SI Vault
Frank Deford
December 04, 1978
The New Year's Eve we did the town,The day we tore the goalposts down—We will have these moments to remember....*—FIRST IN A SERIES OF AMERICAN ROMANTIC MEMORIES
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December 04, 1978

Cheerleaders? No Way, Says This Observer, They're Cheerproviders

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Think about this, this is really telling: football is the only game to which men traditionally bring whiskey. At all other sports, they drink beer. Beer is a convivial beverage, symbolic of men in groups (and at their worst). Whiskey is what you drink with a woman (or when you have lost one or are dwelling upon one). And not only is whiskey part of a football game, but so is music, something the sexes share and warm to. People dress up more for football games; that is, they dress up for the opposite sex at a football game. Football games have always been used foremost as an excuse for commingling: for parties, dances, organized fraternity passion. Both sexes think of football—college football in particular—in terms of a whole weekend, while all other sports are more circumscribed spectator events and less sophisticated encounters.

The whole of football is a giant aphrodisiac. Sexy cheerproviders wouldn't be tolerated at, say, a baseball game, because then all the men would grow frustrated and afterward depart for taverns, there to consume more beer, to turn ugly and to have automobile accidents on the way home. But seeing sexy cheerproviders at football games is perfectly O.K. because the men leave with their own women.

"If women wear a little something extra in the right place it's called falsies. Why is it that if men do the same thing it's called shoulder pads?"

But hey, it works both ways. You've got to give a little to get a little. What's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. Honest women shouldn't get upset by the Dallas Cowgirls and all their spinoffs. Of course football is sexist. But football is sexist for everybody; it's equal-opportunity sexist.

That is the saving grace of football. Perhaps in our society, it is only at football games that both sexes get just the right slice of what they want. Men—as those few among us who have ever flipped through Hustler in a barbershop may know—prefer their fantasy graphic and to the point—hence, scantily clad cheerproviders. But women are romanticists. You have to take them to dinner. Have to. They dream, then engage in all sorts of shilly-shally. Wouldn't you think that basketball players would be the beau ideal among athletes: tall, lithe, lean, glistening bodies out there almost close enough to get a-holt of? But no, not a single basketball player has ever become a sex symbol. They're too close, too real.

But football players are the classic, stylized, masculine heroes: great-shouldered, powerful-legged, tough, uniformed. Plus they're distant and therefore unthreatening. In literature, in lore, in cartoons, on campus, it is the football players that women swoon over. Women always maintain that deep down inside they don't care for macho, brutish football types, that they like gentle, sensitive souls. But they vote differently with their eyes.

Consider: except for a passing loincloth fascination with swimmers ( Johnny Weissmuller and Buster Crabbe), women have tolerated only football players as athletic movie stars. This goes back half a century. Babe Ruth, Jack Dempsey, Bobby Jones couldn't pass muster in Hollywood, but as soon as Red Grange scored a few TDs, he was rushed into film. Johnny Mack Brown went from the Alabama Crimson Tide into Westerns. Of all the star athletes in the last decade or so, the four called to Hollywood for leading-man roles—Jim Brown, Don Meredith, Joe Namath, O. J. Simpson—were all football heroes. They even let Alex Karras play love scenes. Can you imagine Hollywood permitting Yogi Berra a screen kiss? Gump Worsley? Red Auerbach? But just because he's a he-man football player, they let Alex Karras kiss. It just goes to show.

I'm sure, too, that football players, like cheerproviders, understand their real function. Have you ever noticed football players before a game, clanging helmets and shoulder falsies with each other? It resembles nothing less than bull moose rattling antlers in mating season. It has been said of warriors that battles are really only fought for the women watching, and surely football must be played for the same motive. What else would possess boys to go upon the field in numbered armor in order to shake each other up on the play? For scholarships? Endorsements? A good pension plan? Hey, come on.

"Since hockey wants a TV contract, why do its players wear uniforms that look like diapers?"

So football is sexist. Big-deal revelation. Of course it's sexist. But it's a push. The men in the stands get to ogle all the near-naked cheerproviders, and the women get to dream about the V-shaped Adonises going forth to joust. No other sport so needs sex; no other sport so depends on sex.

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