October 12—Football and politics are collision sports that share something else. Each has more than its share of sexism and hypocrisy.
Consider the problems of rugged old Cowboy Troy Aikman. He is being grilled for a comment he made while broadcasting ESPN’s Monday night game between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Las Vegas Raiders. Aikman’s inspiration was a bad call. Game officials penalized a Chiefs pass rusher for a clean tackle on Las Vegas’ quarterback.
“My hope is that the competition committee looks at this in the next set of meetings and, you know, we take the dresses off,” Aikman said during the broadcast.
Countless viewers tore into Aikman. They called him a misogynist and a tone-deaf preacher of 2022 who spews sexism like it’s 1974.
But as far as I could tell, none of Aikman’s critics on Twitter and talk shows said a word about the NFL’s 50-year-old practice of giving attention to scantily clad young women.
32 NFL teams still have cheerleaders, a euphemism for scantily clad women who wear pompoms.
Those who receive appointments to these so-called cheer squads share one characteristic: They are fit enough to be magazine centerfolds or actors on Baywatch episodes.
NFL cheerleaders patrol the sidelines of packed stadiums and often appear for a few moments on telecasts, although they contribute nothing to a viewer’s understanding of the game. Their sole purpose is to provide sex appeal as a team marketing tool. That in itself can be considered at least as bad as anything Aikman said.
I should report that NFL teams have proven able to grow in their portrayal of nubile young female employees. For example, sensitive leaders dropped sexist nicknames on cheerleading teams.
Gone are the Seattle Sea Gals, Buffalo Jills and Chicago Honey Bears. NFL teams in Chicago and Buffalo disbanded their cheerleading units altogether. The Seattle team’s featured women are now called the Seahawks Dancers, a more politically correct name than its ribald predecessor.
Even the team Aikman starred in came around, at least a little. The Dallas Cowgirls were renamed the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders. Their outfits remain as sparse as ever and their contribution to the game remains non-existent.
Still, every network that covers NFL games celebrates cheerleaders in provocative costumes. The only exceptions to the cheesecake coverage occur when a TV team is at the home stadium of one of the seven teams that do not have cheerleaders.
My friends and enemies are fine with telling me that Pittsburgh doesn’t have a pro football team this season. The Steelers have also never featured cheerleaders in hot pants and halter tops. The Rooney family, owners of the Steelers since the team’s inception in 1933, saw no point in placing swimsuit models on the field of play.
Also without cheerleaders are the aforementioned Buffalo Bills and Chicago Bears, as well as the Cleveland Browns, Green Bay Packers, New York Giants and Los Angeles Chargers.
In a league that should be obsessed with better treatment of players who have concussions, the other 25 teams find time to remain in the titillation business. Their carefully planned sideshow with young women is rarely questioned or criticized.
Aikman received more heat in one hour than all the team owners combined. His comment about putting quarterbacks in dresses sprung from a few seconds of raw emotion. A hall-of-fame player-turned-broadcaster, he became angry because inept officiating could change the outcome of a game.
If sexism really is the problem, Aikman is small potatoes in the biggest football league of all. He repeated a line I often heard high school coaches use when they wanted to demean a player.
Most NFL team owners rarely speak on hot mics, which reduces the chance of them saying something stupid in public. But when the majority of them put their product out on the field, some of it looks like it came from the late Hugh Hefner’s empire.
The owners call it party games. If those who say Aikman was out of bounds look harder, they might describe the spectacle differently.
Ringside Seat is an opinion column about people, politics and news. Contact Milan Simonich at firstname.lastname@example.org or 505-986-3080.