There was a moment in the third season premiere of Friday Night Tykes that really bothered me. No, it wasn’t the scene where a listless kid was carried off the field by his parents. In fact, the moment I’m referring to was much more innocuous. It was the scene where cheerleaders were brought out to perform for the Texas Storm at their pep rally.
Here’s how the scene played out. After a quick pump-up speech by the head coach, his wife and team president Lori Hurt made the introductions:
You guys aren’t the only ones out here practicing every night. We also have some beautiful cheerleaders.”
As the girls made their way to the make-shift stage, the players begin to clap and cheer but the team quickly becomes rowdy. Lori tells them to settle down; when they don’t, one of the coaches threatens to make them run if they don’t cool it. When they finally start to oblige he adds,
Listen, enjoy yourselves.”
And the girls perform. Everyone applauds and the rally goes on.
In general, it was probably a pretty normal scene in the world of football. But from my point-of-view, the entire exchange was awkward. From the way Lori describes the cheerleaders to the way the other coach tells the boys to enjoy themselves, it’s like, way to teach these young men how to objectify women from an early age. Sure it’s a quick scene and an edited one at that, but keep in mind these kids, players and cheerleaders alike, are only about 10 and 11 years old. How early are we reinforcing archaic gender roles?
Moments like these make the news of women breaking ground in professional sports all that more important. Within the last twelve months, the NFL hired Sarah Thomas, the first female referee. Jen Welter became the first female assistant coach in the league, in a training camp/preseason internship role with the Arizona Cardinals. And just last week the Buffalo Bills promoted Kathryn Smith, making her the first full-time female assistant coach and further demonstrating that there’s room in the NFL for women too.
I mean, how excellent would it be for young girls, and boys, to be able to turn on a game and see that women can work alongside the players and not just perform for them? Let’s stop limiting women’s involvement in the NFL to a role that puts an emphasis on appearance. Not to knock cheerleaders, you can cheer if you want to, but that’s not everyone’s cup of tea. And for all those girls, it’s about time they can see themselves in the Jen Welter and Kathryn Smiths of the world.