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In case nobody noticed, they’re not the Redskinettes anymore.
When Daniel Snyder took over the Redskins, he announced that his mission, besides grabbing every dollar not yet spoken for, would include improving what he termed the “game-day experience” of fans. Along with adding fireworks and more air traffic over the home stadium than Baghdad saw during Desert Storm, Snyder approved an overall, well, beefing up of the pep squad.
The pre-Snyder Skins cheerleaders long held a reputation as one of the least comely crews in the league. But just a year after he assumed control, the improvement is obvious: the word “gravity” doesn’t come to mind when looking behind the pompoms anymore, for example. The squad got a new official name”Redskins Cheerleaders” in, “Redskinettes” outand even its first TV special, Beauty on the Beach, a hootermentary ostensibly about the making of a swimsuit calendar that was filmed in the Dominican Republic and aired in late August on WDCA.
But that program, and the calendar that came from the photo shoot, failed to lay bare a shift in the Redskins organization under Snyder that is far more radical than his fantasy-football approach to free-agent signings and his much-derided practice of charging $10 admission to training camps: He’s added boy cheerleaders.
Along with the 38 women in this year’s cheerleading class, there are six men. Among the trailblazers is Eric Movshin, who can be seen running 120-yard wind sprints with a big Indian-head flag whenever the Skins score. Movshin joined his wife, Erin Movshin, a four-year veteran Redskins cheerleader, on the sidelines this season. In all likelihood, they are the only husband-and-wife cheerleading tandem in the NFL.
“I didn’t have any aspiration to be a cheerleader growing up,” says Movshin, a Potomac native. “But my wife wanted to be a cheerleader since she was a kid, and I’ve been going to the games anyway to watch her for the last few years. So when I heard they were looking for [guys], I was in the right place at the right time, and I guess they saw I was athletic enough and had the right amount of spirit.”
The idea to go coed wasn’t Snyder’s. It came from Donald Wells, director of the team’s cheerleaders.
Wells, 30, took over the cheerleading squad four years ago. He got the bug as a freshman at Virginia Intermont College in Bristol, Va., where he pursued equine studies and cheered on the basketball team, the small school’s top squad. To further his cheering career, he got out of the saddle, transferred to the University of Maryland, and switched his major to dance.
He choreographed for local high schools’ dance teams and for the Terps while an undergrad, but dropped out to become choreographer for the Bullettes, the cheerleading squad for the NBA franchise now known as the Wizards. Shortly after his own dancing career peaked, with an appearance at the opening and closing ceremonies of the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Wells went after the job of director of the Redskinettes.
Cheerleading is generally stereotyped as a decidedly unmanly avocationin the hit movie Bring It On, the male cheerleader character is blatantly gay, and Al Gore supporters have trumpeted the story that while their guy was captain of his St. Albans football squad, opponent George W. Bush was holding a megaphone as a cheerleader for his Andover. But Wells saw that both Virginia Intermont and Maryland, like most colleges, used male cheerleaders to great effect.
So despite the stereotype and the all-gal tradition of the NFL, Wells could think of no good reason why pro football teams should field distaff-only squads. Shortly after he took over the Redskinettes, he started letting team management know that the presence of dudes on the sidelines could help pump up the volume inside the stadium now known as FedEx Field.
“I’ve wanted to bring in guys for a while,” Wells tells me. “It worked in college to make a great atmosphere, and I thought it would work with the Redskins, too.”
According to Wells, former team President John Kent Cooke wasn’t much for gender integration. In the last few seasons, however, at least two other NFL squadsthe Baltimore Ravens and the Tennessee Titans, who call their guys “yell leaders”gave men cheering jobs. So once Cooke’s father died and he lost control of the team through an estate sale to Snyder, Wells resuscitated his bring-in-the-boys concept and got the green light.
Just like the girls, the new boys aren’t paid for their work on behalf of the Redskins; two tickets apiece to each home game are their only remuneration. But, whereas the gals on the current cheerleading squad earn their keep by flaunting their sexuality to the fans, bumping and grinding through four quarters in skimpier-than-ever outfits, Wells contends that the crowds aren’t into the guys for any carnal reasons. He backs up that contention by pointing out that the male uniforms show almost no skin.
“If we put [the men] in short spandex shorts and tank tops, you could say we’re trying to give women something like that,” Wells says. “But we didn’t do this just to give women something to look at. They already had the players for that. This is about increasing spirit.”
For now, the guys on the squad don’t have the same duties as their gal counterparts. During the first four home games, Movshin and the other boys have been limited to running the flags before games and after scores. There haven’t been any of the lifts or throws one might see from the cheerleaders on the sidelines of a major college-football game.
Even with their limited role, the males have drawn an incredibly positive response from fans and management, Wells says. “It’s nice to work for an organization that appreciates cheerleading, which this organization clearly does,” he says.
Perhaps because of that positiveness, Wells will increase the guys’ workload beginning with this Sunday’s game. He’ll have them in Skins colors doing the cheerleading stunts with the women for the first time ever during the halftime show.
Though such records aren’t kept by anybody not in prison, it is believed that the Redskins/Ravens game could well mark the first matchup of two pro football teams that have male cheerleaders. Now that’s progress. Dave McKenna