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David Ramsey: Roger Goodell must act to stop NFL's pollution of cheerleading

May 3, 2018 Updated: May 5, 2018 at 7:33 am
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The Bronco cheerleaders perform during a timeout in the second quarter Sunday, Oct. 15, 2017, at Sports Authority Field at Mile High in Denver. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)

Leave it to the NFL to pollute cheerleading.

The Washington Redskins forced cheerleaders to serve as escorts and to pose and be body painted topless while wealthy supporters of the team leered. The Redskins until recently featured a “hot or not” feature on the team’s website, which allowed fans to grade cheerleaders on looks.

In a better world, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell would act swiftly and strongly in the same way he delivered justice to Tom Brady for deflating footballs. Alas, Goodell appears more interested in protecting pigskins than protecting young women.

The NFL issued a statement to The New York Times after crusading columnist Juliet Macur exposed outrageous practices by the Redskins. The league office, the statement said, “has no role in how the clubs which have cheerleaders utilize them.”

Find a role, Roger G. Today would be a great time to start.

In high schools and colleges all over America, cheerleading is thriving and evolving. Yes, there’s the traditional cheerleading of yesteryear, with yelling in support of the home team. President Dwight D. Eisenhower played linebacker at Army. He also led cheers for other Army teams. Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush were cheerleaders, too.

But there’s much more going on today than the traditional approach. Cheerleading teams compete, and we’re talking serious competition with serious athletes.

Just ask former Air Academy High and Colorado College soccer star Sarah Schweiss.

During her junior year at Air Academy, Schweiss stopped playing basketball. This decision left her with free time before spring soccer.

“I had always wanted to be a cheerleader,” Schweiss says.

So she gave cheerleading, both traditional and competitive, a shot. She was surprised and thrilled by what she found.

Schweiss was a superb soccer player, one of the best in local history. She scored 17 goals as a senior at Air Academy, including a 35-yard rocket to win the 4A title. She scored 27 goals at CC and was named the Mountain West’s top offensive player. She ran without ceasing, and without getting weary, on the soccer field.

But even she was not prepared for the rigors of cheerleading.

“I’d never been more tired,” Schweiss says of cheerleading practice. “It was so tough. There were times when I thought I couldn’t physically go any more. It’s definitely a lot harder than you would think, for sure.”

She had a blast and made friends. She enjoyed watching all the action going on around her. Not on the field. In the cheer section.

“It was awesome,” she says. “Everyone doing flips and back springs all while yelling at the top of their lungs. It was really cool.”

Schweiss is similar to most of us. The revelations about Redskins cheerleaders sadden her.

“Cheerleading is a sport,” she says. “I learned that because I was a part of it. I know what cheerleading is. It’s unfortunate to see this. It’s sad to see this. It’s a slipping away from the true heart of cheerleading.”

NFL owners can be wise and righteous, always a strong combination, and turn toward that true heart. In 1975, Cowboys general manager Tex Schramm started the flood of modern NFL cheerleaders, and his intentions were clear from the start. He wanted Cowboy cheerleaders to look more like Vegas showgirls than the cheerleaders you watched in high school.

Natalie Adams is a former cheerleader who teaches at the University of Alabama. She’s the author of “Cheerleader: An American Icon.”

The NFL, Adams writes, took “the wholesome All-American good girl and dressed her very provocatively, put her in tight pants and tops that showed a lot of cleavage." The NFL started a canyon between high school cheerleading and professional cheerleading, a canyon that grows wider every season.

The canyon now resembles that Grand one in Arizona. The Redskins scandal is a siren call for Goodell to act. He should use his power to stop the pollution.

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