Equal opportunity to cheer?
Apparently, Missouri is not the only state discussing cheerleading this summer.
Michigan's state athletic association is being asked by the American Civil Liberties Union to reconsider its ban on boys in postseason cheerleading tournaments:
The American Civil Liberties Union wants the state's governing body for high school athletics to reconsider a policy keeping boys out of the postseason tournament for competitive cheerleading.
But the Michigan High School Athletic Association questioned the timing of the ACLU's request, since the rules about boys in competitive cheer tournaments were changed in December 2003, The Detroit News reported.
In a letter dated Friday to the MHSAA, Michael J. Steinberg, legal director of ACLU Michigan, said the ACLU wished to "strongly urge" a change in the rules. Steinberg told the newspaper that litigation is possible.
"Postseason competition is a big thing in high schools, and to forbid participation on the basis of sex hurts both boys and girls," Steinberg said.
When Michigan high schools start the 2006-07 year in August, boys no longer will be able to participate in the competitive cheerleading postseason tournament. The ACLU says that violates federal law.
MHSAA spokesman John Johnson expressed puzzlement at the timing of the letter.
"There certainly was enough time for a response to be made earlier than five weeks before those rules officially take effect," Johnson said.
Kary Moss, executive director of the ACLU of Michigan, said Saturday that the policy was only recently brought to the attention of the ACLU.
By MHSAA rules, Johnson said, boys are not allowed in MHSAA postseason tournament competition for girls in any sport but could compete in regular-season competition if competing schools agree.
In my previous post about cheerleading, there was also a mention in the comments about boys being kept off cheerleading teams.
In my previous post about Title IX, I mentioned that "...the law prohibited sex discrimination in not just athletic opportunities but also in admissions, courses, financial aid, and educational counseling, among other things, for students in American public schools."
People need to remember that the term "sex discrimination" does not merely apply to actions against females. Sex discrimination involves prohibiting anyone from participating in an activity for which they are physically and attitudinally qualified. That includes boys who want to serve as cheerleaders. After all, what is so preposterous about this idea? Cheerleading has become a highly athleticized activity. Cheerleaders don't just memorize insipid little quatrains and wave pompons. They build human pyramids and balance other cheerleaders upon their legs, shoulders, and even outstretched arms. They throw other cheerleaders through the air ("flyers," as my friend Fred tells me). Cheerleading today requires strength. Even the most hardened chauvinist will agree that males are known for having strength, and thus, would be an asset in an activity which requires strength and agility.
It seems pretty obvious that cheerleading is not just a female activity. Ladies. and gentlemen, I present exhibit one:
the HEAD CHEERLEADER of Philips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts in 1963. You probably now recognize him as the chief executive of the United States, George W. Bush. Some might even say that his experience as a cheerleader is useful to him in his current occupation, as well. (I've placed his picture on the right, so he'll feel comfortable.)
Yes, Philips Academy was an all-boys school. Yes, he primarily led chants and heckled the other team, rather than serving as the foundation for a human pyramid, but cheerleading back in the day did not really involve athleticism in the way that it does now. Nonetheless, if George can do it, so should today's Ryans or Jakes, should they so choose.
Yet the first cheerleaders were male. As this interesting (and humorous) article from slate. com notes:
The cheerleader has grappled with her identity since at least the early 1900s, as Natalie Guice Adams and Pamela J. Bettis explain in their delightful book Cheerleader!: An American Icon. Originally, male cheerleaders (or "rooter kings") patrolled the sidelines at college football games, trying to organize the yells of spectators. The male cheerleader was something of a campus eminence, regarded as an up-and-coming entrepreneur and future captain of industry. In 1911, The Nation declared that "the reputation of having been a valiant 'cheer-leader' is one of the most valuable things a boy can take away from college. As a title to promotion in professional or public life, it ranks hardly second to that of being a quarterback." (Not everyone saw cheerleading as a benevolent exercise in vocational training. A. Lawrence Lowell, the president of Harvard, called it the "worst means of expressing emotion ever invented.")
World War II drained the universities' supply of able-bodied males, and cheerleading became almost exclusively the province of females. A new type of cheerleader emerged: a future housewife—the '50s ideal of womanhood packed into a varsity sweater. The cheerleader dressed as a pillar of moral rectitude: colorful hair bows, an ankle-length skirt, and saddle oxfords. She was, by unanimous acclaim, one of the most popular girls in school and also one of the most beautiful—and her elevation to the squad was usually determined by a schoolwide vote. She wasn't a jock. She demonstrated little athletic ability, rarely performing a move more daring than a modest jump or a split—certainly nothing like the pyramidal artistry that would come later.
The modern cheerleader was forged in 1972 when she was waylaid by two distinct cultural forces. First was the passage of Title IX, which invigorated women's sports programs at colleges and high schools. With more girls drifting toward soccer and volleyball, cheerleading seemed antiquated. Along came Jeff Webb, a former University of Oklahoma cheerleader, who turned his passion into a legitimate athletic pursuit by making it more like gymnastics. Through camps and workshops, Webb taught complicated flips and ditched the sweaters and long skirts for more aerodynamic uniforms. Cheerleading morphed from a purely social enterprise into part of a young woman's athletic regimen: A 2002 survey cited by authors Adams and Bettis showed that more than half of cheerleaders participated in other sports.
Male cheerleaders as sissies? I don't think so. As you can see, it takes a lot of muscle to be able to cheer at the top collegiate level today. Many people stereotypically believe that men are more avid sports fans than women (and by the way, come by my house during the world cup or the football season if you want to see that that's a total canard). It's only natural that males as well as females be able to channel that passion for their school and their team into participation on the cheerleading squad.
Cheerleading: it's not just for the quarterback's girlfriend any more.