The Truth, Mainly - 08/27/1990

Pompoms, embarrassment sprout during 'cheerleading season'
by Leon Satterfield

This time of year I get uneasy, full of a vague sense of impending disaster, of catastrophe lurking just around the corner. And it's not just because my garden is spewing out zucchini the size of nuclear submarines or because hay fever season is about to begin.

It's because the outbreak of cheerleader season is upon us. The first football games are only days away and the dread pom-pom buds are about to burst all around us.

Spring and summer sports like track and baseball are pastoral and restful and serene— largely because there are no cheerleaders. But football season brings them out of their summer clinics full of frantic pep and the latest routines; basketball season, indoors and cramped, puts them almost literally in our laps.

That's why I sit as high in the bleachers as I can. I tell people it's because I get a better view of the whole playing field, but I'm really trying get away from the cheerleaders. From up there I can pretend not to see them.

Because cheerleaders embarrass me. When they come cartwheeling onto the field, I feel like a peeping tom and I look away.

I may as well admit it: I look on them as sex objects. I know I shouldn’t say it. I know it's not very liberated, but I just can't help it. It's the way I was brought up.

I grew up in a town where we'd all have been aghast at the notion of a male cheerleader. Males were supposed to be the objects of the cheers. And only the sexiest girls became cheerleaders—on the valid assumption that it's a lot easier to produce crowd noise if you can first get the crowd's interest. The most inherently interesting subject in our town was sex.

Probably that's not the way things are in this enlightened age. Probably nubile girls in short skirts can jump and cavort and squeal without arousing the libido of the crowd, and probably they can do it in total innocence.

If you were to ask them what they are doing, probably not many would say, "Why, sir, I am publically displaying my body in provocative stances in order to appeal to the prurient interest of the opposite sex so that they will make loud noises which the noseguard who's just had his eye gouged will interpret as support for his efforts."

Such a notion would cause most cheerleaders to collapse their pyramids in flustered indignation. They know that they're really promoting school spirit and homecourt advantage because that's probably what they're told at the cheerleader clinics.

But in my hometown, the cheerleaders didn't go to clinics. They made it on their sex appeal—and the boys, whether in the stands or on the team, watched and ogled. The coach would have to snap his fingers and say "Hey!" to get us out of our fantasies and back in the game. We didn't have a very good win-loss record, but that seemed secondary.

I continued to ogle cheerleaders for a couple of decades, and was happy doing it. Then my kids grew up and I was horrified one day to realize that I was ogling my daughter's classmates.

It seemed to me a bad idea that anyone in my daughter's generation should be ogled, especially when the ogler was a dirty old man like me. Then it further occured to me that every cheerleader who ever sisboombahed was in the same generation as somebody's daughter and, more shocking, was even somebody's daughter herself.

That took the tuck right out of me.

That's when I stopped ogling and averted my eyes. That's when I started being embarrassed by cheerleaders. That's when I started to dread the beginning of cheerleader season.

Don't get me wrong. I don't object to sexual displays, to ritualized come-ons, serious or not. But I like them best when the sender and the receiver of the signal agree on what's being signified. When those displays are acted out by Girl Scouts all innocent of how they're being interpreted by dirty old men like me, I grow uneasy.

And when I remember that those kittenish bumps and grinds are coming from somebody's daughter, I squirm. I look away and wait for spring.


Satterfield is a college professor and writes as a means of discovery.

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