The New Year's Eve we did the town,
The day we tore the goalposts down—
We will have these moments to remember....*
—FIRST IN A SERIES OF AMERICAN ROMANTIC MEMORIES
This is an article from the Dec. 4, 1978 issue
What is all this to-do about half-dressed cheerleaders being too sexy for football? Why the fuss? Sex has always been an integral part of football's appeal. When was the last time you saw a corsage at a baseball game?
Sex in football? Gee, it seems like only yesterday when all the instant experts were discovering that football was an analogy for war. Remember? Every American who went to a football game was written off as a latent bloodthirsty war criminal. Today, football is more savage than ever; all weekend long, rosy-cheeked quarterbacks are legally dismembered by gangs of crazed mesomorphs. But, curiously, those same fans who happily witness this carnage are no longer labeled as war criminals. No, all of a sudden the experts have discovered that fans are all mouth-watering sexists and football is an analogy for orgy.
It is not only the self-appointed guardians of public decency who are up in arms. Feminists and homemakers alike have found rare common cause. And they are joined by the moguls of the NFL—an institution whose definition of the apocalypse is the movement of hash marks—who are also beside themselves at this despoliation of the chastity of their game. And the more accommodating cheerleaders who pose for photographs in the altogether are even being fired. Can you believe this nonsense?
Two bits, four bits, six bits, a dollar—
No one ever hears girl cheerleaders holler.
—OLD WIVES' TALE
Let's face it: Apart from a little more bare midriff, what's new? "Cheerleader," as it applies to the female gender, is the second-greatest euphemism in football, trailing only "shaken up on the play." Girls have never led cheers in football. Possibly a few husky-voiced boys have occasionally managed to lead a cheer. However, pretty girls dressed up in alluring little outfits have, down through the years, only provided good cheer for the fans. They're not cheerleaders; they're cheerproviders.
Girls at football games are there to be looked at. This is true whether or not they are technically identified as cheerleaders, pompon girls, baton twirlers. flag girls, something that has an ette at the end or just plain spectators. Girls at football games are meant to be looked at. This isn't unfair. There's no shame in this function. Everybody has a role at a football game. If God had meant for offensive linemen to be looked at, he would have issued them numbers in the 80s and let them touch the pigskin.
"Nobody ever tried to get a girl drunk at a baseball game."
—ADVICE TRADITIONALLY PASSED DOWN FROM WISE FATHERS TO SONS IN MANY PARTS OF THE U.S.A.
Sexy cheerproviders are, of course, just the tip of the iceberg of the eroticism in football. I think that's why the moralists are so uptight. They know that the real sex has always been located in the stands. Through the years, football has been the out-of-doors version of Wanna see my etchings? "Wanna go to a football game?" actually translates into "Wanna go to a football game first? Everybody knows that.
You could be deposited under the stands of any stadium in the country and know immediately that football is the sport being played on the field simply by watching the ladies' rooms. Football is the only sport where the ladies' rooms are packed and there are lines outside. There are two reasons for this phenomenon. One: men bring women to football games. Two: when they get them there they ply them with strong drink. Because women can't stand the stupid game and the seats are hard and there is often a chill in the air, they are easy marks for this ploy.
Think about this, this is really telling: football is the only game to which men traditionally bring whiskey. At all other sports, they drink beer. Beer is a convivial beverage, symbolic of men in groups (and at their worst). Whiskey is what you drink with a woman (or when you have lost one or are dwelling upon one). And not only is whiskey part of a football game, but so is music, something the sexes share and warm to. People dress up more for football games; that is, they dress up for the opposite sex at a football game. Football games have always been used foremost as an excuse for commingling: for parties, dances, organized fraternity passion. Both sexes think of football—college football in particular—in terms of a whole weekend, while all other sports are more circumscribed spectator events and less sophisticated encounters.
The whole of football is a giant aphrodisiac. Sexy cheerproviders wouldn't be tolerated at, say, a baseball game, because then all the men would grow frustrated and afterward depart for taverns, there to consume more beer, to turn ugly and to have automobile accidents on the way home. But seeing sexy cheerproviders at football games is perfectly O.K. because the men leave with their own women.
"If women wear a little something extra in the right place it's called falsies. Why is it that if men do the same thing it's called shoulder pads?"
—JOCULAR SLOGAN AVAILABLE FOR PRINTING ON BUMPER STICKERS
But hey, it works both ways. You've got to give a little to get a little. What's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. Honest women shouldn't get upset by the Dallas Cowgirls and all their spinoffs. Of course football is sexist. But football is sexist for everybody; it's equal-opportunity sexist.
That is the saving grace of football. Perhaps in our society, it is only at football games that both sexes get just the right slice of what they want. Men—as those few among us who have ever flipped through Hustler in a barbershop may know—prefer their fantasy graphic and to the point—hence, scantily clad cheerproviders. But women are romanticists. You have to take them to dinner. Have to. They dream, then engage in all sorts of shilly-shally. Wouldn't you think that basketball players would be the beau ideal among athletes: tall, lithe, lean, glistening bodies out there almost close enough to get a-holt of? But no, not a single basketball player has ever become a sex symbol. They're too close, too real.
But football players are the classic, stylized, masculine heroes: great-shouldered, powerful-legged, tough, uniformed. Plus they're distant and therefore unthreatening. In literature, in lore, in cartoons, on campus, it is the football players that women swoon over. Women always maintain that deep down inside they don't care for macho, brutish football types, that they like gentle, sensitive souls. But they vote differently with their eyes.
Consider: except for a passing loincloth fascination with swimmers (Johnny Weissmuller and Buster Crabbe), women have tolerated only football players as athletic movie stars. This goes back half a century. Babe Ruth, Jack Dempsey, Bobby Jones couldn't pass muster in Hollywood, but as soon as Red Grange scored a few TDs, he was rushed into film. Johnny Mack Brown went from the Alabama Crimson Tide into Westerns. Of all the star athletes in the last decade or so, the four called to Hollywood for leading-man roles—Jim Brown, Don Meredith, Joe Namath, O. J. Simpson—were all football heroes. They even let Alex Karras play love scenes. Can you imagine Hollywood permitting Yogi Berra a screen kiss? Gump Worsley? Red Auerbach? But just because he's a he-man football player, they let Alex Karras kiss. It just goes to show.
I'm sure, too, that football players, like cheerproviders, understand their real function. Have you ever noticed football players before a game, clanging helmets and shoulder falsies with each other? It resembles nothing less than bull moose rattling antlers in mating season. It has been said of warriors that battles are really only fought for the women watching, and surely football must be played for the same motive. What else would possess boys to go upon the field in numbered armor in order to shake each other up on the play? For scholarships? Endorsements? A good pension plan? Hey, come on.
"Since hockey wants a TV contract, why do its players wear uniforms that look like diapers?"
—COUNTRY AND WESTERN SONG LYRICS
So football is sexist. Big-deal revelation. Of course it's sexist. But it's a push. The men in the stands get to ogle all the near-naked cheerproviders, and the women get to dream about the V-shaped Adonises going forth to joust. No other sport so needs sex; no other sport so depends on sex.
Of course, given its throbbing, forced intimacy, basketball can be kind of sexy, but only in a sweaty, drive-in-theater sort of way. Hockey is not at all sexy, and is probably asexual. Baseball is merely fond and affectionate. If football is courtship, baseball is marriage. In fact, if you'll notice, while the TV networks always zero in on pretty spectators at football games, they only show shots of wives at baseball games.
Football is always sexy. Football is extremely sexy. In fact, between the mayhem and the tedium that is football today, football needs to be even sexier. Make love, not field goals.
*Lyrics from Moments to Remember