexual objects. Sexuality is the primary descriptor of all female characters. No one is off limits, including mothers, nuns, and children. Rarely is a woman introduced in the show that does not have sex with one, and often more than one, of the male characters.

<40> The male ancillary characters in The League are not given the same treatment. They are afforded greater screen time, and even in instances where men’s sexuality is a focus, characters are given deeper story lines addressing themes not related to sexuality. Messages about manhood revealed by The League’s portrayal of hegemonic masculinity in fantasy football trash talk imply a greater likelihood for women’s subjugation in deceptively “egalitarian” arenas of sports fandom. Our analysis also suggests that fantasy league trash talk and its hegemonic masculine messaging is relevant to emerging media strategies attempting to capitalize on fantasy sports’ popularity. Our analysis suggests that successful media approaches will continue to appeal to male sports fans by discursively reinforcing masculinity.

<41> While we view The League’s presentation of gendered constructions through trash talk as repressive, we acknowledge that The League’s producers claim a motive of social critique in creating the show. We recognize, therefore, the possibility that the show’s manifestation of hegemonic masculinity in fantasy league trash talk may be an attempt to parody conventional gender roles. If this is the case, our analysis suggests that The League’s attempt at gender parodies reifies rather than meaningfully questions hegemonic masculinity. The League’s practice of gender role stereotyping does not escape the trappings of popular culture gender representations (Soulliere 10), and therefore does not function as a meaningful social critique.



[1] For a related argument, see Timothy Jon Curry (1991).

[2] See Eric Anderson (2002; 2000), Robert Connell (1995), Pat Griffin (1998), Gert Hekma (1998), Michael A. Messner (1992), and Brian Pronger (1990) for further scholarship on these subjects.

[3] For additional research on heterosexism, see Eric Anderson (2002) and Suzanne Pharr (1997).

[4] See Sandra Lee Bartky (1990) as well as Barbara L. Fredrickson and Tomi-Ann Roberts (1997) for a more detailed investigation of female oppression and objectification.


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