Is it 2020?
I must have forgotten, or been taken back in time when reading Rick Bozich’s column regarding the University of Kentucky cheerleading program’s dismissal of four coaches earlier today. Today is a sad day for the program and the sport (yes, the sport) of cheerleading and it is only exacerbated by Bozich’s out of touch and misogynistic response.
Mr. Bozich, you obviously don’t know the first thing about cheerleading if you are comparing UK’s 24 national cheerleading titles to sideline dancers at NFL or NBA events. A quick YouTube search could bridge the gap for you.
Even worse, you choose to describe female athletes as “smutty,” “titillating,” “underdressed,” “overexposed,” opining that their only purpose is “sex appeal.” You use this kind of derogatory language against women who spend hours upon hours in the gym perfecting the “five seconds” of “bumping and grinding” they are so entitled, in your opinion, to receive. As we all know, their hard work should take a backseat to the real purpose: the real athletes for which they cheer.
I should understand my place as a “sideshow,” you say.
I should understand it because I myself have spent my college career as a Division-1 cheerleader, spending the last 15 years of my life dedicated to those five seconds he reduces to a distraction.
I should resign to my fate of being a source of pure entertainment, as if all sports were not intended to be entertaining. No, every other sport is essential. But cheerleading? It should be a bunch of pretty girls for the big men to look at; little girls screeching their team on to victory. But, they shouldn’t be too pretty! It would be too exciting for the audience, and may even distract them from the main event. Wouldn’t that be a travesty? To recognize hard, athletic work that a team has strived for? To celebrate successes of young people? However, as you says, no one actually shows up to watch the cheerleaders, so what should it even matter?
I have never met a cheerleader with a torn ACL, concussion, broken hand or hands (yes hands, as resulted from a gymnastics collision I unfortunately found myself a part of) from bumping and grinding. I have seen these injuries, however, from women and men who have collided with other cheerleaders, been dropped out of a pyramid three people high onto either a one-inch mat or the arena floor. That’s at least a 15-foot drop. Without padding or helmets. Or from landing a tumbling pass so hard that they shatter their ankle and complete a routine anyways, because as my coach has always said, cheerleading doesn’t have a bench. We need every player, all the time.
Watch one episode of Cheer on Netflix, Mr. Bozich. I would like a running count of all of the bumping and grinding that occurs.
This is not just about the University of Kentucky’s esteemed cheerleading program, the members of which he (falsely) accuses of being scantily clad. The last time I checked, they have worn the almost exact same uniform for the last 30 years.
This is about all cheerleaders, at all levels, dealing with the same stereotypes surrounding all women in sports (think Serena Williams being recognized for her tennis dresses rather than her play, or the median WNBA salary being $130K) .
However, in spite of their well demonstrated abilities, cheerleaders have to fight to even call themselves an athlete. Cheerleaders are at the bottom of the food chain, even in women’s sports.
I could continue to discuss the disrespect cheerleaders have received through the years, the ignorance some sports fans have towards these men and women who begin their careers usually at around age 3-5, and continue it into their 20s. This is their lives, and livelihood. It is my life, and livelihood. It is just as passionate and requires just as much dedication as any other NCAA sport, although it is not recognized as such, which deserves a separate conversation.
I have to pose the question: why are cheerleaders only recognized for their shortcomings? They are only held to the same standard as other sports for their mistakes, not for their successes, only creating headlines when there is negativity to be spread.
Why did it have to come to this for cheerleaders to be newsworthy? I am in full agreement that cheerleaders should be held to the same standard as other athletes. But, this means cheerleaders should be treated as such in all manners, not only when they mess up.
What happened today is a tragedy for the University of Kentucky; however, what continues to happen each day for the women and men who participate in cheerleading, as Bozich has proudly put on display, is sickening. I can only hope that his bitterness towards these college student athletes will shed some light on the discrimination against cheerleaders and dancers, and more particularly, the hard feelings those of certain generations harbor towards women within cheerleading.
Oh yes, and if I could provide one final correction to Mr. Bozich’s enlightening column: he claims there has never been a representative at the Olympics, among other major sporting events, for cheerleading.
I seem to recall that there was one, at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang.
It was the University of Kentucky.