At the Sidelines of the Super Bowl

Cheerleading, at least for the 26 out of 32 NFL teams that have cheerleaders, can be a big gig, especially if their team makes it to the Super Bowl. The women on the NFL cheer squads put hours into preparing for the games, appearances and calendar photoshoots. What exactly does it mean to be on the sidelines of America’s favorite sport?

On the Houston Texans cheer squad, it means nine hours of practice a week plus games, which adds up to an estimated sixteen hours, not counting prep time and appearances. Additionally, teams require that cheerleaders work or go to school part time. The requirements for becoming a cheerleader might surprise some. To start, cheerleaders are required to have a high school diploma or GED, be at least 18 years of age, meet the previously listed employment requirements, pay a tryout fee, provide a headshot and sometimes full body photos and their resume. Having met the requirements and turned in the paperwork, they can finally start the intense audition process. Teams hold classes for girls to learn dance moves, increase flexibility and heighten endurance. Some teams, like our very own Vikings, hold hair and makeup classes. The Patriots notably include a session run by a nutritionist. At auditions most require two-piece leotards and nude tights as well as full glam Game Day make-up. Auditions start either with freestyle dancing or with the coaches teaching a simple routine. The girls then perform the routine and about 50 qualify to move on to the next round of auditions, at which point interviews are scheduled.

Despite the stereotypical image of cheerleaders being young and skinny, there are no official height, weight, or age restrictions. In fact, Laura Vikmanis didn’t join the Cincinnati Bengals cheer squad until age 40. The cheer squads and individual cheerleaders are the subject of fewer controversies than their male NFL counterparts. If there are controversies,  they usually involve the  strict standards of appearance.  In 2017 the big controversy was cheerleaders suing their teams for fair pay.

Given the competitive auditions, long practice hours and the high expectations they must meet it’s surprising that cheerleaders don’t get more attention and respect for all of the hard work they put in.