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The Crux Project Archives: Sex & Family


Cheerleading gone wild

by Herbert I. London

If you’ve seen halftime at a pro-basketball or football game, you know that half-clad cheerleaders have become a source of audience delectation. The girls are sexy and the movements often suggestive. This is the new America that shuns modesty.

Recently, a Democratic Texas legislator, Al Edwards, sponsored a bill dealing with cheerleaders at high school football games. Needless to say, these cheerleaders tend to emulate their grown-up counterparts.

Mr. Edwards said, “Girls can get out and do all of these sexual performances and we applaud them and that’s not right.” He goes on to argue that lascivious performances distract high school students and can result in “pregnancies, school drop-outs, the contraction of HIV, and herpes . . . cutting off their youthful life at an early age.” He adds: “Any adult that’s been involved with sex in their lives; they know it when they see it.”

Exposed midriffs and ever shorter skirts are de rigueur for cheerleaders, but, for many, this exposure is offensive. Of course not every Texas legislator shares Mr. Edwards’ views. In fact, some call his proposed legislation “stupid” or “ridiculous.”  

It is interesting to examine the evolution of cheerleading. Originally cheerleading was a male-dominated activity, a way for men to assist their comrades in athletic competition and a method for displaying leadership potential. During the Second World War, with so many men at war, women replaced males in what became a source of inspiration. For the first time, cheerleading became a beauty-obsessed pastime.

By the 1970’s, led in large part by the success of the Dallas Cowboys, cheerleading became highly sexualized. What worked for the Cowboys became the standard for other professional teams. In less than a decade the fully clothed high school and college cheerleader looked and moved very much like her professional counterpart.

Is this a problem?

For these who remember a more innocent time when cheerleaders were covered down to their shins, contemporary standards are vulgar. That said, the vulgar has colonized every aspect of popular culture. Even cheerleading has gone from, “Go back, go back, go back into the woods, cause you haven’t got, you haven’t got, you haven’t got the goods” to “you’re dead, you’re dead, we’ll bop you on the head.”

Yes, this is all said in good humor, but the humor has an edge to it which has changed the nature of sportsmanship. Fans routinely shout obscenities at the opposition.

On the other side of the social ledger, it could be argued that the problem is in the eye of the beholder. Cheerleaders may emulate their elders, but that doesn’t necessarily suggest they are sexually charged.

The real issue is the spread of pornography into every cultural crevice, from ads on buses to television programming and popular music. It has become inescapable. What effect it is having may be difficult to determine, but I would submit, based on empirical evidence, it is having some effect.

Cheerleading may, in fact, be one manifestation of this trend and, in its way, among the more innocent manifestations. But the trend is a matter of concern for any American who believes the levers of popular culture affect and enhance or undermine the nation’s character. •

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