Budding gender equality at the National Football League?
History was made when last Sunday the first male cheerleaders took to the stage at the Super Bowl, the annual championship game of the National Football League. For the first time in the 99-year history of the NFL, two men, Napoleon Jinnies and Quinton Peron, performed alongside their female colleagues. Are we seeing budding gender equality at the NFL and does it matter?
The Super Bowl is being watched by a huge audience. It is the highest-rated show on network television in the US with second place coming far behind. This year more than 111 million viewers, a third of the entire population of the US, saw the New England Patriots beat the Los Angeles Rams. It is pretty much safe to say that whatever happens during the Super Bowl will likely be a popular item of discussion for weeks to follow.
NFL has not been without controversy before. In 2016, Colin Kaepernick, began kneeling rather than standing as is customary when the national anthem is being played. This was his way of protesting against racial injustice in the US and sparked a wider protest movement. The protest intensified in 2017 after president Trump suggested that NFL owners should fire players who protest the national anthem.
No wonder the stakes are high when controversy hits the pitch at Super Bowl: the Super Bowl has evolved into a huge American institution. For decades now people have watched it, even when it might be the only game of the year they watch.
When traditions go this far back and are so deeply embedded in the local culture, it is challenging to establish change.
So – why now?
In all honesty we need to start by saying that male cheerleaders are actually not new. The first cheerleaders were all men! Their role was to cheer on the players by holding up letters spelling out the name of their team. Women only stepped in during World War 2 and have dominated the industry ever since.
But, while the waves of emancipation and the call for gender equality wash over our globe it seems like the time is now right. Or as Steven Leslie, an LA Rams fan from Fife put it: “It is 2019, it had to happen!”