Recently, the newspaper reported that Sebring High School's cheerleading squad placed sixth in a national tournament. But the win was achieved months ago. Where was the publicity then? There was no fanfare when this small-town team beat out hundreds of schools 10 times their size in a national tournament.
Can you imagine the difference if Sebring's football or basketball team had done the same? There would have been pandemonium in the streets and front page headlines for a week.
Unfortunately, cheerleaders are seldom recognized, no matter how good they are. Still, cheerleading has come a long way since my high school days when it was basically a popularity contest. Today, cheerleading is an official varsity sport in most high schools and colleges. But most still treat it as fluff.
At many schools, cheerleading holds the dubious honor of being the only athletic program sanctioned by the school but not on the budget. Many cheerleaders must spend countless hours fund-raising just to pay for uniforms. When did football players ever have to hold a car wash to get new shoulder pads or organize a team without a coach as many cheerleaders do?
Today some universities give scholarships for cheerleading, most ranging from $200 to $2,000 per semester. That's major progress, right? But compare that with the full ride scholarships and myriad special perks other athletes get, and you'll see that major inequities still exist.
All this is due to the attitude held by the majority of Americans that cheerleaders are not athletes, but window dressing, there for entertainment, not sport. So why does this misperception persist if cheerleading is now an official sport with scholarships and national competitions?
I think it's largely thanks to the NFL and the sidelines peep show they insist on calling cheerleading. The weekly display of bare backsides and bouncing bosoms offered by NFL "cheerleaders" is an affront to the many talented cheerleader athletes serving and competing in America's schools and colleges. Unlike their NFL namesakes, real cheerleaders work to raise team spirit, not spectator lust.
In addition, consider the fact that the NFL version is playing live on Sunday afternoon to children. And their parents don't even care. We are so used to the "jigglies" in prime time viewing, when the kiddies are in bed, we don't register what is right in our children's faces passing as sport.
Even "Desperate Housewives" can't top the fanny flashing on Sunday afternoon football. It's not uncommon for network cameramen to become so obsessed with capturing the sidelines bump and grind that they entirely miss the action on the field, causing large portions of the game to be seen only in replays.
No wonder many of today's teenage girls see themselves as sex objects, not persons of value equal with males. No wonder cheerleaders in a Connecticut high school recently dared to refuse to wear the revealing uniforms forced on them by the school. All they asked was to be treated like athletes, not disco dolls. You go girls!
High school and college cheerleaders are hardworking gymnasts sacrificing hundreds of hours, in season and out, practicing their sport. They often suffer debilitating injuries, just like their counterparts on the football field or basketball court. And just like them, they also travel thousands of miles to away games and tournaments and have to make up classes they miss.
However, unlike their male counterparts, they have no hope of "going pro" after graduation no matter how good they are at their sport. Pro "cheerleaders" are chosen for their breast measurements, not their athletic abilities.
If the demotion of cheerleaders from athletes to go-go dancers continues, the attitude of regarding them as such will be perpetuated as well. Instead, we should encourage real cheering competitions, like the ones attended by Sebring's squad. And when our athletes do well there, we should reward them with recognition, publicity and worthwhile scholarships.
A bunch of body builders posing in Speedos would never pass for a football team. Likewise, the NFL's bikini-clad chorus girls are not cheerleaders just because they carry pom-poms. What the NFL passes off as cheerleading is nothing short of blatant defamation of a whole class of young American athletes.
NFL owners, shame on you.