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The Redskins have fallen so far that tickets to a Skins–Cowboys game ain’t much of a carrot anymore. So Dan Snyder’s come up with a bigger giveaway: His cheerleaders’ pride.
Sleazy new radio commercials began airing last week for the latest listener contest for WTEM-AM, Snyder’s all-sports station. The spots feature one panting male asking another panting male if he’d like a chance to have Redskins cheerleaders “soaping up and scrubbing you.” As Panter No. 2 heads off presumably to spend some quality time with himself, Panter No. 1 amends the offer to one in which Skins cheerleaders would soap and scrub “your car.”
Titillated parties are directed to a contest page on the WTEM Web site, which features a photograph of a crew of barely bikini’d blondes in high heels handling sudsy sponges and striking various poses around an SUV. (The photo has a hilarious caveat: “Not actual cheerleaders.”) The contest promises that in the cheerleader car wash, “dreams CAN come true for 5 lucky winners!”
The cheerleader car wash is only the latest and crassest cheerleader innovation Snyder has concocted. He showed his cheerleader-lovin’ hand as soon as he bought the Redskins, and he’s been bringing the craft closer to pole dancing with every season.
Right away, he took control of the Redskinettes, the cheerleaders club that for decades had been run as an independent organization. He changed the group’s name to the Washington Redskins Cheerleaders, trademarked “First Ladies of Football” for them, and immediately started using their skin to promote his team. In 2000 he produced and sold the first Redskins Cheerleaders swimsuit calendar, as well as a making-of rackumentary featuring footage from the calendar shoot called Beauty on the Beach, buying time on WDCA-TV to air the program.
Snyder’s got a particular vision of what a cheerleader is, also. In 2002, I wrote a column about the guys who had recently began appearing on the sidelines at FedExField wearing Redskins sweatsuits and going through choreographed routines after every home score.
In the story, I called them cheerleaders. Snyder’s PR people quickly requested a correction. To Snyder, they weren’t cheerleaders. They’re just guys who lead cheers.
The women’s uniforms, meanwhile, now require a lot less burgundy-and-gold cloth than they did when he bought the team. And the rest of the NFL has followed suit, so to speak.
The new DirecTV NFL commercials feature Peyton Manning facing the camera and talking up the joys of watching football on high-def TV, while clips of cheerleaders from various pro teams flashing their assets are shown on a big screen behind him. The last-second punch line comes when Manning turns around and realizes that he’s being used to promote T&A. He’s upset (wink wink!) by such exploitation.
Snyder has exposed his cheerleader fetish to those beyond the football world, too.
Like, way beyond: Last year, Snyder sent a dozen Redskins cheerleaders on a mission to India, where they gave clinics all around the country and became the first cheerleaders ever to work nationally televised games of the Bangalore Royal Challengers of the Indian Premier League, a cricket federation that provides the equivalent of Monday Night Football broadcasts to the Punjab set on the aptly named DNA network. In one of the more repressed places on the planet, where folks get jail time for public displays of affection, Snyder’s missionaries were seen bringing it on with next to nothing on.
Snyder launched another cheerleading mission into virgin territory last year, when he founded the Thrilleaders for Six Flags, his theme park chain. The Thrilleaders were billed as the first cheerleader squad ever sponsored by an amusement park. They held national tryouts but disappeared after a few appearances at a Six Flags outpost in New Jersey.
Snyder’s aggression is unique, but the obsession isn’t. A few years ago I asked Dan Savage, the genius behind the syndicated Savage Love sex column that appears in Washington City Paper, how common cheerleader worship was among American males.
About as common as the penis, Savage theorized.
“My god, cheerleaders are the first cheesecake,” Savage told me. “And cheerleaders have uniforms, and little boys love uniforms. Cheerleaders are the uniform fetish of straight guys. Here’s this militarized clique of girls doing line kicks and showing you their panties. You’re putting steak in front of some boy who never had meat before, so then they hunger for steak their whole lives. What red-blooded heterosexual male wouldn’t leave high school with something of a fixation?”
Yet away from Snyder and the NFL, cheerleading has been feigning respectability in recent years. Feature films like Bring It On and the balancing act schools must go through to comply with Title IX have done wonders for competitive cheerleading, a realm that is much more drill team than it is T&A. In 2003, the University of Maryland became the first of the six colleges that now regard competitive cheerleading as a scholarship sport. Just two weeks ago Maryland Athletic Director Debbie Yow presided over a national cheerleading summit on her campus in hopes of getting the NCAA to sanction cheerleading as a sport.
But judging by the latest WTEM contest and his past, Snyder’s vision is less cheerleader-as-student-athlete than cheerleader-as-whore.
“I hate hearing that, but I’m not surprised,” sighed Natalie Adams, a researcher (and former cheerleader) at the University of Alabama, when I described the WTEM ad campaign to her.
Adams is the author of Cheerleader: An American Icon, which mulls the history of cheerleading and its role in the culture. She says the gulf between scholastic cheerleading and professional cheerleading has been wide and getting wider ever since Tex Schramm founded the first NFL cheerleading squad for his Dallas Cowboys in 1960. Schramm, she says, took more from Vegas showgirls than high school cheerleaders when he designed his troupe, and his image of a cheerleader was somebody who the average male fan would consider the ultimate sexual partner, but also “completely unattainable.”
“So the NFL cheerleader, as Tex Schramm planned, has always been about sex: the girl you dream about but could never have,” Adams says. “But if the Redskins are having their cheerleaders wash your car in bikinis, maybe [the unattainability] is going away. That is different. That says: ‘Now, you can get the girl of your dreams.’”
Directors of the Redskins Cheerleaders did not respond to requests for comment on the car wash promotion by deadline.
Entries will be accepted until Oct. 30. According to the rules page, winners will be announced the next day, and they’ll be paid a visit by “one or more of the Washington Redskins Cheerleaders” on Nov. 7. Only those 18 years of age and older are eligible to get, you know, soaped up and scrubbed down.
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