Black Cheerleaders Are Calling for Change. Will the NFL Listen?
According to Jacie Scott, a former Dallas Cowboys cheerleader, the standard of beauty in professional cheerleading is white, European. In the years she was on the roster from 2012 to 2016, Scott, who is black, never wore her natural hair.
"It never occurred to me that I could start over as a cheerleader and rock my natural hair because I hadn't seen it," says Scott. Instead, she wore her hair relaxed, and when the heat did so much damage that she experienced an extensive break, she added extensions.
Cynthia L. Robinson, Ph.D., Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Black Studies at the University of Nebraska, Omaha, says black women get rid of their curls because of white predominance. People view straight hair, lighter skin, and smaller noses as more beautiful, she says. "Black women have had to change our hair since we were planted in order to be accepted," says Robinson. "I would imagine these cheerleaders would know without even asking to straighten their hair."
When women audition for pro cheerleading teams, former cheerleaders and dance teachers usually advise them to style their looks based on what they see on the team - and this is especially true for black cheerleaders. "They feel like there are only a certain number of spots available for minority cheerleaders," says Scott, who was one of six black cheerleaders for two years and one of three black cheerleaders for the other two years. "Nobody ever said that, it's just how we feel. It's almost like we're going to compete against each other to get that spot instead of a hug. You often see who's on the team and how they look." Clear. They like them and what they look like, so I'll try to look that way so I can show that I can see the part and be on the team. "
Jacie Scott cheers the Dallas Cowboys
In 2018, Sideline Prep, a company that helps aspiring professional cheerleaders prepare for pro dance prep classes and auditions, released a YouTube video titled "Should I Wear My Natural Hair to My Pro Cheer Auditions?" . In the video, GeNienne Samuels, CEO and President of the company, urges viewers to do their research before deciding whether or not to wear natural hair.
"You have to find out what the current look of the team you want to audition for is," she says in the video. “Go to their website, check out their team photos and check out the diversity on the team. Check out the hairstyles on the team, check out the haircuts, check out the hair lengths and really try to find out Are you open to natural hair? Are you open to curly hair? What is the current situation with your team? "
The Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders (DCC) audition page states, "Your hair should be worn and in a current style that matches your facial features. Make sure your hair isn't hiding your face. You can call Tangerine Salon, ours official hair care partner to schedule an appointment to get the look and style that will best suit your audition. "Since Tangerine is DCC's official hair care sponsor, cheerleaders reportedly receive free service, but Scott says when they are in Team, she decided to pay her own money to go to a salon with a stylist who is more familiar with black hair. The DCC now has a partnership with Rose Style Studio, which specializes in black women's hair. (The Dallas Cowboys did not respond to requests for comment.)
Danetha Doe, who was a cheerleader for the Indianapolis Colts from 2007 to 2009, was one of six black cheerleaders in the Colts' squad in her freshman year. She wore a fabric during her two years on the squad and says there has never been any conversation about how she would wear her hair; Instead, she felt that it was only understood that she was wearing a fabric.
Also, according to Doe, cheerleading choreography requires hair movements. "Often times [the choreography] involves whipping the hair," says Doe. "When you have natural black hair, our hair texture doesn't lash like that."
"We had a leadership change in our cheer program about eight years ago, so we don't know exactly what the cheerleaders were told before that point," said Steve Campbell, vice president of communications for Colts, via email. "But if a former cheerleader ever felt uncomfortable or marginalized as a member of our team, then that's just wrong, and we are very sorry. We strive to empower and elevate our cheerleaders and are very proud of our we would not allow something like this to happen today. "
Even when a team hugs a black woman with natural hair, the curls are usually looser. Robinson believes this is often because the tighter the curls, the more African they appear. "It's all going back to the race," she says. "The further you can get away from African ancestors, the better."
Alex, who refuses to use her real name for fear of retaliation, is Black and currently an NFL cheerleader. The standards of beauty for black cheerleaders go beyond the hair: Black women are "usually" more muscular and curvier, she says, which doesn't always go with a team's aesthetic. "If you look at our team in general, you'll see a very similar body type across the board," says Alex. "I think that definitely comes from ownership over the years. And I say tradition, but tradition can always be changed."
Some NFL cheerleading teams applaud the natural hair of black women. Jamie Ramirez, who cheered the New England Patriots from 2018 to 2019, said she was the only black Afro-Latina cheerleader on the team in her sophomore year. She wore her hair naturally and says teammates and fans liked it.
Courtesy Jamie Ramirez
“I feel like everyone was excited to see a different look,” says Ramirez. "They were very used to seeing long, straight or wavy or curly hair. So what they saw was someone with a different texture that looked like Afro - they were really excited to see something different."
There are no black owners in the NFL. Of the 26 NFL teams with cheerleading teams, three (the Miami Dolphins, Washington Football Team, and the Atlanta Falcons) have black directors. Directors are ultimately responsible for hiring cheerleaders, but teams are asking alumni, sponsors, front office executives, and choreographers to sit on the jury, says Mhkeeba Pate, a former cheerleader for the Seattle Seahawks (called Sea Gals, as godfather to them cheered) 2011 to 2017) and moderator of the Pro Cheerleading Podcast. Auditions usually include a preliminary round of improvisational dancing, then a choreographed combo, followed by the final round, which usually includes an interview and a solo dance. Some teams take part in the training camp where cheerleaders learn to dance for weeks and are cut along the way.
Pate conducted an unscientific poll of her podcast listeners that found that roughly 17 percent of NFL cheerleaders are black. Godfather regularly interviews former and current pro cheerleaders to shed light on the industry, and she says she also speaks to women privately. "It's surprising to hear how much the front office has invested in the selected cadres," says Pate. "'I've also heard different versions of this. They talk about the kind of look they want for the team. Whether or not a woman has" the look "is subjective and" if there is input from above the organization around that. " what this look was supposed to represent ... it just ends in a vicious circle, "she says.
Says Alex, "As much as the directors of the [Cheer Squad] want to introduce a new look, at the end of the day you still have to respond to [Possession] and the standard they had on their mind for the past 30 years." She also says if you want to know what the owner of an NFL team thinks is beautiful, check out the cover of the cheerleading team's swimsuit calendar.
In addition to ownership, cheerleaders record the jury during auditions. If the panel isn't diverse, Scott says, the squads will most likely reflect that. “If you have the same eyes, you will get the same thing over and over again,” explains Scott. "If you don't diversify your jury, your view of beauty will stay the same. And I think that's exactly what happened."
Monica Arrington, a black woman of African descent and a former cheerleader for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from 2011 to 2013, says she cheered no more than three other black women out of a group of 34 women. (The Buccaneers didn't respond to a request for comment.) She says the NFL cheerleading teams should purposely represent the soccer teams they are cheering for, considering the NFL teams are 70 and up, according to the Institute for Diversity Percent colored people are ethics in sport.
Black women should get the chance to form pro cheerleading teams, Arrington says. "There are a lot of black women who are great at the sport and we know they will only choose a few of us," she says. "All we do is replace each other. We can never coexist in great quality. So deliberately looking at diversity is a big thing and I hope we can grow towards it, especially in the NFL. "
More stories about hair:
Becca Seun creates cosplay wigs for afro-structured hair here
At home, black hairdressers go back to their roots
Niá Pettitt opened her dream salon and COVID-19 closed it
Finished reading? Check out Shalom Blac's 10-Minute Make-Up Routine:
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