Every Friday night on America's high school football fields, it's the same old story. Broken bones. Senseless violence. Clashing egos.
Not the players. The cheerleaders. According to a report by The Physician and Sportsmedicine, cheerleaders lose more time from their activity because of injury—28.8 days per injury—than any other group of athletes at the high school level. The University of North Carolina found that cheerleading is responsible for nearly half the high school and college injuries that lead to paralysis or death.
It's crazy, isn't it? We have girls building three-story human pyramids, flipping one another 30 feet in the air, and we give the boys helmets.
A buddy of mine has twin daughters, both cheerleaders. At the end of last school year one needed plastic surgery on her cheek after another girl's teeth went through it during a pyramid collapse; the other broke her hand and finger. They're not cheering anymore.
I don't hate cheerleading just because it's about as safe as porcupine juggling. I also hate it because it's dumb. The Velcroed-on smiles. The bizarre arm movements stolen from the Navy signalmen's handbook. The same cheers done by every troupe in every state.
What's even dumber is that cheerleaders have no more impact on the game than the night janitorial staff. They don't even face the game. They face the crowd, lost in their bizarre MuffyWorld. They cheer, they rah, they smile, they kiss, they hug. Meanwhile, Milford High just scored three touchdowns against their guys. A UFO could land at the 30-yard line, disgorging a chorus line of tiny, purple Ethel Mermans, and most cheerleaders would still be lacing the other way yelling, "We got the fever!"
Exactly what does a girl get out of cheerleading, anyway, besides a circle skirt and a tight sweater? Why do we encourage girls to cheer the boys, to idolize the boys? Why do we want them on the sideline when most of them could be between the sidelines?
Studies show that by the time otherwise smart girls hit high school, they start to raise their hands less in class, let the boys take the lead. Isn't cheerleading the same thing, only outdoors?
Look, I married a cheerleader. My sisters were cheerleaders. I could see it then: Cheerleading was just about the only way a girl could be a part of sports. Not now. Not in the age of Mia Hamm and Marion Jones and the Williams sisters. Not when most high schools offer as many girls' sports as boys'.
Oh, right, nowadays cheerleading is classified as a sport. There are now "cheer gyms," where kids go to learn to throw each other around like Frisbees. You can even watch the National High School Cheerleading Championships on ESPN, just after the Harley-Davidson Olympics. This is the event in which 408 girls named Amber attempt to create a human Eiffel Tower, screaming, "Two! Four! Six! Eight!" while displaying all their gums at once. I'm not saying it's not hard. I'm just saying it's pointless.