The Cheerleader Awards

What would EVER possess someone to give out body part awards to cheerleaders?

This astounding, depressing story, out of Wisconsin, not only makes me wonder about the ethics alarms of everyone involved. It makes me wonder about whether such alarms exist in out species.

Kenosha’s Tremper High School  cheerleading squad held its annual banquet last March,  and handed out some “gag awards” to members of the squad. Among them:

  • The Big Boobie Award. for the girl with the biggest breasts. The coach giving the award joked that the girl  concussions when she ran because  her “enormous boobs” might flip-up and knock her out.
  • The Big Booty Award.  The coach presenting that one said: “We love her butt. Everybody loves her butt.”
  • The String Bean Award, given to a  freshman who “was so light and skinny.”
  • The previous year, a blonde wig was awarded to a cheerleader for being a “ditzy girl.”

The one hundred guests at the event included many parents. Apparently the coaches were surprised that many of them had problems with the tenor of the “awards.”  As this tear’s awards approached, and after the school and its coaches had brushed aside the complaints, arguing that it was all in good fun, the ACLU interjected itself for some reason. (A parent sicced the civil rights group on the school.) From the Times story:

American Civil Liberties Union, which on Tuesday sent Kenosha Unified School District a formal warning that it might sue, saying that it had “failed to take any meaningful corrective action” in the case. The coaches, the A.C.L.U. said, had continued to make inappropriate comments to the girls, including using “harassing language towards cheerleaders during practices.” It said the district was enabling sexual harassment and in doing so was violating federal nondiscrimination and equal protection laws. The A.C.L.U. asked the district to appropriately discipline the cheerleading coaches and to institute mandatory anti-harassment training for all district employees. If the district refuses and does not take steps to enact policies safeguarding the girls, the organization will consider all options, including filing a lawsuit, said Emma Roth, a lawyer for the A.C.L.U. Women’s Rights Project. “It’s so important that we intervene at a young age and girls are taught their worth and are treated equally,” Ms. Roth said. “When that doesn’t happen, they carry this message for the rest of their life.”

Well, that did it. The school district capitulated, saying in a statement  “a clear expectation has been set that awards of this nature are not acceptable and are not to be given at Tremper cheerleading banquets going forward.”

Observations:

  • Having a cheerleading squad is itself what I call a “pre-unethical condition.” The squads and the tradition has always been overtly sexual in nature, with the cheerleaders the object of male fantasies in magazines, movies and student bodies.  The culture of cheerleading is a Bizarro World ethics problem: how can the activity be ethical, equitable, fair and inoffensive to non-participants when it is based on appearance and attractiveness to the opposite sex? Unattractive teens don’t get to be cheerleaders. Being chosen signifies, in the social strata of high school and college, that a student is desirable and an appropriate object of male lust. Cheerleading is objectification by definition.

It is rare to see cheerleaders on the sidelines for women’s sports. As far as I can determine, there are none in the various professional female sports leagues. Why do you think that is?

  • Do cheerleaders tease each other about their physical flaws and assets? Of course they do. It would be the duty of a coach, however, to discourage this as it easily could become harassment.

Teasing by the students in the relative privacy of the locker room, however, is not comparable to teasing in public.

  • Do you wonder why men don’t understand what sexual harassment is, and why women don’t know where the lines are, after this episode? An employer who joked about an employee’s “big boobs” or said that he “loved her butt,” even once, would be guilty of actionable sexual harassment per se. Yet these adults in Kenosha are modelling this behavior, openly and in public, as if it is normal and harmless!

If the coaches talk like that about the girls in public, how do they talk when the parents aren’t listening?

  • From the article:

    “It is not the first time the A.C.L.U. has confronted the district. After a contentious fight with the organization, the district only recently dropped a dress code policy that barred girls from wearing yoga pants, leggings and tank tops and then, the A.C.L.U. said, selectively enforced it.”

The contradictions here make my head explode, on all sides. So the school tries to de-sexualize female attire, and the ACLU objects. Then the ACLU is shocked—shocked!-–when the cheerleaders attract sexual comments.

  • The rationalizations put forth by the school and its staff are also stunning.  The now dismissed female coach behind the awards argues that the Big Boobie and Booty awards were “a huge hit and truly lots of laughs and fun” and were not meant to hurt anyone. “Their parents thought it was the funniest thing.” She also pointed to the parents of the Big Boobie Award winner, who said that their daughter was amused by the honor and “is not shy about the fact that she earned it fair and square.”

Morons. The fact that some, even a majority, find inappropriate conduct “funny” or enjoy it does not make the conduct appropriate. Mocking any woman’s physical features, or defining a woman by her body parts, is uncivil, disrespectful, corrosive social behavior. Doing so to girls is worse. Adult doing so who are charged with teaching and civilizing students is worse yet.  “I didn’t mean to hurt anyone” when the conduct is this obviously wrong is no defense; it just means “I am unfit to live in civilized society, untrustworthy, and must not be allowed to teach children. Fire me.”

  • On balance, the world would be a better place if cheerleading by all-female squads ended. It encourages and reinforces unethical attitudes and encourages societally harmful conduct by both women and men. I assume that the culture in Kenosha is hopeless: the coaches should be sacked, and the cheerleading program should be eliminated.

Its existence will always be a pre-unethical condition.

  • Back to the ACLU: I don’t believe it should have been involved in this. The organization is supposed to fight for free speech. In this case, it is fighting against free speech. Wise or not, workplace speech rules and harassment law are speech restrictions.  Even though I agree with their position here, the ACLU isn’t the right group to advocate it it. I would feel safer if the ACLU was defending the coaches. This is one more indication that the organization has become just another generic progressive agenda advocacy group.

10 thoughts on “The Cheerleader Awards

  1. Oy! Must my home state (WESconsin, as Other Bill would put it) continue to seek large piles of $#!T in which to leap, from WAY up high, with both feet and a resounding KERSPLAT?

    “The now dismissed female coach”

    “Coaches” (plural) were mentioned. I’ve mercifully hit my NYT “free” article limit, were the others female as well?

    Anywho, that reminds me of that Cincinnati-area recreational basketball team’s offensive jerseys.

    Seriously (in my best Dr. Phil voice) “What were they thinkin’?”

  2. Great post, Jack. Agree with all of it – but invite you to consider that there’s even more unethical crap to the story.

    I’m not gonna bother to find some relevant YouTube vids – interested Ethics Alarms readers can do so for themselves. “Cheering” has become something of a “sport” within itself. Some of these groups are co-ed (does that term even have relevance these days?) and some are all-female. Essentially, however, there are cheer squads which exist ONLY to compete with other cheer squads.

    The logic is that the greatest cheering requires as much athleticism, practice and skill as the main show on the field. That’s arguably true, and there’s actually a twisted logic to this; these competitive cheer squads are half high-school football and half Cirque du Soleil (but without Cirque’s safety standards).

    Watch a 90-pound gal get tossed to the top of a three-high and miss, without benefit of a harness and belay line, and watch something potentially even worse than the NFL. At least NFL players are getting paid big bucks. These “cheer” teams are supported by parents.

    It’s a little like those beauty pageants for five year olds would be if the kids were sent onstage with knives and license to use them.

    • “It’s a little like those beauty pageants for five year olds would be if the kids were sent onstage with knives and license to use them.”

      “Toddlers And Tiaras And Tantos”? Does wishing that were a real show make someone a bad person? Asking for a friend.

  3. A long time ago in a galaxy far away I was a bigger nerd than I am and was part of the organizing committee of our Model UN. We had real awards AND gag awards, and we were very methodical about keeping the latter off the record and away from any external prying eyes (officially the sponsoring teachers objected, in reality they looked the other way as long as we were discreet). Most of the ones we gave out were silly jokes, maybe a couple were risqué, and only if the situation was unlikely to be misconstrued (I distinctly remember a “sexiest legs” to a participant who managed to tear her stockings every single day of the event). We awarded them during the last break before closure and made sure no public was present (claiming that the real awards voting and count were happening at that time, which is true, but took less than three minutes). If we ever did something like the booty award we’d have lost so many privileges our fellow organizers would have banished us. I can’t get in the mind of someone who’d not reject this idea as soon as it popped in their heads.

    Then, we also had the unofficial organizer party at the end of the year, with its own set of awards, that I’m sworn to secrecy… but that was totally unsanctioned and only happened to include the same set of people by coincidence.

  4. You’re right that cheerleading is an activity that expects the girls participating to be attractive, but many other girls’ sports expect grace, athleticism, and beauty. One of my daughters participated in her school’s cheer squad (which occasionally had male participants, when guys tried out for the squad) and also participated in a competitive cheer squad.

    My observations:
    1.) While cheerleaders are often viewed sexually (I haven’t forgotten what it was like when I was in high school), if the coach of my daughter’s squad had overtly encouraged such activity, he and I would have had a very serious and unpleasant talk, after which he would have discontinued the practice. I feel that any father should have the presence to address such issues effectively without calling on outside organizations. Perhaps I’m just old fashioned that way.

    2.) Safety standards in cheer are loo lax. My daughter ended up in the emergency room several times while participating in various events.

    3.) Cheer was a worthwhile activity for my daughter, who found the skills she had learned as captain of her cheer squad helpful later when she joined the Army. (“It’s easy, Dad. All you have to do is make sure your appearance is just right in every detail, keep a positive attitude, be where you’re supposed to be every time, and coordinate what you’re doing with the rest of your team. It’s just like cheer.”)

  5. Cheerleading has become a sport in and of itself. The people (boys and girls) who do it well are accomplished dancers and gymnasts. Dancers and gymnasts tend to be far more attractive than the general population because of the amount of time they spend in physical activity. Also, as with dancing and gymnastics generally, vastly more women are interested in the sport as compared to men.

    All that being said, I agree that cheerleading is sexualized — especially at the professional level. I also agree that there is an inherent popularity contest involved at the high school (and probably college) level — but again, more attractive people tend to be more popular.

    I do know of some schools (including one where a friend’s daughter is a gymnast) where the girls are very good, have advanced to the State’s finals, and wear appropriately modest outfits for teenage girls. These girls are amazing athletes and I am in awe of what they can do.

    I’m just glad that I am raising band and drama geeks.

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