Every Friday night on America's high school football fields,
it's the same old story. Broken bones. Senseless violence.
Not the players. The cheerleaders.
According to a report by The Physician and Sportsmedicine,
cheerleaders lose more time from their activity because of
injury--28.8 days per injury--than any other group of athletes
at the high school level. The University of North Carolina found
that cheerleading is responsible for nearly half the high school
and college injuries that lead to paralysis or death.
It's crazy, isn't it? We have girls building three-story human
pyramids, flipping one another 30 feet in the air, and we give
the boys helmets.
A buddy of mine has twin daughters, both cheerleaders. At the
end of last school year one needed plastic surgery on her cheek
after another girl's teeth went through it during a pyramid
collapse; the other broke her hand and finger. They're not
I don't hate cheerleading just because it's about as safe as
porcupine juggling. I also hate it because it's dumb. The
Velcroed-on smiles. The bizarre arm movements stolen from the
Navy signalmen's handbook. The same cheers done by every troupe
in every state.
What's even dumber is that cheerleaders have no more impact on
the game than the night janitorial staff. They don't even face
the game. They face the crowd, lost in their bizarre MuffyWorld.
They cheer, they rah, they smile, they kiss, they hug. Meanwhile,
Milford High just scored three touchdowns against their guys. A
UFO could land at the 30-yard line, disgorging a chorus line of
tiny, purple Ethel Mermans, and most cheerleaders would still be
facing the other way yelling, "We got the fever!"
Exactly what does a girl get out of cheerleading, anyway,
besides a circle skirt and a tight sweater? Why do we encourage
girls to cheer the boys, to idolize the boys? Why do we want
them on the sideline when most of them could be between the
Studies show that by the time otherwise smart girls hit high
school, they start to raise their hands less in class, let the
boys take the lead. Isn't cheerleading the same thing, only
Look, I married a cheerleader. My sisters were cheerleaders. I
could see it then: Cheerleading was just about the only way a
girl could be a part of sports. Not now. Not in the age of Mia
Hamm and Marion Jones and the Williams sisters. Not when most
high schools offer as many girls' sports as boys'.
Oh, right, nowadays cheerleading is classified as a sport. There
are now "cheer gyms," where kids go to learn to throw each other
around like Frisbees. You can even watch the National High
School Cheerleading Championships on ESPN, just after the
Harley-Davidson Olympics. This is the event in which 408 girls
named Amber attempt to create a human Eiffel Tower, screaming,
"Two! Four! Six! Eight!" while displaying all their gums at
once. I'm not saying it's not hard. I'm just saying it's
Do you realize colleges are even giving cheerleading
scholarships? Can you believe that? Sorry, Mrs. Roosevelt, we
just gave away your daughter's chemistry scholarship. But you
should have seen Amber here do "We've got spirit!"
If cheerleading is a sport, Richard Simmons is a ballerina. It's
athletic, but it's not a sport. In fact, what's sad is that most
cheerleaders would make fine athletes. Watch for five minutes
and you'll see. But these girls won't be on anybody's gymnastics
or diving or basketball team because every season is
Cheerleaders don't just shake their pom-poms at football games;
they're also at baseball games and wrestling matches and girls'
soccer games and most everything else short of chess-club
tournaments. No matter how many hours they've already put in, no
matter how freezing it is, no matter how few fans are at the
jayvee badminton match, the cheerleaders are out there in their
What's that spell? Frostbite!
If they're lucky, they might grow up to become Dallas Cowboys
Cheerleaders. In the book Deep in the Heart of Texas, three
former Cowboys Cheerleaders wrote that they snorted coke,
gobbled diet pills and vomited to lose weight.
I guess this is like coming out against fudge and kittens and
Abe Lincoln, but it needs to be said. In four years my little
girl hits high school. It's up to her, of course, but if my wife
and I could choose her after-school activities, cheerleading
would be next to last.
Just ahead of Piercing Club.
COLOR PHOTO: DANA FINEMAN/SYGMA
I don't hate cheerleading just because it's as safe as porcupine
juggling. I hate it because it's dumb.