A brief History of Cheerleading, Cheerleaders and their Uniforms

The Weird Glamour of the Cheerleader

As an English male, although I know little about American football, the concept of the cheerleader has a strange fascination for me.

You see, we have no equivalent in the British Isles. The nearest thing is probably the old fashioned beauty contestant but they were banned from our TV screen years ago for being ‘politically incorrect’.

So we Brits watch our Premiership football with no female flesh, sexy uniforms, pom poms or high kicks in view. The nearest thing to glamour in English soccer is a glimpse of the footballer’s Wives And Girlfriends (WAGs) seated in the director’s box.

Therefore our English perception of cheerleaders comes primarily via High School Movies or an occasional chance viewing of the Super Bowl highlights on UK TV. Again British culture doesn't include the American High School or the cliché characters that inhabit them, such as the jocks and cheer leaders.

To the British, therefore, the cheerleader is an exotic bird in flamboyant plumage, slightly weird but glamorous and not part of our everyday experience or our local wildlife.

Modern Cheerleader, with Exotic Plumage - TheTampa Bay Buccaneers
Modern Cheerleader, with Exotic Plumage - TheTampa Bay Buccaneers

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Born in the USA

In America, cheer leading is often described as a sport in its own right with serious national competitions to chose the best teams.

Cheer leading includes elements of tumbling, dance, jumps and stunts and was originally intended to encourage the crowd to support and cheer on their own team.

There are literally millions of Americans actively involved in cheer leading making it one of the nation’s most popular pastimes. There are also around 100,000 active cheerleaders in other parts of the world including the UK.

Unfortunately, I haven’t located any British ones yet or where they practice. Incidentally, my closest encounter with real cheerleaders came some years ago when I was at a conference in Chicago.

A sign in the hotel lobby announced the HoneyPots (sweetly named cheerleaders of the Chicago Bears) were practicing in the hotel that evening. I saw them arriving in their winter coats (Chicago is ice cold in November) but unfortunately the practice session was held in private!

Did you know the 2011 Super Bowl between the Green Bay Packers and the Pittsburgh Steelers is the first game since 1968 NOT to feature cheerleaders? So read on to get your fix of those pom pom waving girls!

Brief History of Cheer Leading and Cheer Leaders

Class of '59 - Old Time Cheerleading
Class of '59 - Old Time Cheerleading
Cheerleaders from 1969
Cheerleaders from 1969
Cheerleaders from the 1970s
Cheerleaders from the 1970s

Cheer leading originated at the University of Minnesota around 1898 when a student, Johnny Campbell, directed a crowd to chant and cheer. This developed into a ‘yell leader squad’ of 6 male students.

By 1923 women began to get involved too, partly due to the relative lack of college sports for girls. Megaphones and gymnastics were added around this time and today around 97% of cheerleaders are female although there is a much high proportion of men involved at college level.

During the 1960s National Football League (NFL) teams began to introduce cheerleaders. The first being the Baltimore Colts. In the 1970s the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders became particularly popular with their rauncy dance moves and revealing outfits.

More exposure followed (those revealing uniforms again) when they performed at the 1976 Super Bowl and they established a trend where NFL cheerleaders became more like professional dancers and no longer directly encouraged the crowd to chant or cheer.

Meanwhile, traditional cheer leading began to incorporate more complex moves and stunts and the National High School Cheer leading Competition was first televised nationwide in 1983.

Today, cheer leading is most closely associated with American football and basketball. Major League Baseball first included cheerleaders in 2003 while the ICC Twenty20 Cricket World Cup, held in South Africa in 2007, was the first international cricket tournament to have cheerleaders.

Cheerleaders - New England Patriots
Cheerleaders - New England Patriots
The cheerleader - Raw Energy and Razzamatazz!
The cheerleader - Raw Energy and Razzamatazz!

Sociology of the Cheerleader

Cheerleaders are one of the major icons of the American Dream. Healthy, fit, happy young women who occupy traditional, small-town America. A land of celebration, healthy innocence, patriotism, God, Motherhood and Apple Pie.

But today they can also be found in an altogether wilder frontier where pubescent sensual fantasy and seduction clash with the raw sexuality of the lap dancer. But fortunately the wholesome innocence remains.

Even the raunchiest of cheerleaders perform in the fresh air before an open sky to cheering crowds and razzmatazz. Meanwhile their darker sisters, lap dancers and strippers, perform in a more private, secret and shadowy setting to the applause of dollar bills.

Cheerleading Movie Poster - Bring It On (2000)
Cheerleading Movie Poster - Bring It On (2000)
High School Cheerleaders of 1955
High School Cheerleaders of 1955

Cheerleading Poll

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Cheerleader Movies

You can measure something of the hold that the Cheerleader has on the American Psyche by the study of movies, books and magazines. Cheerleader movies are almost a cinema genre in their own right.

There is the somewhat cheesy, feel-good Bring It On (2000) movie franchise staring Kirsten Dunce. This movie was followed by the unimaginatively titled Bring It On Again, followed by Bring It On - All or Nothing and finally Bring It On - In It To Win It.

While the darker side of cheer leading is reflected in Cheerleader Camp (Horror) and darker Movies like Death of a Cheerleader.

Academic Cheerleaders

The Internet features several sites offering papers and essays for sale relating to cheer leading studies. This indicates 2 alarming facts:

  • That Cheerleading is a subject for serious academic study
  • That many studying cheer leading are happy to cheat

Perhaps an indication that many cheerleaders find the practical side of things easier than the academic.

The Future?

Some may say the very existence of cheerleaders is sexist. Some that the art and sport of cheer leading is trivial and belongs only in history books.

But in these recessionary, downturn times isn't anything that celebrates youth, beauty, fitness and success worthwhile?

Isn't this simple expression of exuberance and joy a good thing? If only to recapture the American Dream and make older men like me feel young again?

So ladies, get out there and buy some pom poms and a cheer leading outfit today. Then send morale in your house through the roof with an impromptu cheer in the living room.

That should get the man in your life on his feet and out of his comfy chair in front of the TV. Of course, what you do with him next is entirely up to you!

UCLA Cheerleader - Would This Get your Man from his Armchair?
UCLA Cheerleader - Would This Get your Man from his Armchair?

History of Cheerleaders and Cheerleading

Simple Cheer for Recessionary Times - Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Simple Cheer for Recessionary Times - Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Comments 17 comments

teeshirts profile image

teeshirts 7 years ago from San Diego,CA

Thanks for sharing this, it was an interesting read :)


Georgiakevin profile image

Georgiakevin 7 years ago from Central Georgia

Great hub. Great research. I learned a lot about cheer leading & I am High School teacher in Georgia (USA)!


SiddSingh profile image

SiddSingh 7 years ago

Interesting hub.

Incidentally, as in UK, in India also cheerleaders are known mostly through movies. Yet, last year the IPL introduced cheereleaders to Indian viewers. Apparently, a lot of them were flown in from the US (where else)!


Rik Ravado profile image

Rik Ravado 7 years ago from England Author

Teeshirts - glad you enjoyed (PS: Teeshirts may be great in San Diego but not in the UK in February!)

Georgiakevin - Yes it has never really caught on in the UK.

SiddSingh - Yes the IPL is very innovative as is Australian Cricket. UK cricket is stuck in the past - perhaps that's why we don't play so well. Maybe cheerleaders would liven up the UK game and improve our scoring!


The Real Tomato profile image

The Real Tomato 7 years ago

I googled famous cheerleaders and you will not believe who I found...George W. Bush http://cheerleading.about.com/od/cheerleadingfunst...

There are male cheerleaders too. Michael Douglas and Jimmy Stewert too both held the title also.

I cheered in High School for one year, regional competition was great but the majority of the girls were in it for the popularity. It left a bitter taste in my mouth.

Loved this Hub.


Rik Ravado profile image

Rik Ravado 7 years ago from England Author

Excellent info Real Tomato - I might stick that in the Hub. I tried to imagine GWB in modern NFL Cheerleader costume but I've decided not to go there!


mimibabe 7 years ago

this is really cool thanks


Rik Ravado profile image

Rik Ravado 7 years ago from England Author

mimibabe - glad you enjoyed!


outlawbybirth profile image

outlawbybirth 7 years ago from Lycraville, Florida

NFL Cheerleaders in shiny pantyhose and sexy outfits I remember more from watching football as a young man, lol....


Rik Ravado profile image

Rik Ravado 7 years ago from England Author

Yes outlaw, we don't have enough of this in UK sport - Unfortunately, cricket and soccer are cheer-leader free!


Phillyfreeze69 profile image

Phillyfreeze69 6 years ago

What I found that was most interesting about NFL cheerleaders is their ability to manage time. Many on a squad of 30 cheerleaders or more are employed full-time or attend college. Each year dozens of NFL cheerleaders travel abroad to visit US Troops in dozens of foreign countries and American military bases. They are certainly more than a pretty face or should I say "Eye Candy".


Ricky 6 years ago

Great article!

But it may surprise you to know that having cheerleaders in ultra sexy garments was designed to attract a female audience, not male. In earlier times, cheer leaders were male and females were added only about the time of WW II. Gradually, as the activity became more dominated by females, their coaches designed sexier costuming. Gone were the long socks, the jackets, the long skirts. In came the short skirts, no socks, tighter garments.

When the NFL decided in the 70s that it wanted more women in the audience, it knew that the best way was to add beauty to the beast. That's why they created cheergirls with sexier costuming. And it worked in attracting more women as NFL fans!


Older Women 6 years ago

Cheerleaders are the epitome of nice pleasing women. They care mostly about their looks and competition. That would make for a wonderful lover.


Cheerleader 6 years ago

The Tampa Bay cheerleaders are some of the sexiest in the NFL today!


Alanis 4 years ago

thanx this informatin really helps :)


MM 4 years ago

I LOVE CHEER IT"S AWESOME JUST LIKE ME


joe 12 months ago

crystal palace have cheerleaders

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    George W Bush as a Cheerleader at College

    Photo Courtesy of Phillips Academy, Andover, MA
    Photo Courtesy of Phillips Academy, Andover, MA

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