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The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

Cheerleading is a sport, champions or not


A perspective on the sexist perception of female athletes

On April 5,  the SJU Cheer Team made history, being the first team to win a national cheerleading championship for St. Joe’s.

  Over the past five years, St. Joe’s Cheer has placed in both second and third place, but this year, we finished first, beating thirteen other teams in our division.

However, for myself and several others on the team, our triumph sparked a much deeper fulfilment within us—the unbridled approval of our peers that many of us had been waiting for.

Having been a cheerleader for a large part of my life, I have grown fatigued of tirelessly defending the status of cheerleading as a sport.

Though I am not entirely proud to admit it, a lot of what motivated me this season was the fantasy of winning a national title and finally receiving recognition that cheerleaders are constantly deprived of.

Even as I fell to my knees in rapture when we were announced as the winners on the final day of competing, a sense of relief overwhelmed me—I now had a reason to justify to myself and to the world that cheerleading warranted respect.

I find it incredibly hard to imagine in any other sport that the first thoughts of the victorious athlete center around the opinions of others. But as I held the trophy in my hands, surrounded by my teammates, coaches and parents, I was rudely confronted by the problem that even I was a part of: it should not take winning a national title for athletes to garner the respect we deserve. 

I have been a part of several other sports teams throughout my life and I can confidently say that the absence of respect and praise is not unique to cheerleading. The foundation of the issue is the rhetoric typically used when discussing women’s sports.

Strong and talented women are consistently undervalued if they are not easily categorical—female athletes are either highly fetishized as super human exceptions to the female kind or dismissed as just a girl with a hobby.

Stellar athletes like Ronda Rousey, Venus Williams and Serena Williams are often praised for their athletic abilities in a way that undermines them both as individuals and as professionals. I can easily recall students in my high school with Rousey as their wallpapers, amazed that someone “so hot” could be an example of exceptional athleticism.

Conversely, if you’re not one of the few who is idolized for your abilities, your endless work is outshined, simply because of your gender or the stereotypes surrounding your sport.

Female sports teams and athletes are also frequently pitted against each other in ways that men’s teams and male athletes are not.

This year for the men’s basketball Atlantic 10 Tournament, the cheerleading team, the dance team, the pep band and a handful of students all shared the bus ride to Brooklyn. Since there is limited space on the court, both the cheer and dance teams had to select only a small number from each team to represent St. Joe’s at the tournament.

While boarding the bus, a male St. Joe’s student, feeling brazen and justified, turned to a member of the dance team to ask where the rest of their team was, to which she politely explained the limited court space for the spirit squads. This student then confidently and loudly exclaimed, “Well that’s stupid, dance team is way better, we’d rather just have you and no cheerleaders.”

While it initially took me a while to get over the anger, this one student’s ignorance is a perfect emblem for the bigger issue.

In no parallel scenario would the same sentence be spoken about two men’s sports teams. It is only when speaking about the “inferior gender” do people feel comfortable and vindicated to make comparisons which are not apples to apples.

Just as you would not compare Michael Phelps with Michael Jordan, each a remarkable athlete from two vastly different sports, you should not feel compelled to assert that the cheerleading and dance are one in the same.

Each sport brings something unique to the game day experience, in addition to both teams now holding national titles.

I am slowly learning to accept the ignorance of my peers because in the end, the only thing that should matter is the way my teammates and I work together to strive for bigger achievements.

National championship or not, I will always feel endlessly indebted to the St. Joe’s cheerleading program for making me a better athlete and role model than I ever thought I could be. The title we have won is only the beginning.

All the athletes before me who were a part of St. Joe’s cheerleading have invested a part of themselves into this program that helped us bring home the trophy this year.

I can only hope, for the cheerleading alumni, for myself and for future St. Joe’s cheerleaders that this victory will be the first of many, and the start of a new way of viewing the sport that is so close to all our hearts.

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