One of the larger sports stories to hit the state this week was the announcement that the University of Kentucky fired the entire coaching staff of its cheerleading program following a three-month investigation into allegations of hazing, alcohol use and nudity at off-campus events.
The ensuing fallout saw hundreds of cheerleaders past and present rushing to the defense of what is quite obviously the best cheerleading program in the nation.
Some people seem to somehow forget this, but UK’s cheerleading program has unbelievably secured 24 national championships in the past 35 years.
I’ll be upfront here. This column is not going to argue if the university did the right thing by coming down as hard as it did against the program. I obviously have no idea what did or didn’t happen. The university had an internal investigation and a decision was made.
But I couldn’t help but wonder if the same punishment would be given to a football or basketball team that had won 24 national titles in 35 years.
At first, I thought this was a silly thing to think.
There are more important things to consider here than the fact this team was very successful. Then, a column written by one of the most well-known sports writers in the state quickly changed my mind.
Earlier this week, Rick Bozich wrote a response to the situation that used the university punishments as a way to question the usefulness of both cheerleading and dance teams at the collegiate level.
He even went as far as to say that cheerleaders are “props”, are “overexposed and underdressed” and that they exist “only to entertain and to titillate.”
Only after widespread backlash to his hurtful comments did Bozich apologize for not “recognizing that cheerleaders and dance team members are tirelessly dedicated athletes” and that “they are driven to compete, not to be ogled or objectified.”
While I’m rather uncomfortable in criticizing the work of someone else in my field, I believe that his reaction is an encapsulation of the way that many view the sport of cheerleading.
First of all, yes, cheerleading is in fact a sport. If you don’t think an activity that requires an extraordinary amount of practice, athleticism and mental toughness to win competitions is a sport, then you are just telling on yourself.
At the very least, Bozich got this part of his apology correct. But to have such a prominent figure in the media make such a statement in the first place is quite telling of the problem at hand.
To put this simply, cheerleading is obviously a female-dominated sport and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the sport regularly gets degraded similarly to how the WNBA or the women’s national soccer team does.
I’m quite frankly sick of seeing female athletes being subjected to apology columns written by men. It’s imperative that people publicly call out sexist thinking until we get to the day when it’s no longer common in sports because we obviously aren’t there yet.
And then there is the second part of Bozich’s apology where he says that these athletes “are driven to compete, not to be ogled or objectified.”
Congratulations on saying that the sky is blue, Rick. How noble of you.
He isn’t actually apologizing for making sexist comments. Instead he is coming to the realization that cheerleaders cheer not because they want to be objectified, but because they love what they do.
While he doesn’t speak for everyone, I still can’t believe this has to be said out loud to be understood. But then again, there were plenty of people out there who actually supported his original column.
I’ve followed Bozich’s career for quite some time. He is a good man who just happened to have a bad, uninformed opinion. It’s important to note that this line of thinking gets criticized rather than tearing down another human being.
One sports writer’s apology column isn’t going to fix the way female sports are viewed. And yes, this column probably isn’t going to drastically move the needle either. But that is all the more reason why all of this needs to be said.
This brings me back to the question of whether or not the program would have been subjected to as harsh of a punishment if it were a basketball or football team.
I honestly can’t answer that question with any level of confidence. I think I’m too distracted by the fact that we obviously live in a world where that question has to be asked.