Monday, June 4, 2012

Editorial: Leave the Cheering to the Fans

Article by Leanne Elston
Twitter @LeanneElston

There is this way in which people go around trying to compare soccer to other, “American” sports. The comparison is inevitable, maybe -- or at least it was when soccer was still new and strange to these parts. During soccer’s humble beginnings, perhaps it was necessary, for the non-soccer masses, to draw parallels to sports with which most people were more familiar, sports most people understood better. You can’t just bring in something different and expect everyone to suddenly accept it, even if the rest of the world loves it. This is America. We do what we want.

And Americans sure do love their sports. No one could really argue that. This country goes mad for March Madness; visit the South and you’ll find a profound reverence for college football -- no jeans and sweatshirts at games, this is an occasion, you put on your Sunday best; you’ll find sport positively ingrained in life in cities like New York, Boston, Chicago. The World Series makes little sense semantically but nobody minds, and Super Bowl winners are Champions of the World, which also makes little sense but still nobody minds. American sports are all their own -- they comprise their own world.

Of course, soccer has history in America. But it isn’t the history of baseball, basketball, football. Americans do not consume soccer in the same way that they consume other sports. Consuming soccer like you consume football simply doesn’t work. It’s like trying to eat ice cream like you would eat a steak -- you can’t use the same utensils; you have to employ different methods. If you try to use a spoon to eat steak, you’ll get nowhere and if you do manage to get somewhere, by the time you get there the steak is cold and you’re past caring about it. If you try to cut up your ice cream with a knife and fork, it’ll melt and you’ll end up with a sad, sticky liquid, which isn’t what you wanted.

You can’t treat soccer like football. You can’t treat it like baseball or basketball, either. You can’t treat it like hockey, or swimming, or tennis. You can’t treat soccer like something it’s not, because doing so just gives you the equivalent of cold steak or melted ice cream.

What I’m getting at is this: MLS does not need cheerleaders.

Soccer simply isn’t conducive to cheerleaders. There aren’t breaks in play that leave room for cheerleaders to come in. The only time available for cheerleaders to have any sort of attentive audience is during halftime, but even then, the crowd just isn’t interested. The Dynamo Girls could give a fantastic dance performance -- undoubtedly they possess athleticism and talent -- but cheerleading just isn’t, well, soccer. The Columbus Crew
eliminated their dance team, the Crewzers, after the 2011 season, stating:

“We clearly discovered that our fans were looking for a more authentic soccer experience at our games, and wanted to see scores from around the league, first-half highlights, and soccer-related content during halftime. Moving forward, we plan to create and deliver these authentic soccer elements.”

There is a sense among soccer fans that cheerleaders and dance teams are not “authentic” to the sport of soccer. The question
was posed on Twitter recently to Women United FC -- how do female fans feel about cheerleaders in MLS? The response, from both female and male fans, was overwhelmingly that cheerleaders in MLS are unnecessary. Fans are their teams’ cheerleaders. Supporters’ sections don’t need extra encouragement, and they don’t need anyone else trying to enhance the atmosphere. And further, if fans are paying more attention to cheerleaders than to the product on the pitch, then that’s a problem. The game itself should be entertainment enough.

Cheerleaders are somewhat of a staple in American sports culture, but as we know, soccer culture isn’t particularly “American,” on the whole. Certainly, there is an American soccer culture. But introducing cheerleaders into it feels like trying to force an aspect of American sports culture where it simply doesn’t fit. We can still make soccer ours, we can still make American soccer something special, but that doesn’t mean we have to add features to it just because they are “American.” It feels like a remnant of days when soccer as a sport felt like it had to dress itself up to seem appealing to American sports fans, like “Hey, look at us! We’re just like you!”

But we’re not. Soccer has moved past “awkward kid who doesn’t fit in” and started to become “weird kid that you’re beginning to realize is actually pretty cool.” We don’t need to bring in these outside elements to make ourselves look cool. We’re cool on our own. New fans are figuring that out more and more; they’re figuring out that soccer culture is awesome because it’s soccer culture, not because it’s pretending to be other-sports-culture. Cheerleaders might work for basketball and football, but they don’t work for soccer. That’s just how it is.

Steak is not ice cream, and soccer is not anything else. You eat steak with a knife and fork, ice cream with a spoon, and you consume soccer with soccer. Simple as that. Fans of soccer don’t need anything else to deliver the sport to them. All they need is themselves and 90 minutes of the game. Currently, there are four MLS teams that have cheerleading teams -- the Houston Dynamo
(Dynamo Girls), New England Revolution (Rev Girls), San Jose Earthquakes (Shakers), and Chivas USA (ChivaGirls). The Columbus Crew recognized that cheerleaders aren’t authentic to the soccer culture, and it’s time the other teams realize the same thing: cheerleaders in MLS are unnecessary. Please, let’s stick to soccer.


  1. Personally, I'm glad Seattle doesn't have cheerleaders, but I don't have anything against clubs that do. I mean, every Mexican team has them, and you can't say their footballing culture is any less "authentic" than anywhere else in the world as a result. To each their own, but again, I'm glad Seattle doesn't have them. Guess i'm just a sucker for old school football.

  2. The Rev Girls are not cheerleaders in the traditional sense. Though they are on the sidelines during matches they do not lead or try to create chants. They are seldom if ever on the field.

    They do promote the team in local bars/clubs in the Boston & Providence areas often etc.

    As a New England Revolution season ticket holder since 1996 & member of the supporters group(s)...I have no problem whatsoever with the Rev Girls!

  3. I agree with both Anonymous and Mike (I'm also a Revs fan).

    And I have to say, I'm sick and tired of the old "it's not authentic to soccer culture" argument that accompanies resistance to anything American soccer tries to do that differs from soccer overseas (generally Europe). So what if it's not authentic to "soccer culture." What does that even mean? Soccer culture is different in every country in which it exists, and if soccer teams in America want cheerleaders, it's entirely their prerogative to have them.

    It definitely doesn't make the soccer any less real or authentic. This is a well-written piece and I respect the opinion, but it's also Eurosnobbery couched in less-obvious terms. Frankly, I find that to be more inauthentic to soccer culture than cheerleaders.