I picked up my first pair of pompoms at seven years old. Cheerleading is my absolute favorite sport. Cheerleaders on every level do not get the respect they deserve. I know from experience. The Washington Football Team’s decision to nix its cheerleading squad is deeply wrong.
At schools, cheerleaders run the pep rallies, decorate, and cheer alongside the band on game night. We put in just as many practices—if not more—than participants of other sports. We cheer, chant, throw things into the crowd, make up routines, interact with the fans, and motivate the team. We compete. Being with a bunch of sassy, athletic girls in one place with good music fires me up.
As a competitive gymnast, I was one of the tumblers on every cheer squad. Learning new tumbling passes and perfecting them took a lot of work, many, many hours in the cheer gym and in the back yard. It cost me a few broken bones and an embarrassing ambulance trip on a game day with my high school’s biggest rival. I challenge anyone to do a cartwheel without hands or a standing back tuck on a cement floor. It’s not easy.
I can’t begin to explain how difficult complicated partner stunting, lifting, and tossing can be. It requires a lot of trust, a lot of discipline, and complete focus.
Imagine this if you can: Trust someone to grab you by the waist and throw you up like a pencil above his head so he can grab you by the feet and hold you. Now one hand, one foot, and your leg are stretched above your head while you tighten every muscle in your body, keeping your core completely engaged, and trying to hold your foot with your sweaty hand. Also, you’re doing all of this with a smile.
Now it’s time to come down. He pops you up, you throw your arms around your body, spin three times, and hope to God your base isn’t too sweaty that you drop when he catches you. Then you pop back up and keep on moving. The first time I did this, my eyes were shut and I was terrified. But congrats, if you got through all of that, you just partner stunted. My point? It’s a tough sport.
I grew up wanting to be a Dallas Cowgirl. I would watch them on TV doing their famous line kick, thinking, “I could do that,” that I would be just as good when I was their age. I dreamed it, I told everyone that’s what I was going to be when I grew up, a Dallas Cowgirl. Oddly enough I ended up working for their rivals, the Washington Redskins.
The point is that any kid who loves any sport likely dreams of going pro, whether she’s an Olympic athlete or a player in the NBA. Cheerleaders should have that same opportunity. Cheerleaders deserve the dream to go pro without being robbed by organizations who can’t discipline their owners or their employees or control their public image.
Cheerleaders and Cheerleader Ambassadors aren’t just on the sidelines dancing or walking amongst the crowd. These women are a staple in the communities they represent. They support local charities and fundraisers. Some of these women travel overseas visiting active military members, while others visit with veteran groups or sick children in local hospitals. We wake up early (way before the players) and stay later to do meet-and-greets and take photos with generations of fans who share stories and memories that mean so much to them.
When it comes to the Redskins—or Washington Football Team—the 60-plus-year legacy cheerleading squad known as the First Ladies of Football should not be punished because Dan Snyder and the rest of the organization is failing.
Snyder and the Washington Football team seem to always be in the middle of several controversies. Their public image is currently in the toilet. They are facing claims of racism due to their former name (with which I don’t agree), and there’s been exposure of harassment within the organization.
Snyder and the organization need to be held accountable for their actions and right the wrongs. The wrong thing to do is to take away jobs from women on the cheer team and give them to men. I don’t even understand how that fixes the problems.
Hiring more men to help public sexual harassment issues seems like a very funny Band-Aid to the organization’s problems. Sadly, the don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy has been a well-known policy for women in many industries. You want to keep your job? Don’t say a word about how a superior treated you. I, too, have been a victim of this toxic work culture.
In the wake of a recent legal settlement, the almost 60-year-old cheerleading program is now canceled. The organization needs to do an investigation and make the results public, reinstate and protect their legacy cheer team, and treat all women, from the sidelines to the corporate side, with the respect they deserve. It seems like the organization is overcorrecting a series of mistakes by making even bigger ones.
I have seen the dreams of so many women come true as they become a First Lady of Football, earning a spot on the team after a lifetime of hard work. These overcorrections of eliminating the cheer team and dropping the name are ultimately more about money and public perception than solving the franchise’s actual problems.