Dec 7, 2021 - News

The Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders are a Rorshach test for society

Cheerleaders kicking their legs and flailing their hair

What you see depends a lot on your own beliefs. Photo: Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

The Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders have become a Rorshach test for social issues ranging from equal pay to the role of women in sports.

Why it matters: The Cowboys cheerleaders have been a global phenomenon for decades, an image and brand inextricably linked to the region.

  • The world of sexed-up professional cheerleading is going into something of a recession. Other teams are folding their cheerleading squads and adding modest costumes, and it's unclear how this will all shake out.

Driving the news: “America’s Girls,” a new eight-episode podcast chronicling the sometimes-shocking history of the cheerleading squad debuts today. It’s hosted by bestselling author Sarah Hepola, who grew up in Dallas obsessed with the cheerleaders.

What they’re saying: “The cheerleaders were this emblem of Dallas I’d seen all my life but knew nothing about,” Hepola told Axios. “I didn’t know their names. I just saw their pictures.”

  • The story of the Cowboys cheerleaders, Hepola says, is the story of “the sideline experiment that went on to change both entertainment and sports.”

Flashback: The cheerleaders debuted their now-iconic uniforms in 1972, the same year Title IX passed — and also the same year “Deep Throat” came out. The squad evolved during the end of the sexual revolution in a setting deep in the Bible Belt.

  • In the 1970s, religious conservatives balked at the midriff-revealing cheerleading uniforms. Now the other end of the political spectrum is concerned about the over-sexualization of women in the #Metoo era.

Details: The podcast will include interviews with local TV legend Dale Hansen, New Yorker essayist Jia Tolentino, “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk” author Ben Fountain and Cowboys historian Joe Nick Patoski.

Worthy of your time: Check out the first two episodes of “America’s Girls” wherever you get your podcasts.


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