Skip to main content

NFL cheerleaders: Gratuitous sexism or all-American fun?

By Tom McGowan, CNN
October 25, 2013 -- Updated 1734 GMT (0134 HKT)
The Minnesota Vikings cheerleading squad, MVC for short, take to the field at London's Wembley Stadium. The Vikings played the Pittsburgh Steelers as part of the NFL's continuing International Series. The Minnesota Vikings cheerleading squad, MVC for short, take to the field at London's Wembley Stadium. The Vikings played the Pittsburgh Steelers as part of the NFL's continuing International Series.
HIDE CAPTION
Cheerleaders: Entertainment or titillation?
Cheerleaders: Entertainment or titillation?
Cheerleaders: Entertainment or titillation?
Cheerleaders: Entertainment or titillation?
Cheerleaders: Entertainment or titillation?
Cheerleaders: Entertainment or titillation?
Cheerleaders: Entertainment or titillation?
Cheerleaders: Entertainment or titillation?
Cheerleaders: Entertainment or titillation?
Cheerleaders: Entertainment or titillation?
Cheerleaders: Entertainment or titillation?
Cheerleaders: Entertainment or titillation?
Cheerleaders: Entertainment or titillation?
Cheerleaders: Entertainment or titillation?
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Cheerleaders have been involved in the NFL since 1954
  • They were first introduced as part of the Baltimore Colts marching band
  • The Minnesota Vikings are one of 26 NFL teams with cheerleading squads
  • Kaylee and Missy have both been Vikings cheerleaders for the last five years

(CNN) -- Bright eyes, sparkling white teeth, big hair and barely covered breasts, these are the women whose gyrating hips bring a hint of glamor to National Football League fields from New England to California.

The antithesis of the man-mountains they cheer on from the side lines, cheerleaders are the apple pie served up alongside the rib-eye steak of the NFL.

"It's entertainment, it's Hollywood, its spectacle," Joanne Gerstner, a past president of the Association for Women in Sports Media, told CNN.

The stop-start nature of American Football -- there are many breaks in play with games lasting up to three hours -- provides the opportunity for these pompom-wielding women to help keep fans' eyes fixed on the field.

"I think it's everyone's dream, if you're a dancer, to pursue that passion at a professional level," Missy Mooty, a 26-year-old member of the Minnesota Vikings cheerleading squad, or MVC, told CNN ahead of a game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Wembley in October.

Moving the 2022 Qatar World Cup
NFL sibling rivalry: Manning vs. Manning
NFL's pink sales under scrutiny

"This is the time of my life that it worked out, it happened to be a dream that came true so it was a great next step in my dance career."

Blog: Redskins -- racist or sporting exception?

Mooty and fellow MVC member Kaylee Munson are paid by the Vikings, but not enough to make a living, meaning cheerleading is combined with a career, full-time studies or balanced with family responsibilities.

"We like to say it's a part-time job, full-time commitment," said Munson, who works as a nurse in schools, teaching kids about healthy living.

Cheerleading first came to the NFL in 1954, when they were premiered by the Baltimore Colts as part of the team's marching band.

The spectacle snowballed and now most self-respecting NFL franchises wouldn't be seen dead without cheerleaders -- 26 of the 32 current NFL franchises have squads.

Munson and Mooty have been dancing all their lives, taking the well-trodden path into the NFL through high-school and college dancing or by competing with a studio.

"I had always danced growing up, so I thought maybe I would try out for the Vikings to expand on my dance career," said Munson. "So I gave it a shot, I tried out and made it my first year which was very exciting."

The skimpy attire a cheerleader is required to wear is water off a duck's back for two women with dancing backgrounds who work hard to sculpt and tone their bodies.

"In the culture of the dance world, that's just kind of the uniform," said Mooty. "We need to be able to move and our bodies, our lines, need to be defined ... (the uniform) can be very sporty and be very flattering."

"Of course, my grandma just loves our costume," adds Munson. "She thinks it's the cutest darn thing ever and loves the sparkles on it. Everyone has a different point of view."

Blog: Why the clocks never go back in U.S. sport

Levi's Stadium, future home of the San Francisco 49ers, will open next year in Santa Clara, California, and is expected to offer speedy Wi-Fi and Web-based TV throughout. The stadium will host Super Bowl L in 2016. Levi's Stadium, future home of the San Francisco 49ers, will open next year in Santa Clara, California, and is expected to offer speedy Wi-Fi and Web-based TV throughout. The stadium will host Super Bowl L in 2016.
NFL stadiums embracing tech
HIDE CAPTION
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
>
>>
NFL stadiums going high-tech NFL stadiums going high-tech
Backup quarterback Tim Tebow prays with his teammates and members of the New York Giants after their NFL preseason game in Foxborough, Massachusetts, on August 29. According to NFL.com, Tebow was released by the New England Patriots on Saturday, August 31. Critics have said the former Heisman Trophy winner doesn't throw well enough to be an NFL quarterback. Backup quarterback Tim Tebow prays with his teammates and members of the New York Giants after their NFL preseason game in Foxborough, Massachusetts, on August 29. According to NFL.com, Tebow was released by the New England Patriots on Saturday, August 31. Critics have said the former Heisman Trophy winner doesn't throw well enough to be an NFL quarterback.
Photos: Tim Tebow -- from NFL to college days
HIDE CAPTION
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
>
>>
Photos: Tim Tebow -- from NFL to college days Photos: Tim Tebow -- from NFL to college days
Golf's world No. 1 Tiger Woods has reclaimed his position as the world's highest-earning athlete, according to Forbes. The 14-time major winner picked up $13.1 million in salary/winnings in the 12 months to June 1, as well as $65 million from endorsements with companies such as Nike. Woods is thought to be close to resigning with the American sportswear giant. Golf's world No. 1 Tiger Woods has reclaimed his position as the world's highest-earning athlete, according to Forbes. The 14-time major winner picked up $13.1 million in salary/winnings in the 12 months to June 1, as well as $65 million from endorsements with companies such as Nike. Woods is thought to be close to resigning with the American sportswear giant.
1. Tiger Woods - $78.1M
HIDE CAPTION
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
>
>>
Tiger tops highest-paid athlete list Tiger tops highest-paid athlete list

Many cheerleaders also pride themselves on the work they do with their local communities, while some, like the New Orleans Saints demand the women have public speaking skills as well as dance technique.

But a harsher view of the cheerleading industry is that women dancing on the fringes of competitive sport is an echo from an age of sexism and misogyny.

"When the whole essence of your job is basically hanging out in a tiny bikini and a bandeau top, it kind of undercuts the rest of your argument that you are a well-rounded person," said Gerstner, who is also professor of media & sports at the University of Michigan.

A video released by the Miami Dolphins cheerleading squad showing women in bikinis dancing to Robin Thicke's blurred lines with the team's mascot "TD" arguably supports Gerstner's view.

"It's almost like in Paris, having the dancing girls doing the cancan while the guillotine is going down," added Gerstner, who views cheerleading as accessorizing women.

Mooty and Munson remain undeterred and as cheerleading enters its seventh decade in the NFL, it shows no signs of kicking off its cowboy boots and calling it a day.

"Cheerleading has a long tradition in the majority of American sports at both professional and amateur levels," NFL head of communications David Tossell told CNN.

"Cheerleaders are part of American football culture from youth leagues to the NFL and are part of the game day experience for our fans."

The question of whether that culture is one that degrades women is one which hangs over cheerleaders like Mooty and Munson.

Blog: The naked truth -- how close is too close?

Many negative stereotypes surround the cheerleaders, but Mooty enjoys challenging people's preconceptions.

"I think that's a big challenge of ours to overcome," she said. "We take a lot of pride in our uniforms and we like to use them to represent the team. It's part of our team spirit and part of the experience.

"I feel that if we offer a classy and poised portrayal, then hopefully that is the way that it is received. Like anything, it's in the eye of the beholder."

While the integrity of individuals like Mooty and Munson is unquestionable, Gerstner still feels cheerleading encourages people to judge women purely on their appearance.

"They might be intelligent, grounded amazing women but we're solely left to judge them by the outside packaging, which is getting skimpier and skimpier as cheerleading evolves in the United States.

"If cheerleaders are necessary, why are there no cheerleaders for any women's sports?"

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
U.S. Sport
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1153 GMT (1953 HKT)
The NFL International Series returns to London this year, and hopes are rising that Britain will one day have its own permanent franchise.
September 20, 2014 -- Updated 0310 GMT (1110 HKT)
The Hall of Fame quarterback gives an intimate account of the toughest fight of his life -- and how he won it.
September 20, 2014 -- Updated 0255 GMT (1055 HKT)
The greatest receiver in NFL history delivers some tough words on the NFL's scandals, plus talks his new title: "coach"
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 2148 GMT (0548 HKT)
CNN "Unguarded" host Rachel Nichols and Sports Illustrated's Robert Klemko discuss.
September 13, 2014 -- Updated 1538 GMT (2338 HKT)
Rachel Nichols questions Floyd Mayweather on his history of abusing women, including the mother of his children.
September 7, 2014 -- Updated 2211 GMT (0611 HKT)
The owner of the NBA's Atlanta Hawks is selling his stake of the team after he sent a racially charged email.
August 14, 2014 -- Updated 2258 GMT (0658 HKT)
Major League Baseball's Chief Operating Officer Manfred has been chosen to succeed Bud Selig as the MLB commissioner.
February 25, 2014 -- Updated 1254 GMT (2054 HKT)
With a growing audience boosted by the drama of ice hockey on show in Sochi at the Winter Olympics, can the sport capitalize on its popularity?
February 24, 2014 -- Updated 1800 GMT (0200 HKT)
Jason Collins became the first openly gay man to play in the NBA, wearing a Brooklyn Nets uniform in a game against the Los Angeles Lakers.
February 26, 2014 -- Updated 1401 GMT (2201 HKT)
USA Today called Madison Rising's performance of the "Star Spangled Banner" prior to a NASCAR race "spectacularly awful."
ADVERTISEMENT