the suzi parker files

Politics, Pop Culture and Ponderings

No Cheerleaders at Super Bowl XLV — Sad Day for Tradition

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Confession: I once owned a pair of pom-poms.

Back in the 1970s, at age 4, it seemed the right thing to ask my parents for as a gift. The fluffy red and white pom-poms were official and expensive — cheap just wouldn’t do for my nascent cheerleading career. I shook them during college football games and at least one Super Bowl.

But little girls hoping for cheering inspiration at Sunday’s Super Bowl XLV game in Dallas between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Green Bay Packers won’t get it. For the first time in the Super Bowl’s 45-year history, there will be no cheerleaders on the sidelines.

Neither the Steelers nor the Packers have cheerleading squads. Four other NFL teams — New York Giants, Chicago Bears, Cleveland Browns and Detroit Lions — also do without. The Steelers were ahead of the pack when they decided in 1970 to abandon the Steelerettes, and in 1988, Green Bay decided their fans didn’t care too much for the Sideliners. (Maybe their name had something to do with their fate.)

Many who see cheerleading as sexist are applauding the no-cheerleader zone this weekend.

For others, cheerleading is an institution — they argue it’s a legitimate sport The long list of stars and politicians who have cheered either in high school or college includes Ann-Margaret, Halle Berry and Paula Abdul, along with presidents George W. Bush, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Dwight D. Eisenhower.

But on the professional side of sports the tradition is not as strong and male cheerleaders are practically non-existent except the Baltimore Ravens, which has the only professional co-ed team in the country. It’s the women who shimmy and shake in skimpy outfits for football and basketball teams like the Los Angeles Lakers, and are often better described as dance squad members than cheerleaders.

The modern version of the cheerleader began in 1971 when Dallas Cowboys owner Tex Schramm wanted stunning model-like women who could dance like Radio City Rockettes. Ta-da! The Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders sizzled onto the football field.

As members of the National Football Association Cheerleading and the National Basketball Association Cheerleading, these women are also involved in charity work, modeling and fundraisers. They pose for calendars and posters. The try-outs are competitive and physically tough.

“In order to try out for pro cheer squads, you have to prepare yourself mentally, physically and socially. Pro cheerleading squads are looking for the best of the best,” advises the website Dancecheer.net.

Oh, and the pay? Not much. According to Dancecheer, cheerleaders may receive between $15 and $50 per game. And pro athletes? Millions.

For many cheerleaders, the reason for cheering is to launch a career in entertainment, broadcasting or modeling. Maybe if they are lucky, they can cash in like Paula Abdul.

Cheerleaders, however, have always seemed to get a raw deal at the professional sports level, even in half-time productions.

Once upon a time, Super Bowl half-time shows were almost quaint, instead of gigantic spectacles. They featured college marching bands and the innocent Up With People troupe. During the first Super Bowl between the Packers and Kansas City Chiefs in 1967, the Anaheim (Calif.) High School Drill Team performed. In 1983, the Los Angeles Super Drill Team performed. According to the event’s history, the last time any drill team performed was in 1987, when various Southern California teams were invited to the Rose Bowl in Pasadena.

The teams’ cheerleaders always stayed on the sidelines.

Will 2011 be a watershed moment for NFL cheerleaders? Will the league decide they simply don’t need any pretty girls on the sidelines cheering on their teams anymore?

The Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders are making sure that doesn’t happen. The pop culture icons, who made many a Generation-X boy melt in their blue-and-white halter tops and hot pants, have decided to give it their all this weekend. While they won’t be inside the arena on Sunday, they are seizing the Super Bowl moment.

On Thursday, the cheerleaders were at the Super Bowl Media Center. They signed autographs and posed for pictures. According to The Kansas City Star, fans ignored baseball legend Nolan Ryan to see the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders — a legend in a state where the pom-pom is patented.

Some fans will send kudos to the Packers and Steelers for saying good-bye to cheerleaders years ago. But for some, pom-pom waving girls on the sidelines are as American as football itself. There’s something to be said for tradition. Just ask the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders.

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