Since Netflix’s original series “Cheer” was released in January, the show’s protagonists have been traveling across the country, appearing on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” and various other talk shows. It seems the country’s beginning to fall in love with this talented group of cheerleaders and the new attention is beginning to challenge how we see cheerleading. Even if we don’t explicitly say it, people often view cheerleading as a lesser sport, if that. In organized sports, cheerleading is portrayed as complementary to another sport, not as the stand-alone sport that it has become. Go check out almost any American high school on a Friday night. Football is the sport, while leading cheers happens on the sidelines.
But cheerleading is a sport that deserves our recognition. We have failed to appreciate cheer and its competitive aspect, not considering the entire activity as a sport itself. Like many other athletes, cheerleaders practice for hours on end to accomplish amazing athletic feats.
They practice complicated tumbling passes across their blue mats, moving from cartwheels to flips to handsprings and the like. They do baskets, throwing girls up in the air where they turn and twist their bodies, and flash smiles before rapidly falling back into the arms of their teammates below, who are trained to catch their teammates safely and securely. They form pyramids, hoisting each other up and flipping on to each other’s shoulders, staying still for a moment to grin, and then flipping again.
What cheerleaders accomplish is rare and special — a combination of athleticism and grace.
To win a cheerleading competition, or to even perform in a halftime routine, a cheerleader and their team have to be in peak athletic ability and have been practicing consistently to be the best version of themselves, and better than all their competition. Sports, generally, require the same components — peak athletic ability and constant repetition that brings a competitor closer to peak performance.
So why is cheer regarded as a sideline activity before it is thought of as a sport?
One may suggest the element of performance and evaluation based on subjective measures separates cheer from traditional sports. While football’s measures of subjectivity are just referees’ calls, cheer’s measures of subjectivity are expansive, potentially including factors like style and beauty. But gymnastics and figure skating are built on similar bases of performance, and they’re definitively regarded as sports.
What may ultimately keep people from thinking of cheerleading as a sport is its historical origin — cheer started as an activity that entertained fans and provided encouragement for the sports team playing. Cheer was not built to highlight those who cheer, but instead the people on a traditional sports field. While its evolution into something so much more is obvious, we have failed to acknowledge its transition, still holding to the idea that cheer is a passive sideline activity that entertains fans with simple chants.
It’s time to forget cheerleading’s origin. The sport has become so much more than a group of people cheering on the sidelines. Competitive cheerleading is not the activity that it was and should be regarded as entirely distinct; the docuseries “Cheer” shows us that.
The show takes viewers though Navarro College’s 2019 season on the team’s quest for a national championship, highlighting the cheerleaders’ long hours spent in practice, injuries suffered on a regular basis and the mental stamina required to compete.
Cheer is forcing us to recognize the sport that cheerleading is and should be regarded as, forcing viewers to understand the gender stereotypes that accompany many people’s perception of the sport. The show touches on the difficulties men face in the cheer world. Their masculinity is commonly brought into question, as the guys on Navarro’s team compete in a sport that is still stereotyped as a women’s activity, when, in fact, it’s anything but.
And while the girls typically maintain a certain aesthetic with fully done hair and big bows pinned atop their heads, the show highlights how looks are the least of the cheerleaders’ priorities. The girls, just like the guys, are focused on getting stronger, more flexible, nailing their flips and full-outs in an athletic competition.
While cheerleading has a clear history of style and aesthetic, we should consider the astonishing ability of some of the participating athletes. Cheerleading stereotypes shouldn’t cloud our judgment of the sport.