Not all is sunny and chipper in the world of professional cheerleading this year. NFL cheerleaders from five squads sued their teams last spring, alleging sub-minimum-wage pay, mandatory “jiggle tests,” and other degrading working conditions. Since then, some NHL “ice girls”—hockey’s cheerleaders—have spoken up with similar complaints. All this got me wondering: How did we get here?

Cheerleading today is nearly unrecognizable from cheerleading a century ago, when it emerged as an elite activity for men at Ivy League schools, led by “rooter kings” and “yell leaders.” Since then, it has morphed with the social movements of the time: Women took over when the men went to fight in World War II; riots erupted when people of color weren’t chosen for teams at newly integrated schools; the feminists of the ’70s denounced the hypersexualized activity that pro cheerleading had become. Internal tensions have bubbled up too, particularly as competitive cheerleading has evolved to look like acrobatics or gymnastics, while pro cheerleading has transformed into something between modeling and dancing. And cheerleading continues to evolve and broaden in scope; America’s more than 3 million cheerleaders include elementary schoolers, senior citizens, jeerleaders, and queerleaders. [Read more] – Michael’s Blog