Last month, my amazing 12-year-old friend, Cait, earned a hard-fought spot on her middle
school’s cheerleading squad in our city. She was so honored and inspired that, right away – several months before cheerleading training even begins – Cait wrote her coach a note asking if they would consider cheering for girls’ basketball in addition to the boys’ teams.
When I learned what Cait had done, I admitted that I never noticed that most girls’ and women’s sports teams have no formal cheerleading squads on the sidelines. I was fascinated by Cait’s mission. I wondered if the reason for the lack of cheerleaders in female sports is the result of demand, fairness, sex, gender, social equality, or all (or none) of those things.
A couple of weeks after my conversation with Cait, I caught part of a TV talk show with a discussion about whether transgender athletes (who were born male but now identify as female) should be allowed to compete on their high school girls’ track and field teams. The two teens had recently placed first and second place, respectively, in the 100-meter race at Connecticut’s State Open Finals.
It was an interesting discussion by level-headed people with diverse backgrounds and points of view (read: non-Internet trolls). With honest statements such as, “I don’t know; that is interesting,” and, “I don’t know what is right,” the dialogue surrounded basic principles of fairness.
While watching, it occurred to me that if gender isn’t relevant to a sport then why is there both an NBA and a WNBA? If LeBron James decided to identify as female starting tomorrow and wanted to play for the Cleveland Rockers WNBA team, could he? If not, why not? Could someone whose body has LeBron’s strength play for the WNBA? Would the timing of his gender transition matter, even if he had played pro or college ball as a male? Conversely, I wondered if a male player who previously identified as female would earn a spot on a boys’ or men’s team.
It was terrific fodder for thought just a couple weeks after Cait sought my advice on how far to take her plight to allow her school’s cheer squad to cheer for the girls’ team, not just the boys’ team.
As a non-athlete business person, had someone pointed out that most professional women’s teams do not have cheerleaders, I might concur with the numbers argument – that there is not enough demand, ticket sales, media coverage, or advertising dollars, to support cheerleaders for women’s teams. But what is the argument for not having cheerleaders for middle school girls’ basketball teams in addition to middle school boys’ basketball teams?
Ever the annoying mother, I asked my middle school son why the girls’ teams did not have cheerleaders. He said, “I don’t know, because it would be weird to have girls cheer for girls.” I asked why and pointed out, “it’s not like they’re having sex or anything.” He replied, “eww”, and that pretty much ended the conversation.
Surely someone out there can tell me why girls’ sports teams don’t have cheerleaders. The game is the same. The over-zealous fans are the same. The chances of going pro are the same. But yet one gets a squad of choreographed cheerleaders, and one does not.