Thursday, June 4, 2009

Fanarchy takes on cheerleading

In an ad during an NHL Playoff game broadcast, the Versus cable channel promoted Anarchy, a new show premiering Sunday night, June 7 at 11ET, following the UFC MMA fight. It appears to be a news magazine-type show, and one of the issues to be discussed, according to the ad, is whether cheerleaders belong in sports.

I've been wondering the same thing.

All cheerleaders are not equal.

An article on the same subject in Sports Illustrated quoted Kristie Phillips, a star gymnast and one-time Olympic hopeful who flamed out after a battle with pill addiction. She became a cheerleader at LSU and wisely pointed out that cheerleading is one of just a few activities in which female athletes can perform in front of large crowds. So it does provide amateur female athletes, in high school and college, to perform in front of crowds during football and basketball timeouts.

Okay. So they do the pyramid and flip across the floor. But what about cheerleaders for professional sports teams? Why are they wearing often-hilarious leotards or bare-midriff outfits? Which demographic fan group are they appealing to?

I'm trying to figure that out. Most NBA and NFL season-ticket holders are men--specifically, married men. So are they the ones who are checking out the cheerleaders? I don't think female fans care one way or the other. Do these teams sell any additional tickets because they feature cheerleaders during timeouts? The Chicago Bears didn't think so. I don't know why they dropped the Honey Bears cheerleading squad years ago, but the Bears haven't had an unsold seat since 1982. Maybe the teams think cheerleaders add to the overall stadium experience (compared to tv), along with the spotlight introductions, the crowd participation rock songs, and the overpriced beer. But is their presence really appropriate?

Charity events. Professional teams will frequently mention how much community service work they do; apparently that justifies blackmailing the taxpayers into building them new stadia. Cheerleaders do perform a significant amount of goodwill visits on behalf of their teams. Yes, I'm sure hospital patients love being visited by beautiful women. But this type of outreach could also be done (and is done, to their credit) by the athletes themselves. I know (from a Bob Greene column in the Chicago Tribune, years ago) that Jerry Reinsdorf required his White Sox players to sign autographs. Are athletes required by contract to make community visits on behalf of the team, too? They should be. So much easier to schedule cheerleaders to do this work, of course. But maybe the teams would be better off without the cheerleaders.

A friend of mine who is a Johannesburg native thinks soccer is a very exciting game and urged me to try attending a match. Having concerns about driving to Bridgeview's Toyota Park to see the Chicago Fire, I drove instead to beautiful Hoffman Estates' Sears Centre to see the Chicago Storm. It's indoor soccer--a little different, more scoring, plus a scoring format similar to basketball with two points for a close shot and three points for a shot beyond an arc painted on the artificial turf. By a strong majority, I noticed most of the fans for Storm home games are either families with young children or kids' groups: Brownie Scouts, Girl Scouts, Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, and boys' and girls' soccer teams. It's a family atmosphere. So naturally, the Storm features cheerleaders in spandex midriff-baring tops. They spend much of the game either in a bullpen near a goal or in the seating sections behind that goal. Like most cheerleaders/dancers, they perform two choreographed dance routines per game. Unlike most cheerleaders/dancers, they stand on the concourse post-game, handing out flyers for their dance clinic to pre-teen girls.

So a couple of points: If families and kids comprise a majority of a team's fan base, if the team has cheerleaders at all, they should be dressed for a kids' birthday party, not a nightclub. And those same women encouraging girls to attend a dance clinic seems a bit inappropriate as well.

A few years ago, the NHL started requiring teams to remove chipped ice from the frozen playing surface during tv timeouts--three times per period. The NHL didn't specify who should pick up a shovel, just that it be done. The Chicago Blackhawks jumped at the opportunity to hire beautiful women to clean the chipped ice, which they do while wearing midriff-baring tops. Of course they do. An article about the women in RedEye May 22 said they're available for events, and they attended a bar mitzvah. Unbelievable. I'll address that in another post. As part of their outreach, the Ice Crew, as the Blackhawks call them, attend Blackhawks-sponsored Bud Light Road Game viewing parties. During the season, these were held at Buffalo Wild Wings locations throughout the suburbs, and during the playoffs at sports bars on the North Side and in the suburbs. I don't have such a problem with that because most fans attending these events are over 21, and the Ice Crew ladies, notably, are modestly dressed. At the game, the focus should be on the game, without team-provided eye candy.

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