Here’s How Much BS Cheerleaders Actually Go Through
The “is cheerleading even a sport” debate has existed for as long as cheerleading has, but now that it’s been provisionally approved for the Olympics, you would have thought this issue would finally have been put to rest.
But sadly, that’s not the case.
Mica Severe, a 21 year-old college student who cheers competitively, hears people constantly minimize the sport.
“People ask me, ‘Don’t you just shake pom poms? What’s so hard about that?'” She said. “Even though I have to work my butt off! My body is exhausted.”
As a former cheerleader myself, I can attest that this reaction to cheerleading isn’t remotely atypical. I went on a podcast a few weeks ago, only to hear the hosts refer to it as just “an activity.” One argument was that it’s judged and therefore too subjective to be a sport, which would mean that gymnastics, diving, and figure skating all don’t count either. They also said that it can be reduced to a series of claps, jumps, and the words, “Ready, okay!” which ignores all of the other, more important aspects of cheerleading.
Korina Rud, a 23 year-old law student with four years of competitive cheerleading under her belt, is also used to having to prove that it’s a sport.
“It requires the stamina and athleticism most physically demanding sports require,” she explained. “But it’s often overlooked because cheerleading was always seen as moral support to other athletes. Even now, the dance and vocal aspect of cheerleading throws people off and allows them to discredit it.”
Cheerleaders are also seen as inherently promiscuous, even when they’re in high school and haven’t actually had sex yet.
When I made my first cheerleading team at fourteen, my coach congratulated the new girls and then immediately warned us to represent the team properly by not being huge whores. She didn’t want us touching members of the opposite sex while in uniform, or constantly hanging out with guys, so we were tasked with policing and shaming each other. At one practice, I remember the captain saying, “If you’re a hoe, I’m gonna call you a hoe and there’s the door.”
My high school certainly wasn’t outside of the norm. A Texas high school kicked a member off their cheerleading team for kissing her boyfriend, even though her boyfriend remained on the football team. And a Utah cheerleading squad was told their uniforms were too distracting to men – as if swimmers don’t compete in basically underwear). Being a cheerleader means your sexuality is monitored and controlled by coaches, faculty, and captains, and you’re automatically seen as less worthy of respect.
When you look at the fact that NFL cheerleaders make considerably less than the athletes they support – some of them were even making less than minimum wage for 10+ hour days – you can see the clear way that discrediting the sport translates to the actual shitty way cheerleaders are treated and under-compensated.
It even meant that while my college had the budget for swimming, wrestling, and basketball, we couldn’t even get insurance or team uniforms because we were really “a club.” My freshman year was marked by selling fundraising lollipops in Central Park. So while other teams jumped into training for the season, we jumped into trying to afford ours.
Despite all of the additional BS, there are still more than 1.5 million cheerleaders in America giving the sport their all. It might mean juggling multiple practices, work outs, flexibility training, performances, and competitions, all while navigating a culture that treats us like trash, but it still feels so worth it.
And when someone can only focus on the clapping and spirit fingers or they automatically tie cheer to sexuality, they’re just willfully ignoring all of the physically strenuous aspects of the sport. It’s low-key sexist and high-key annoying, but since cheer is finally being recognized by the International Olympic Committee, I’m hoping perceptions change.
After all, if it was so easy, wouldn’t every man be be good at it?