Thursday, August 2, 2012

“Friday Night” Cultures: Football Players and Cheerleaders

Friday nights in the fall bring about a very important high school event: Friday night football games. Of course, there are two very important components to this event: the football players, and the squad that cheers them on. Now, upon first glance, one might not think that these two groups of people (who will hence forth be referred to as ‘cultures’) have nothing in common. However, once put under the microscope, a plethora of similarities begin to emerge and exist alongside the cultural differences.
As a cheerleader, I have had many football players try to convince me that cheer is easy, only to be proved wrong once put to the test. This can be attributed to many things, but the most prevalent is that while football players have a special form of training to prepare for “the big game,” cheerleaders spend hours in their own training to be ready to perform once the game starts. While these two cultures train for two vastly different activities, it is important to note that some of their workout methods are very similar. Just like football players, cheerleaders run and lift weights. We also have a set practice time that is crucial to attend. Our workouts focus on strength and endurance, just like football players, along with dance, synchronization, flexibility, tumbling and stunting, which football players do not have to worry about. Not to minimize a football players skill set or anything, but while they are out throwing a ball around and tackling each other, cheerleaders are performing complicated routines, stunts and tumbling passes, all of which are just as dangerous as taking a hit on the football field.
Danger is another field where cheerleading and football play equally, as it turns out. Both sports made’s top five lists for most dangerous male and female sports, with football turning in at number 3 for most dangerous male sport, and cheerleading ranking first among most dangerous female sports, followed by gymnastics, which is a component of cheerleading. In fact, it has been widely stated that cheerleading may be even more dangerous than football, but since the two sports involve such different activities it is impossible to tell. These statistics make sense, of course. In football, players are frequently tackled to the ground by people who either the same size or much larger while using excessive force. In cheerleading, athletes are being thrown in the air, performing difficult tumbling passes (or flips, in layman’s terms) and putting a large amount of stress on their joints, muscles and bones. With these things in mind, the frequent trips to the hospital make lots of sense.
There are a few things, though, where there are no differences between cheerleading and football. One of these topics of complete agreement is what athletes learn from participating in these sports, beginning with the old adage “there is no ‘I’ in team”. Athletes learn to participate as a group and trade in their individualism for the good of the group. Indeed, football teams and cheerleading squads are very collective cultures. The athletes also learn discipline, trust, the meaning of the words, dedication and perseverance, and how to give 120% in all things because if they don’t someone else will. That’s a lot of life skills to take in for two cultures that are stereotypically ignorant, if you ask me.
My favorite stereotype about cheerleading is that we’re all stupid. And as far as football players go, they love it as well. Another commonality between our cultures? The world thinks we’re all idiots. This is quite ironic, when the fact that cheerleaders turn in a national average of a B plus where grades are concerned, and although the exact national GPA for football players is unknown, many college football players make the news for not only being amazing athletes but great scholars as well. (Take that, general population!) In fact, GPA is a very important part of life for the non-professional members of these cultures. A grade point average of at least 2.0 must be held at all times to be eligible to play or even practice. This pushes the athletes to not only work hard in school, but to also excel in the academic arena. Professional members do not have to worry about grade point average, because obviously, they are no longer pursuing any type of education, and only working to make money.
Not that professional cheerleaders make much money. According to, professional cheerleaders only make $15-$50 (with the average price being $50) per game. So unlike NFL members, who make about $1.4 million a year, professional cheerleaders, who practice just as much and perform just like their male counterparts, also have to work full time jobs in order to cover living costs, and necessities for cheerleading, such as their uniform, hair products and travel expenses (which are not always covered).
Football and Cheerleading are quite obviously two very different sports and cultures, both of which fall into what I like to call the “Friday Night Culture” due to their similarities that can be found upon further inspection. From required tryouts for both teams to the ability to be a professional, similarities can be found where most observers only find differences. It really is a small world, after all.


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