This week’s Facebook post offering tips about prepping for Husky cheerleader tryouts became a kind of Rorschach inkblot test of what college cheerleading is all about.
Though it made just a brief appearance on the University of Washington’s cheer-and-dance-team Facebook page Monday night — with guidance about what to wear to team tryouts — it was met with strong reaction from those who said it objectified women and suggested the ideal candidate is a beachy blonde, and from those who said the backlash was much ado about nothing.
One thing is certain: By Wednesday afternoon, it had gone viral. By Thursday afternoon, it had gone global.
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NBC “Today Show” anchors Matt Lauer, Savannah Guthrie and their colleagues chatted about it for about a minute Thursday morning. The women anchors seemed taken aback by the specificity of the tryout-look demands. Lauer admitted he was confused by the whole thing.
UW officials Thursday were telling concerned UW fans that a part-time staffer who is also a coach created the post, and it was never meant to be an official communication.
The poster appeared on Facebook late Monday night and was removed by 8 a.m. the next morning — not because of a social-media backlash, but because the UW’s marketing department deemed the post “inconsistent with the values of the UW spirit program and the department of athletics,” said spokesman Carter Henderson.
But a few people in Seattle saved a copy before it disappeared, and reposted it. By Tuesday afternoon, a social-media backlash was in full force, prompting the regular media to weigh in.
“Relax, it’s OK for cheerleaders to look hot,” was the headline on a column by Kyle Smith for the always-provocative tabloid New York Post.
Smith unloaded on UW students for being so sensitive, and then concluded: “If you want to be a cheerleader, your hair should have ‘volume’ and your eyelashes should be ‘false,’ because that’s how cheerleaders roll. You don’t like it? Fine, do what everyone who feels the same way has been doing for decades: Sit in the bleachers, roll your eyes, make snarky jokes and stew in your jealousy.”
Tabloid rival New York Daily News had a very different take. It called the posting a big “OOPS!” and said the infographic was tone-deaf. “The graphic wasn’t any help for anything beyond physical appearance — which also encouraged women to put on false lashes and a ‘girl about town’ lipstick,” the Daily News said.
“Girl About Town” is the name of a fuschia-colored lipstick by the company MAC Cosmetics.
Nancy Anderson, a UW cheerleader for two years in the late 1960s, said Husky cheerleaders in her day were a seat-of-your-pants kind of team; they had no coach, did all of their own choreography, and drove themselves to the games (except for the ones in California).
“It was a wonderful experience … now when I read about these ‘tips,’ I’m embarrassed to say that I was ever a Husky cheerleader,” Anderson said by email, calling the pointers on the poster “racist, sexist and outrageous.”
Others defended the posting, saying it gave specific tips to women planning to try out for the squad. The requirement that women wear a black sports bra and midrise black shorts, they argued, put everyone in a generic uniform and the specific hair and makeup tips also helped even the playing field.
The post was patterned after two similar infographics that appeared online, one for the Louisiana State University Tiger Girls (which by Thursday had been removed from Facebook) and a Washington State University poster advertising “The Look” for Cougar cheerleaders.
The three all shared similar wording, although only the UW poster encouraged a “bronze beachy glow” and the MAC lipstick.
The WSU post, which featured a cheerleader in a long-sleeved cheerleading uniform, drew no controversy at all.
Some who commented on the UW post were concerned that the woman in the photo was white, suggesting that the ideal candidate was a blonde, white woman.
On their Facebook page, UW student government leaders wrote that “this goes against everything that many students have been working so hard for. An advertisement such as this completely objectifies women and creates barriers that only perpetuates the inaccessibility of opportunities that should be open for every student on this campus.”
Others lamented that the poster sent a message that hair and makeup were as important as physical talent and skill.
“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve engaged in the ‘cheerleading is not a sport’ argument,” wrote Hayley Sawyer, a columnist for the national online news site Sporting News. She noted that the UW dance and cheer squad has competed at the Universal Cheerleaders Association Nationals.
“Cheerleading involves physical prowess, mental focus and a high risk of injury just like any sport does. Girls of all ages put in hours on the mats, they get banged up doing all kinds of stunts, and they have to memorize hours of choreography.”
She concluded: “Until mistakes like Washington’s are stamped out, cheerleading will never be a sport.”