The case against cheerleaders

What it means to have a cheerleading squad in 2016

Sep 7, 2016 at 1:00 am

I hate to be a killjoy, guys, but I'm having a hard time reconciling these two facts: The Detroit Lions instated their first official cheerleading squad, and it's the year 2016.

Hillary Clinton is a serious contender for the presidency. Mary Barra heads General Motors. Alicia Keys went to the MTV Video Music Awards with nary a false eyelash or stroke of eyeliner on her face.

And yet this fall and winter, hundreds of women will stand on the sidelines of a major sporting event, with hair high enough to touch heaven, with boobs pushed up to their chins, and with a swatch of sparkly fabric barely covering their rears. They'll be cheering on hulking, muscle-bound men as they ram into each other until their brains detach from their skulls.

If that doesn't sound ever-so-slightly barbaric and hedonistic to you, then my guess is that we're probably not on the same page about most current events.

And yet, women have a right to use their bodies for financial gain, right? They have a right to be exotic dancers or give lap dances for a living. They have a right to be surrogates or fashion models or any other career in which their body serves as a source of income. They have a right to be cheerleaders. And so I grapple with my annoyance.

Maybe part of that annoyance comes from the fact that these women will probably be making something close to minimum wage, pennies compared to the millions the players rake in each year. They'll be paid hourly, rather than receiving a salary, despite being required to stay in shape and meet weight requirements throughout the season.

In 2016, most professional football organizations paid their cheerleaders between $9 and $15 per hour with match fees from $60 to $200, which means the most these women will walk away with is around $3,500 a season. So, we're not exactly talking lap-of-luxury here.

Of course, despite this being the first Lions' season with official cheerleaders, it won't be the first time scantily clad women with pompoms appear inside the stadium wearing Honolulu blue-and-silver.

Seven years ago Andrea Wilamowski started the Detroit Pride, an unofficial cheerleading squad that mainly attends tailgates. It was kind of a joke. It had to be a joke, right?

"My husband was a sponsor of the Lions, and we were friends with one of the executives that worked for them and it started out kind of as a little joke," Wilamowski said when we interviewed her back in 2014. "We sat there and everyone was like, 'Why don't we have cheerleaders?' Because it's really boring, you know, the two-minute warning and the places where you'd normally have entertainment, there's nothing. So, as a joke, off the cuff, I just said I would start a team."

And she did. So, I guess it wasn't that big of a joke.

That team is the Detroit Pride, which still survives today, despite the new official team. Wilamowski says the Pride will now serve as something of a training camp for cheerleaders who aspire to dance with the official team. The group will still attend tailgates and will interact with fans outside the stadium.

The women mainly serve as props to take photos with fans, but they also do some cheers and dances along the way.

"Eighty percent of our time is spent on fan interaction, and 20 percent is spent performing," Wilamowski has said of the Pride.

Things will be different for the official team. They'll spend the majority of their time on the sidelines during games, serving as entertainment during down time.

Lions cheerleading coach Rebecca Girard-Smoker said in an interview that nearly 300 girls showed up to audition for the team. Girls. She referred to them as girls. To be clear, the Detroit Lions official cheerleaders will not be made up of elementary schoolers. The team will be comprised of women, some of whom will have professional dance training and college educations.

In a separate interview, Girard-Smoker spoke about her vision for the team, as well as the ideal cheerleader. She said she hopes to create a team that's out in the community, acting as role models for young girls. She also said these women will be joyful and very professional.

So, in addition to performing on the team, cheerleaders will likely be required to do community service and volunteer. So, they'll be paid peanuts and then also required to go work for free with a big smile on their ruby red lips. This a role model for young girls: A woman who dresses in a barely there outfit, gets paid a tiny percentage of her male counterparts' salary, and does it all without a single complaint.

Maybe Whitney Cummings said it best: "You guys are watching football, you've got these amazing athletes on the field doing incredible things — that's not enough for you. You still need whores around the perimeter of the field. God forbid there be two seconds without a tit in the background of something you're watching."