Back in October 1999, Columnist Rick Reilly wrote an article in Sports Illustrated mocking cheerleaders and cheerleading. Link is below.
As the father of a cheerleader, here’s my response:
Dear Mr. Reilly:
Oh, why did I cancel my SI subscription in August ’99? You may recall, from your long career writing from the sideline about what those between the sidelines do, it was that month when Trent Green went down in a blue and yellow heap on the Jones Dome turf during the Rams pre-season, his ACL DOA. After all, my sports year was as shredded as his knee, as some Arena League grocery clerk from Iowa named Kurt Warner removed his Aldi’s apron and trotted onto the field to replace Green.
I canceled SI right there. How could I know that this guy Warner would stack TD throws like cans of Campbell’s on empty shelves after double-coupon day.
So, not only did I miss the October ’99 issue with that same guy Warner on the cover, introducing the country to the Greatest Show on Turf, but more importantly, I missed the life-changing parental advice in your column in that issue titled “Sis! Boom! Bah! Humbug!” You may recall that article, warning parents and others of the “dumbness” of cheerleading. I hear you wrote a book about it.
You see, my daughter Abby was just seven months old when that article ran, having tumbled into our lives February ’99. But thanks to Trent Green’s knee, I missed your article, causing what I only now know, through you, was my spiral into parental depravity.
Fast forward 17 years. On the eve of my daughter’s high school’s last home football game of her senior year, she sent me your 1999 SI article. She’d hid it from me for four years, undoubtedly her cult’s directive.
I read the article, as she wildly smiled at me like Squeaky Fromme during the Manson Family trial. She knew it was too late, nothing I could do. As I finished it, a wave of revelation and shame washed over me. I peered out the window, expecting DFS and a SWAT team to arrive and forcibly remove my minor child from her criminally negligent parents.
“I didn’t know! I didn’t know!” I’d scream. “Tell it to the judge,” they’d say. “He’ll never hurt you again,” they’d say, comforting Abby, as they put their coats over her head to shield her from the news cameras outside my house.
You probably guessed where I’m going with this. It’s hard to type what I’m about to say, but it’s true. So, here it goes – I allowed my daughter to, well, be (gulp) a cheerleader. And this is even harder to admit – she’s the Captain of the squad. Please forgive me – of Reilly I knew not.
The devious Cult of Cheer brainwashed me for years. Thank you for showing me the evils and “dumbness” that lurk behind the Cheer Cult’s eerily real mask of accomplishment, pride, dedication, hard work, teamwork, charity, physical fitness, athleticism, discipline and just plain high-school fun. I now know all she really got from cheering was that “circle skirt and tight sweater.” How blind I was.
Because, as you aptly state, we certainly don’t “want them on the sideline when most of them could be between the sidelines,” I’ve instructed her to become a sports reporter like you. Writing from the sideline about those between the sidelines is way different than cheering from the sideline about those between the sidelines. After all, you face the field, and sometimes, I hear, you can even see the field over the laptop, the tray of nachos and an expanding gut as you sit in a chair for the three hours of the game, night after night.
And maybe she can even marry a cheerleader, like you. She had a male cheerleader on her squad. He didn’t wear a circle skirt and tight sweater, but oddly, he too was named Amber, as you accurately point out of all cheerleaders. (Tell your wife Amber hello. I messed that one up with my daughter Abby too. Got the “A” part right, though, so I got that going for me, which is nice).
And writing, like you, I told her, leads to traditionally happy and healthy people, without the dangers of cheering. Look at Edgar Allen Poe, Stephen Crane, Theodore Roethke, Herman Melville, Delmore Schwartz, Scott Fitzgerald, William Faulkner, and Ernest Hemingway. Sure, they all died of alcoholism after decades of torment, but they never suffered a “broken hand and finger” or a tooth through the cheek as those poor twins did from cheering. I’d take Cirrhosis, tremors and suicidal depression over a broken finger. Duh.
So, thank you. While I failed for years (thanks to Trent Green’s knee), I now know.
Your new disciple, Dan