Monday, September 20, 2010

What makes cheerleading worthwhile?

Let me state up front that I agree with the mother of a six-year-old girl from Michigan who was offended that the cheerleading squad her daughter was a part of was doing chants that were sexually suggestive.

To hear a six-year-old chant about her sore back, tight skirt and jiggling “booty” is in poor taste. Only a complete nitwit (including the coaches of this particular squad) thinks there are any circumstances under which this is appropriate.

BUT WHILE THAT particular six-year-old has received international news attention for her plight (she got kicked off the squad when her mother complained that the chant was trashy for such little girls), a part of me can’t help but wonder what was going through that mother’s head to begin with.

To me, the whole idea of cheerleading at age 6 is just inappropriate because I do associate it with attempts to put sexual images into the atmosphere surrounding a ballgame. So why should we be surprised that this particular squad was doing the same thing that many other cheerleading squads across the country are doing?

Admittedly, there is a difference between a six-year-old and a 16-year-old saying such things – although one could argue that even a 16-year-old (who legally is considered to be underage for sexual purposes) shouldn’t be chanting such things.

But I can comprehend why someone running this particular youth cheerleading program might be misguided enough to think they’re standing up for the rights of the majority – who probably got into cheerleading because they want to do the same things as the older girls.

WHAT REINFORCED THIS idea in my head was an experience I had Sunday while waiting to get my hair cut. It was a unisex salon, which means that among the women and men ahead of me in line was a 16-year-old high school cheerleader whose mother was also there to watch to ensure that her daughter didn’t try to get her hair cut in any style that might be considered trashy.

It was during that point that I heard her talk about the chants her daughter does. She wasn’t complaining about taste as much as the fact that the cheerleaders often didn’t seem to have a clue what was actually happening on the playing field.

As she put it, one of her daughter’s squad’s cheers involved saying that the other team was “playing like shit,” then giving pelvic thrusts to emphasize the dirty word. The only problem was that the squad’s team was getting its own butt whipped at the time.

That IS the attitude of modern-day cheerleading – crude taunts, combined with those short-skirted uniforms that often feature plenty of bare midriff. Teenage girls doing these things under any other context would create a situation for the police to have to deal with - particularly for the men in the stands who happen to be watching.

IT IS A sexual display. I honestly believe that if people tried to alter cheerleading to de-sex it, we’d head much more in the way of grumbling and moaning. In fact, that’s what we’re hearing from the squad involved in the Michigan incident, which justifies kicking a six-year-old off the squad on the grounds that they defending “what everybody wants” as opposed to “what one person wants.”

Which is why I wonder how naïve the mother in this particular instance was if she thought that having her six-year-old become a cheerleader was somehow protecting her from such lascivious images. I would think that it amounts to deliberately exposing the kid to such an atmosphere, which I think is wrong.

Now I know I’m going to hear from some mother-types who are going to tell me that I’m being a dirty old man for thinking that cheerleading is inherently about sexual decoration for the gym or the football field during the game. They’re going to claim that it is about the athletic movement and the stunts.

The flips and leaps and splits in mid-air.

IN SHORT, THEY’RE going to claim it is a more colorful version of gymnastics. Which I might believe if not for the fact that I have never seen any kind of serious gymnast perform in a uniform with a skirt so short that it continually rides up so we can constantly see brightly-colored panties on display.

This is the reason why so many people have a hard time keeping a straight face whenever cheerleader advocates argue that their activity is a full-fledged sport, rather than just a sexily-clad pep squad for the real sports.

That ought to be the reason we appreciate the “cheerleaders” who work for professional football and basketball teams. They’re honest. There is no pretense that anything they’re doing in those tight, tight shorts and halter tops is in any way athletic.

No amount of broadcasts on ESPN2 of the cheerleading competitions are going to cover up the fact that many of the people who are tuning in to watch are merely into ogling the girls, with a few other twisted types rooting for an accident that leaves someone injured.

PUTTING A SIX-year-old on the track to want to do this when they’re really too young to comprehend the significance of what they’re doing strikes me as a lack of judgment on the part of a parent, even if it is not quite as sleazy as the people who really think that six-year-olds should be chanting about “shaking our booties.”

I just can’t help but think there are more worthwhile activities for six-year-olds to take part in. Such as my own niece who went through a brief cheerleading phase, but now at age 8 is showing some interest (and talent) at the piano.


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