*Decorating Sports. As millions of sports fans watch their favorite teams battle on game day, they will likely also be able to watch beautiful young women perform suggestive dance routines on the sidelines. But as the role of women in society has evolved, some are asking if the hypersexualization of cheerleaders and dancers is appropriate. REAL SPORTS correspondent Jon Frankel examines the issue here in the States and also in the UK, where the number of roles for female entertainers in sports is on the decline.
*All BOLD sections indicate correspondent Jon Frankel voiceover*
It’s a Tuesday night rehearsal for the Denver Broncos cheerleaders and team director Shawna Peters is checking to see that each kick… spin… and hair flip is in lock-step.
JON FRANKEL: “What do cheerleaders bring to football? Are you part of the pageantry?”
DENVER’S SHAWNA PETERS: “I believe we’re part of the pageantry. And I think that that’s what’s magical about the NFL is that there is pageantry. And the cheerleaders play into that. It’s all part of the entertainment package.”
But that entertainment package wasn’t always this way. Once upon a time, NFL cheerleaders looked like this… Over the years, the hair got bigger, the uniforms got smaller, and the cheers of “rah rah” were replaced with provocative dance moves.
In fact, no matter where you turn in sports, there is likely a gaggle of young, fit, and scantily clad women not far away… NBA teams have their dancers… and the NHL has their ice girls. Baseball…soccer…even professional lacrosse…have sexy young women decorating their games.
But these days as society is reflecting more and more on the treatment of women and their role in American culture… it may be time to ask a simple question:
JON FRANKEL: “Why do we still have these roles for women in sport?”
DENVER’S SHAWNA PETERS: “I think the feminist movement is about women doing what women want to do. And the women on this team are doing it because it empowers them. And they’re gonna keep doing it year after year on that field because they’ve chosen to.”
JON FRANKEL: “You personally have a pretty good answer for anybody who says, ‘Oh, you’re just a pretty face and a cheerleader,’ don’t you?”
MORGAN YOST: “Yeah, I like to start off with the fact that I’m an aerospace engineer.”
When Morgan Yost isn’t moonlighting as a Broncos cheerleader, she has a day job at Lockheed Martin – one of the world’s largest companies specializing in space and defense innovations. She is – literally – a rocket scientist.
MORGAN YOST: “I’m a guidance navigation and control engineer for a spaceship called Orion, which is the next spaceship that’s going to take people into deep space, so farther than we’ve ever gone before.”
JON FRANKEL: “When you turn on the TV today, and you watch cheerleaders at NFL games, how do you react?”
COLLETTE SMITH: “I’m a little pissed off.”
Collette Smith is also a woman who has made football her life…but in a very different way. She spent years playing and coaching professional women’s football… then, last year, was hired as the first woman ever to coach for the New York Jets as a summer intern.
COLLETTE SMITH: “Jon, there are people adhering to things that aren’t right in this world. You know, listen. Cheerleaders are athletes. They’re strong. They train. They study. They have their form. But why do we have to have them with no clothes on? You know, let’s treat them as that, and not as some sex kitten– some sex toy to look at.”
JON FRANKEL: “Is being sexy part of the job?”
BRONCOS CHEERLEADER MORGAN YOST: “I think the most important criteria is: Can you dance?”
But parts of the gig don’t involve dancing at all. Like the tradition shared by squads from all over the sports world … the yearly swimsuit calendar…where the women show off their assets in skimpy bathing suits on romantic beaches.
MORGAN YOST: “It means a lot us to be able to say, ‘I am confident and I’ve worked hard to be in this calendar.’”
Barry Hearn is one of the most powerful sports promoters in Europe, thanks to the glitz and glamour he includes in his live sporting events… Fifteen years ago he began including a titillating twist to his darts tournaments: so-called “walk-on girls.”
BARRY HEARN: “I was purely trying to add to the occasion and to make it more entertaining. Attractive women gave a little sparkle. Whether they’re round card girls on boxing, whether they’re pit girls on Formula One, we were all part of dressing the show with gratuitous glamour.”
But as more women became fans of darts and began tuning in, opinions started to shift.
BARRY HEARN: “After a while, less and less people bought into it and more and more people became uncomfortable. And I said ‘I can’t see that these girls are contributing to a sporting event.’”
JON FRANKEL: “So you operate based on, not your social conscience, but what the climate is telling you, the environment is telling you.”
BARRY HEARN: “Completely correct.”
JON FRANKEL: “Show me the money?”
BARRY HEARN: “Show me the money. It was very simple. My broadcasters don’t like it, they pay me a lot of money, I don’t like it.”
So in January, Hearn decided he had no choice but to do away with his glamorous walk-on girls. Many fans were incensed, and the women themselves were left stunned.
JON FRANKEL: “Is the N.F.L. gonna get rid of cheerleaders? Is the N.B.A. gonna get rid of dancers?”
BARRY HEARN: “As sure as the sun rises up in the morning, over a period of time, all of those will go.”