About a month ago, a link to CNN.com's article "NFL cheerleaders: Gratuitous sexism or all-American fun?" appeared in my inbox. The intense headline got the best of me, so I clicked, and read through a pretty harsh judgment that I was not entirely prepared for. Throughout this piece, Joanne Gerstner, Professor of media & sports at the University of Michigan and past president of the Association for Women in Sports Media, delivered a colorful opinion on not only the act of being an NFL Cheerleader, but on the women themselves. She states, "When the whole essence of your job is basically hanging out in a tiny bikini and a bandeau top, it kind of undercuts the rest of your argument that you are a well-rounded person"...Ouch.
Now perhaps I am being a bit biased. I am an NFL cheerleader for the Buffalo Bills, and when you get thrown into this world, you learn very quickly that this "job" is much more than the few seconds of winks and ruffling Pom-Poms seen before commercials on ESPN. Sure, the uniform and the hair and the glam are all things that come to mind with the term "NFL Cheerleader," but most wouldn't also equate the words dedicated, charitable, and well-rounded, unless you're lucky enough to really know some of the amazing women who hold the title. Just like the athletes we cheer for, we are out in the community using our pedestal to make a difference. Whether it is bringing some publicity to a December toy drive at 6 AM, collecting prom dresses to donate to local schools, teaching young girls how to dance with confidence, visiting hospitals, or traveling to troops overseas, the list goes on and on...without getting paid I'd might add. We do these things as volunteers; to give back to the community we love, while balancing full time jobs, studies, families and friends. That means a lot of early mornings and late nights, but we are always out there with a permanent smile, trying to make a difference. We might bring a bit if glitz and excitement to an event, but that does not make our time and effort any less significant.
So, when I read the aforementioned quote about the "essence" of this "job," I instantly thought that what I do isn't a job, it's a privilege, and even if it was, my uniform is definitely not the essence of it. What is seen on the field is such a small part of what we do, and if our purpose is based on dancing in skimpy attire, fans definitely wouldn't be seeing the Buffalo Jills and many other teams post September! We are outside in sun, rain, and in our case, snow, supporting the team and keeping the fans excited about the game, no matter the score. We are committed to practice days, game days, and 30+ hours of various appearances during one season, including charities, benefits, and meeting with children.
Ms. Gerstner poses the question "if cheerleaders are necessary, why are there no cheerleaders in any women's sports?" It is clear that cheerleaders are not necessary, proven that only 26 of 32 NFL teams include a cheerleading squad in their franchise. But, in response to the question, I'd say that if women's sports had the same funding and sponsorships and publicity as the NFL does today, perhaps there would be quite a few cheer squads for them as well. I can speak for myself, and for many teammates who would cheer just as loudly to support other women, as we do for men. Until then, this is an opportunity as dancers, performers, and community volunteers to take our talents and passions to the next level, to reach more people, and to learn how to be better spoken, and better poised young women overall. On the surface it may not look like a tough gig, but it takes a strong woman to wear our boots.
2nd year vet
Buffalo Bills Cheerleaders "The Jills"