Op-Ed: Cheer leaving

Oct. 26, 2011, 12:26 a.m.

It has been just over seven years since I wrote my very first piece for The Stanford Daily, an op-ed entitled,  “Cheerleaders deserve spot on field,” where I vigorously argued for Stanford’s club cheerleading team to have equal claim to sideline space in the interests of validating the football team’s performance with equally impressive sideline entertainment. In the intervening time, I also took on the continuously underwhelming Stanford Band and Stanford fans (i.e. student section), but after attending my first cheer reunion, noted the surprisingly skilled (or at least well-intended) modern incarnations of these previous abominations. However, after watching three Stanford “cheerleaders” abortively bungle a basic-level skill on a nationally-televised game this past weekend, the time has come to revoke that sideline license, and take Stanford Cheer off the field, once and for all.

Stanford is a world-class institution both academically and athletically, and it advertises each with equal vigor and aplomb. The name of the University has become as synonymous with excellence as it has with a tireless work ethic, uncommon effort and enduring sportsmanship. But what I’ve seen of Stanford Cheer in the past few years, and culminating in the nationally televised embarrassment from this weekend, embody precisely none of those things, and enough is enough. After 10 years of competitive cheerleading, I can tell you just how hard it is; how much effort, practice and focus it takes and the toughness required to continue to give all of that in the face of so many who tell you it’s not a real sport and that you’re not a real athlete.  I can also tell you that Stanford Cheer isn’t giving any real effort, engaging in any real practice and couldn’t have less focus if they just stood there watching the game.  While their skill level is deplorable, it’s nothing compared to their obvious lack of training and effort.

Stanford proudly flies a Pac-12 flag, but can’t come close to meeting the Pac-12 standard for game day entertainment. The cheer teams from Oregon, Washington and Arizona State are nationally competitive. The squads from Washington State and Oregon State acquit themselves well, and UCLA always seems to have a good-looking and hard-working team on the field. While USC doesn’t field a coed team, at least it has a band that can march. In fact, I can’t think of any of the other 11 schools that would allow a team as poor as Stanford Cheer on its home sidelines  — and I can’t see any reason why Stanford would continue to.

The very first thing any cheerleader learns is safety, or to put a finer point on it: not letting your teammates hit the ground. Every team outside of Stanford’s that I have been on has required pushups or laps any time someone gets dropped at practice; and a game day drop can mean suspension or removal from the team. It’s clear these policies haven’t been implemented on the Farm, and likely never will be. But the corollary of this basic cheer rule is: if you can’t do a stunt safely, you can’t do it. The basic-level skill Stanford’s team was trying to execute is almost impossible to do dangerously, and yet, two girls still managed to let their teammate fall on her head. There’s only one explanation for that kind of performance: they just don’t care.

The team looks visibly out of shape, and only minimally interested in increasing crowd involvement. It is cheerleading teams like Stanford’s which make the sport look farcical, when it’s anything but. The men and women I worked with were some of the finest athletes I’ve known, and these kids don’t even deserve to call themselves cheerleaders. The football and basketball programs deserve sideline performers that are as committed as they are when it comes to game day, and this team doesn’t even come close. After seven years, if you haven’t put together a team that can appear on national television without embarrassing the school, you’re not ever going to. After seven years, I’ve taken off my Stanford Cheer t-shirt for the last time and hope no one remembers seeing me wear it. After seven years, the only place to watch real cheerleaders at a Stanford game is on the other sideline, and it’s time to stop pretending otherwise.  After seven years, enough is enough — take this team off the field before they really hurt something besides the school’s reputation.

Glenn H. Truitt, SLS ’05
Stanford Law School

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