Fifty Years of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders

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Fifty Years of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders

On a sweltering Saturday in August, seven cheerleaders stood within the tunnel of the brand new Texas Stadium, simply past the town limits of Dallas, sporting a uniform in contrast to something that had ever been seen in skilled sports activities: White go-go boots that zipped up the entrance. Teensy white sizzling pants. A plunging royal blue crop high knotted on the rib cage, only one suggestive tug from coming untied.

This was 1972, and Vonciel Baker was nervous in regards to the crowd. The twenty-year-old was quick and thin, and he or she used to shimmy to James Brown in her lounge as a child. She was one in all 5 raised by a single mother in South Dallas, on the improper facet of the tracks in a status-obsessed metropolis, however Baker had a top quality you would possibly name sparkle. Earlier that spring, she’d heard a radio spot on the native station KVIL saying that the Dallas Cowboys had been on the lookout for a brand new form of cheerleader—dancers, that was the concept. Greater than 100 confirmed up for tryouts; solely seven made the reduce. (Truly, eight did, however an aspiring mannequin dropped out earlier than the season started.) They’d change into often called the Unique Seven: Baker, Anna Carpenter, Rosemary Corridor, Dolores McAda, Carrie O’Brien, Deanovoy Nichols, and Dixie Smith. Every of them stood in that tunnel, staring on the synthetic turf and the stands of a brand new soccer stadium named for the state whose glory it hoped to seize. 

The Dallas Cowboys had had cheerleaders earlier than, together with a gaggle of excessive schoolers in bobby socks and pleated skirts who yelled “Charge!” They didn’t dance, they usually didn’t put on that. It’s powerful to recollect in our skin-saturated age, however cleavage and naked midriffs weren’t simply uncommon again then—they had been scandalous. This second in 1972 marked the debut of a daring experiment, a really Texas hybrid of pageant magnificence, good-girl etiquette, and come-hither slink. 

Baker regarded up on the sky each time she obtained anxious, and he or she may see the daylight fading and the stadium lights blazing from the place she stood within the mouth of the tunnel. Texas Stadium had a gap within the roof, a design quirk (plans for a retractable roof had been squelched due to the worth tag) spun into an asset. “So God could watch his favorite team,” one participant famously put it. 

Because the drums of the dwell band began to pound, the seven cheerleaders burst from that tunnel. “And all of a sudden, we heard noise from the fans, and we’re going, like, ‘What’s going on?’ ” Baker advised me in her honeyed twang. Texas Stadium erupted in a joyful noise she will nonetheless hear, fifty years later. “And they’re pointing at us. We didn’t know that we had introduced something new to football.”

What they launched was intercourse and glamour into the gladiator enviornment of contemporary sports activities. They launched a wave of imitations throughout the NFL, making a blueprint for magnificence that’s virtually branded on the cultural creativeness. 

It was a watershed yr for ladies, a time when the forces of freedom had been beginning to be unleashed but in addition conflict. Roe v. Wade was making its approach from a Dallas courthouse by the Supreme Court docket, the place it might ignite a battle that’s nonetheless raging. It was  the yr Deep Throat hit American theaters, launching a vogue for “porno chic.” And it was the yr Title IX handed, opening the door for ladies in athletics.  

The Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders had been a watershed too, combining the precision of the East Texas drill crew the Kilgore Rangerettes with the category of the Radio Metropolis Rockettes and including a dose of old style Texas razzle-dazzle. “We’re looking for an all-American, sexy girl,” choreographer Texie Waterman as soon as advised an area information station, taking a chew out of that phrase, “sexy.” And this inside contradiction—of being good but in addition a bit dangerous, of being harmless but in addition a bit harmful—turned a vital a part of their model, and their explosion.

The squad in a 1979 made-for-TV film on ABC. American Broadcasting Corporations/Disney Basic Leisure Content material by way of Getty
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Dee Brock on her approach to the Tremendous Bowl within the early seventies. Courtesy of Dee Brock

To observe the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders over the subsequent half century is to observe the pop sexualization of girls: on tv, on billboards and journal covers, in swimsuit calendars that turned making-of DVDs that turned a actuality TV present. Although their spot in tradition is singular, their struggles and triumphs communicate to ladies’s rising place on this planet: how we glance, how we behave, who and what determines our price.  

Lately, they’re seen as a legacy, a throwback to a different period. Their immediately recognizable uniform was donated to the Smithsonian in 2018, a bit of American lore alongside Dorothy’s slippers and Abraham Lincoln’s high hat. However the squad has additionally slipped from its pedestal. Throughout the NFL, the previous decade has introduced fair-wage lawsuits, sexual harassment claims, and dangerous press. Skilled cheerleaders for different groups are shifting away from horny sideline dancing, adopting more-modest uniforms, and including males to their squads. The Carolina Panthers lately introduced on the primary overtly trans cheerleader. (Whether or not followers need these modifications is one other matter.) 

In February, scandal hit the Dallas Cowboys when ESPN broke the story that the crew’s primary PR man, Richard Dalrymple, had been accused of utilizing his cellphone to movie 4 cheerleaders of their dressing room again in 2015, leading to a $2.4 million settlement. The corporate line had at all times been that the cheerleaders had been protected. The intensive guidelines that had been put in place many years earlier—dictating all the things from how the cheerleaders dressed to the best way they performed themselves off the sphere—had been supposedly for their very own good, meant to protect their security in addition to their picture. But right here was the crew’s personal PR man being accused of making a PR catastrophe. For a squad that prided themselves on “wholesome sexiness,” this was seedy certainly.

The Cowboys and Dalrymple denied any wrongdoing. However my cellphone blew up with cheerleaders I’d gotten to know throughout the yr I spent interviewing them for the Texas Month-to-month podcast America’s Ladies. How had this occurred? Had it occurred different occasions? On sports activities radio and Twitter and in informal dialog, I heard questions that had dogged me since I’d began this venture: Did the world nonetheless want skilled cheerleaders? Did we ever?

Cowboys’ historical past books received’t inform you the true origin story of the cheerleaders. “The Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders began as the creation of one man: Texas E. Schramm,” reads a 1984 tome on the Cowboys. Nope, strive once more. Basic supervisor Tex Schramm, who helped launch the franchise, in 1960, was a visionary, a former CBS government who noticed that the way forward for skilled sports activities was tv. And it’s true he saved the squad alive throughout the years when born-again coach Tom Landry wished them gone. However the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders are literally the creation of some ladies, whose progressive concepts and contributions have principally been forgotten. 

Dee Brock was a lady of the world when the world could possibly be fairly small for ladies. She obtained her PhD in literature on the College of North Texas after marrying longtime Dallas Occasions Herald columnist Bob Brock, with whom she had three sons. She taught highschool English, although she’d later change into a founding college member on the metropolis’s first neighborhood school, El Centro. She was uncommonly stunning—blond and 5 ft seven—and he or she modeled on the facet. She additionally had a humorousness. “I don’t really like girls that have that much breast,” Brock remembered legendary clothier Stanley Marcus as soon as telling her as she prepped for a Neiman Marcus trend present. “Well, I’m sorry,” she replied. “But there they are.” 

Someday earlier than the Cowboys’ second season, in 1961, Schramm tapped her for a Large Thought: stunning fashions on the sidelines. Respectfully, Brock advised him this canine wouldn’t hunt. Fashions didn’t transfer a lot, they usually required cash, one thing Schramm didn’t prefer to spend. She hatched a unique plan. Recruit native highschool ladies. Pay them with a few tickets to the sport, give them some kerchiefs and pom-poms. It’s free! Schramm positioned her in cost, and he or she spent the subsequent decade attempting to make this components work, although it finally didn’t. She recruited teenage boys for an experiment in coed cheerleading remembered principally for its dumb identify: the Cowbelles and Beaux. 

“That is one of my embarrassing moments,” Brock, now in her early nineties, advised me at her dwelling in Tyler. The identify was a PR man’s stunt, and, sadly, it caught. “My teams were strong. They were not Belles and Beaux.” She virtually spat that final half. 

Brock had lengthy been a lady forward of her time. She built-in the squad in 1965, with the assistance of an area Black instructor named Frances Roberson. The Cowboys had a number of Black gamers by then, however a lot of Dallas was nonetheless segregated. In 1971, half of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders had been Black. 

The next yr, a skimpier uniform, an age bump, and an open audition marked the beginning of a courageous new period. “I think we need an older group of girls,” Brock remembers telling Schramm. 

“Old?” He was not satisfied.

Older, she defined. Eighteen and above. “And I wanted them to have a sexier costume,” she stated.

She didn’t use that phrase with Schramm, but it surely was on her thoughts. Again within the fifties, Brock had landed a spot as a “bathing beauty” in a Dallas summer time musical, the place she turned heads as one in all solely two ladies audacious sufficient to put on a bikini. That revealing quantity made her a celeb in native modeling circles. She wished her cheerleaders to get that very same form of consideration. She additionally wished the cheerleaders to be dancers. To placed on a present. And he or she knew precisely who to rent in an effort to do this: the opposite lady daring sufficient to put on a bikini in that summer time musical.

dallas cowboys cheerleaders Texie Waterman
Texie Waterman educating choreography for the 1979 ABC particular.American Broadcasting Corporations/Disney Basic Leisure Content material by way of Getty

Texie Waterman was a petite pistol of a redhead who saved a cigarette eternally smoldering between her fingers. She was additionally the go-to dance teacher in Dallas. “When they told me they wanted dancing cheerleaders, I told them they were crazy,” Waterman stated, in line with the 1982 ebook A Decade of Goals, nonetheless the one historical past of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders ever revealed, although it’s lengthy been out of print. 

Waterman grew up in Dallas and was a Highland Park Excessive College grad who started educating dance at seventeen. In her twenties, she had a run in New York Metropolis, the place she carried out in lavish supper golf equipment just like the Copacabana. By the point Brock approached her, she was managing a studio alongside along with her mom. (A really Texas element: Her mother was additionally named Texie.) She wasn’t bought on the concept at first. “There’s no stage, no light, no illusion,” she stated in A Decade of Goals. However she went for it anyway, introducing an attractive and playful model of dance that will go on to form stadium leisure.

Her preliminary annual wage was $300. Truly, Schramm didn’t wish to pay her in any respect, however Brock wasn’t about to ask the choreographer to work totally free, so she cut up her personal wage, which was $600 on the time. So there you go: $300 a yr to construct a legendary squad.

“When they told me they wanted dancing cheerleaders, I told them they were crazy,” Texie Waterman stated.

The appalling compensation for the ladies behind the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders is a mirrored image of each the occasions and a crew identified for being low-cost. The Cowboys didn’t change into omnipotent by giving something away. That new squad of cheerleaders that burst out of the tunnel in 1972? They obtained $15 a recreation, $14.12 after taxes.

“It was enough to fill up my gas tank and buy me a Slurpee,” Baker stated. The cash was a joke, but it surely made sense at the beginning. The cheerleading gig was solely a facet hustle, but it surely introduced standing, sisterhood, the prospect to be a part of one thing larger. 

The Unique Seven shortly turned native sweethearts. Followers began lining up after video games to get their autographs. Little ladies, little boys, grownup males who had by no means earlier than proven a lot curiosity within the motion on the sidelines. Extra cheerleaders had been quickly added, as a result of 7 wasn’t practically sufficient to fulfill crowd demand. First 15, then 21. They appeared at automobile dealerships and obtained their image within the paper, like hometown pageant queens. It was, in these preliminary years, a low-key form of movie star.

However the cheerleaders had been about to go world. 

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On the Professional Bowl in 1994.Al Messerschmidt/AP

It was November 10, 1975, and the Cowboys had been squaring off in opposition to the Kansas Metropolis Chiefs on Monday Evening Soccer. On the time, the weekly ABC broadcast was a blockbuster, with tens of tens of millions coaching their eyes on the identical recreation. Three years had handed for the reason that cheerleaders’ debut, and nonetheless no different crew in skilled sports activities had a squad like Dallas’s. And on this night time, the cameras didn’t allow you to overlook. They saved chopping away to these pretty lasses, sipping a cup of water, smiling and laughing on the sidelines. 

Then got here the second: A cheerleader named Gwenda Swearengin is shaking her pom-poms overhead as she faces the sphere between performs. She’s a former Miss Corsicana first runner-up, her lengthy brown hair cascading throughout each shoulders, and the digicam zooms in so tight on her that the white swish of her poms is barely seen on the high of the display. Because the shot lingers, she does one thing no cheerleader has ever accomplished. She appears to be like straight into the digicam—and winks.

“I think she was doing that for you, Frank,” host Howard Cosell cracks to his cohost, Frank Gifford.

“She was very effective,” Gifford responds.

Coy however flirtatious. The proper tease. One stunning lady shining her mild on each viewer of their lounge recliner.

“The wink” turned part of Cowboys mythology, a approach to clarify the squad’s rocket experience over the subsequent years, and like many myths, it’s about half-true. The second was a daring breaking of the fourth wall—the cheerleaders had principally ignored the cameras earlier than then. And that recreation ramped up their profile, as did their look two months in a while the sidelines of the 1976 Tremendous Bowl. However even earlier than the wink, the cheerleaders had been already a fixture of an enterprise that was casually turning on a regular basis sports activities followers into armchair voyeurs—not in a single second, however over a season of televised video games. 

Soccer’s exploding reputation by the seventies had rather a lot to do with TV units shifting to the middle of American households. The cheerleaders went alongside for the experience. Waterman had designed the squad to play to monumental stadiums, the place their exaggerated actions could possibly be seen excessive within the bleachers, however tv collapsed the gap, with close-ups that had been startling of their intimacy, virtually as if the cheerleaders had been performing in your lounge too.

“Honey shots” was the business time period for these cutaways, the invention of a former Dallas TV man turned ABC sports activities director, Andy Sidaris. “I got the idea for honey shots,” he stated within the 1976 documentary Seconds to Play, “because I am a dirty old man.” 

That very same yr, Dee Brock left the cheerleaders. She finally landed a gig as a senior vice chairman on the Public Broadcasting Service, the place she developed instructional programming. Waterman stayed on, however the demand created by the large TV publicity was proving an excessive amount of for one particular person. And so Schramm requested his secretary, Suzanne Mitchell, to run the cheerleaders “in your spare time,” a diversion that will quickly take over her life.

Because the story goes, when Schramm first interviewed her for the job of secretary, Mitchell was again in Dallas after a stint in New York Metropolis, the place she’d labored in publishing. He requested the place she noticed herself in 5 years. “Your chair looks pretty comfortable,” she advised him. He employed her on the spot. She would quickly rework an upstart group of fairly sideline dancers right into a smooth media machine.

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Suzanne Mitchell hoisted after a recreation in 1981. Courtesy of Dana Presley Kilmer
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Quarterback Danny White kissing cheerleader Cynde Lewis after the Cowboys’ 1978 Tremendous Bowl XII win. Walter Iooss Jr./Sports activities Illustrated by way of Getty Photographs

She dominated by worry and by no means pretended in any other case. Full hair and make-up needed to be accomplished for rehearsal. No showing in uniform round alcohol. No chewing gum. The cheerleaders had at all times had guidelines. “No fraternizing with players” was gospel from day one, an try and preserve gamers from distraction (and the wives from mutiny). However Mitchell was the daughter of a navy man, and he or she launched a boot-camp mentality, making the foundations a lifestyle. Scales confirmed up within the studio. Cheerleaders had been rebuilt in a brand new picture, like troopers enlisted within the military of glam. She expanded the squad, finally deciding on 36, and usual a form of seventies Spice Ladies: there was the sporty one, the lover, the wonder queen. The thought was that each little woman would see herself—and each man would see his fantasy. 

In 1977 the cheerleaders landed on the duvet of Esquire, probably the most subtle and influential titles within the heyday of magazines. “The Best Thing About the Dallas Cowboys,” it learn. A cheerleader named Debbie Wagener, a useless ringer for Blondie’s Debbie Harry, stands along with her fingers on her hips. The Cowboys merchandising arm obtained cranking quickly after that: there have been cheerleaders calendars, enjoying playing cards, Frisbees, even a toy van. 

Annual auditions ballooned to greater than a thousand hopefuls by 1978, with swarms of attractive, gifted ladies all competing for a similar 36 spots. “You can be replaced in a second,” Mitchell used to inform anybody who stepped out of line, although most didn’t. These ladies weren’t going to jeopardize their first style of fame. 

“We were put on a pedestal,” stated Shannon Baker Werthmann, who joined the squad in 1976. “You did have to pinch yourself.” Via the late seventies, her Farrah Fawcett hair and killer excessive kicks made her a poster woman and the cheerleader who at all times appeared to get probably the most fan mail. It’s straightforward to overlook how younger these ladies had been as they blasted into the zeitgeist. Werthmann was seventeen when she first tried out for the cheerleaders. The rule was you needed to be eighteen, however she didn’t wish to wait, so she lied on her utility.

In 1978 the squad was flown to Utah for its first huge TV spot, a particular hosted by the Osmond Brothers. “We were treated like princesses,” Werthmann advised me. “We rode in limos. There was a large spread of food waiting for us.” This was the dream. They even toured Donny and Marie’s dwelling. Marie, a teen on the time, had a pink bedspread and a group of dolls, a element that caught with Werthmann. “She was a girl, just like us.” 

Tami Barber was there too. The one baby of a Cowboys diehard, Barber got here from a small Nebraska city and had made the squad in 1977, at nineteen. Immediately, she turned often called “the one with the pigtails” and located herself signing autographs. She recalled showing on Jerry Lewis telethons in Las Vegas. “I got to see Johnny Carson and Frank Sinatra and Dionne Warwick,” she stated. “I mean, I was the fan at that point.” 

However these occasions stood in stark distinction to the fact for a lot of at dwelling. The cheerleaders by no means obtained a slice of the merchandising revenue, and the $15-a-game pay wouldn’t budge till the nineties. Rehearsals could possibly be as frequent as 5 nights per week, typically lasting until midnight, in an un-air-conditioned studio meant to prep them for the Texas warmth. Lots of them had been broke, hustling to make hire, falling asleep at their desks throughout work or college. Wagener was a checker at Tom Thumb when she appeared on that Esquire cowl—ringing up the shiny journal she graced and quietly placing it in somebody’s bag.  

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Illustration by Bráulio Amado; AP

In 1977 the cheerleaders launched their very own poster: 5 glamazons lit by neon, with smoke billowing round their ankles. On the middle was a brunette named Suzie Holub, her eyes smoldering as she regarded instantly into the lens. “Damn if that ain’t a come-hither look,” Tex Schramm advised photographer Bob Shaw when he noticed the picture, a shot that will promote round 1,000,000 copies and switch the cheerleaders into the nation’s hottest pinups. However this reputation got here with a darkish facet.

That yr, after a efficiency in Wichita, Kansas, the cheerleaders had been strolling again to their bus when followers descended on them in a approach they by no means had earlier than. “A couple of girls started running, then we started running, and then the crowd was running,” Tami Barber remembered. “It was our Beatles moment. We were running for our lives because these people were grabbing at us.” Barber sat contained in the bus as strangers pounded the edges. “My heart was beating so fast, and it was the first time I thought, ‘Why are people crazy? We’re just us.’ ”

The visibility introduced threats even Suzanne Mitchell couldn’t handle. One night time, Barber picked up the cellphone within the condominium the place she lived alone. “Good-night, Tami,” stated an unfamiliar man’s voice. She hung up, however he referred to as again one other night time, and he or she was so scared she moved. She wasn’t the one one. “You’ll have to have an unlisted number,” Mitchell instructed the cheerleaders, however usually that wasn’t sufficient. A cheerleader named Billie Mitchell as soon as opened her eyes in the course of the night time to discover a unusual man standing beside her mattress. She chased him out, after which she moved too.  

The Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders had change into a bona fide world sensation. They starred in a success 1979 made-for-TV film; they turned a part of the story arc in a two-part episode of The Love Boat; they confronted off in opposition to some Cowboys soccer gamers on Household Feud. And alongside the best way, Mitchell had the not possible job of managing these inside contradictions: she needed to preserve the cheerleaders secure whereas presenting them as endlessly out there; she touted their singularity in public whereas quashing their egos in non-public. She needed to management this wildfire on the similar time she fanned the flames. 

Cheerleaders throughout the NFL began copying the Cowboys, with greater than twenty squads reworking seemingly in a single day into sexpot dancers. Sports activities Illustrated referred to as it “the Great Cheerleading War of 1978.” The Cowboys had change into probably the most seen and most dear franchise within the NFL, and an enormous a part of the model was these fetching ladies. It was a match made in advertising and marketing heaven: within the middle of the sphere, Captain America Roger Staubach, and on the sidelines, 36 Miss Americas in a famously tarty uniform.

The yr 1978 was additionally when an grownup movie actress by the identify of Bambi Woods donned that superb uniform (or at the least an imitation of it) in a less-than-glorious scene. Debbie Does Dallas was a shoestring porno movie whose plot, so to talk, adopted a younger lady with the dream of cheering for a sure legendary Dallas soccer crew. The marquee outdoors the New York Metropolis theater the place it debuted falsely claimed that Woods was an “ex–Dallas Cowgirl cheerleader,” and the Cowboys—presumably incensed that the “wholesome sexiness” they’d pioneered had gone full frontal—sued for trademark infringement, ensuing within the deliciously named lawsuit Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders v. Pussycat Cinema. Newspapers and TV stations devoured this saga. The Cowboys finally received the case. However the media frenzy turned a fly-by-night pores and skin flick right into a blockbuster.

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In flip, the cheerleaders doubled down on their healthful picture. They launched a line of kids’s clothes that included a bit satin jacket and developed a brand new brand of a doe-eyed cartoon woman dressed as a cheerleader and looking out all of seven. Younger ladies had by then change into a significant fan base for the cheerleaders. However the sexual tease the squad had launched was difficult to place again within the bottle.

That very same fall of 1978, 5 ladies dressed as cheerleaders posed for a function in Playboy. The group was a rogue outfit referred to as the Texas Cowgirls, a rival Dallas-based company fashioned by ladies who had stop the Cheerleaders (fed up with the foundations, worn down by the demanding schedule and low pay) or been nixed from the squad as auditions turned cutthroat. The Cowgirls made appearances at locations the place the cheerleaders wouldn’t dare to go, usually occasions the place alcohol was served. And their charges had been shared evenly among the many members, in contrast to the cheerleaders, whose occasional look charges went to a choose group of favourite members of the squad, and who didn’t see a dime from the squad’s quite a few merchandising offers. 

The Texas Cowgirls’ splashy debut in Playboy was a riff on the Cheerleaders’ top-selling 1977 poster, 5 glamazons in triangle formation, aside from one element. This time, their tops had been untied. 

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Cheerleader Dana Presley throughout a USO tour within the Philippines in 1983. Courtesy of Dana Presley Kilmer
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Cheerleaders on The Tonight Present with Jay Leno in 1996. Margaret C. Norton/NBC/NBCU Photograph Financial institution by way of Getty

Regardless of the controversies of the late seventies, the cheerleaders not often encountered any form of public backlash. However in 1982, they arrived at Fresno State College, in California, to rehearse for a halftime efficiency, and as they entered the campus they had been greeted by a giant white bedsheet hanging out the window of a constructing, spray-painted with the phrases “Hearts and Minds, Not Bumps and Grinds.”  

The cheerleaders had remodeled tradition within the earlier decade, however so had second-wave feminism. Ms. journal debuted the identical yr, 1972, as that iconic uniform did, and the consciousness-raising publication cofounded by Gloria Steinem had helped popularize concepts about sexual objectification and the male gaze throughout a decade when authorized victories like Roe v. Wade and the 1974 Equal Credit score Alternative Act had been altering ladies’s lives. By 1982, a feminist vernacular had seeped into the American vocabulary in the identical approach sizzling pants and jiggle had seeped into community programming, and on the sidelines of Fresno State, these two forces had been about to collide. 

The drumbeat of protest had been constructing all week. A professor within the bodily training division named Rhita Flake began a petition, swiftly picked up by the information media, calling the cheerleaders “demeaning to women” as a result of their main perform was “to provide sexually suggestive entertainment for male sports fans.” 

“Sex objects”—that was the slur that adopted the squad, even when the cheerleaders, and lots of followers, noticed themselves as extra: position fashions, goodwill ambassadors, gifted performers. In 1979 they’d even begun doing USO excursions to go to troopers in Korea and elsewhere abroad. So when director Suzanne Mitchell heard about Flake’s remark, she shot again within the press, “The first thing I’d like to ask her is, what has she ever done for her country? We helicopter into the DMZ.”

Issues obtained ugly on the efficiency later that day, when protesters gathered outdoors the stadium. Dana Presley Killmer, who joined the squad in 1981, remembers the ominous vibe. “It was so nasty that the faculty at the university had to form a human fence on either side of us so we could get out of the bus and get onto the field without [protesters] throwing rocks.” The complicated half for the cheerleaders was that the looks was a charity occasion to boost cash for the faculty’s athletics division. However within the heated battle of the sexes, the cheerleaders had been now deemed to be on the improper facet.

The cheerleaders could have been regarded as eye sweet for males, however they’d change into a lightning rod for a lot of ladies, and nonetheless are to at the present time. Their reputation raised sophisticated questions on ladies’s magnificence and sexuality—how do you extol these qualities with out being outlined by them? “Exploitation” is a phrase that usually will get thrown round by critics of the cheerleaders. However who decides that these ladies are being exploited if they are saying they’re not?

“We really were doing what we wanted to do,” Killmer advised me from her dwelling in East Texas. “No one forced me to be a Dallas Cowboy cheerleader.” Fairly the alternative—she beat out greater than two thousand ladies for her spot.

By the top of the last decade, the cheerleaders’ tightly calibrated combination of sweetness and licentiousness was about to face a wholly completely different problem—the crew’s new proprietor.

One Saturday in early 1989, Mitchell’s assistant, Debbie Bond Hansen, arrived on the workplace to find all types of unfamiliar males wandering the halls, shuffling by papers. “There were all these suits,” remembered Hansen. She referred to as Mitchell, who was at dwelling. What was occurring? The night information would inform them quickly sufficient. An Arkansas oilman named Jerry Jones had purchased the Dallas Cowboys. A brand new sheriff was on the town.

Hansen had been with the cheerleaders since 1979. Via a lot of the next decade, she’d confirmed a trusty second lieutenant to Mitchell. As soon as, after listening to a rumor that one hopeful was moonlighting as a stripper, Mitchell dispatched her to go to each strip membership in Dallas. “I had never been to a strip club, okay?” stated Hansen. “I was hiding in the corner because I didn’t want anybody to recognize me.” She slunk round in outsized sun shades and a fur coat. Since her final identify on the time was Bond, this detective work earned her the nickname “Double-Oh-Seven.” 

Mitchell and Hansen had steered the cheerleaders out of the scandalous late seventies and the feminist pushback of the early eighties by leaning on the foundations. The foundations had been used to maintain issues regular and predictable, however additionally they provided instruction in a sure form of Southern womanhood. “A lot of people don’t know this—we were a grooming school too,” Hansen advised me. The matter of when to put on heels and what fork to make use of with the salad would possibly seem to be trivial issues, however these questions could possibly be overwhelming to small-town ladies hoping to be one thing extra. The final word objective of every cheerleader was made clear in Mitchell’s photocopied handouts, which got to rookies: “A girl becomes a LADY.”

Jerry Jones didn’t appear to be a fan of guidelines—not theirs, anyway. He fired Coach Landry. He shunted Tex Schramm to the facet until the legendary supervisor walked off the sphere he’d constructed, and the ever-loyal Mitchell stop quickly after. “They were America’s Team,” she advised a reporter after she resigned. “[Now] they’re Jerry Jones’s team.”

Mitchell put in Hansen as her successor, however the scene had modified in distressing methods. “I’d be having a rehearsal in the dance studio, and Jerry Jones would come down with his friends and his cocktails,” Hansen stated. Previous to this, the cheerleaders had at all times been strictly siloed. They entered and exited by completely different doorways than the gamers did and infrequently solely noticed them on the sphere. Below Jones, the ladies’ college vibe had turned strip membership. There was the proprietor, “clinking the ice, watching the girls rehearse,” Hansen remembered. “I was just like, ‘Gosh, this is not like the old days.’ ”

In keeping with Hansen, Jones introduced her into his workplace and defined he was enjoyable the foundations. Let the cheerleaders date gamers, allow them to seem round alcohol. Who cares? He additionally wished to vary the uniform. At the least that’s what Hansen advised reporters who ambushed her on the workplace a number of days later. On the information clip, she speaks in a solemn voice as microphones cluster close to her chin. “I have received pressure from within the front office to add to the cheerleaders’ uniform during the summer months biking pants and halter tops.” She tells reporters how this Jones character responded to her objection that cheerleaders shouldn’t be seen in untoward eventualities. He advised her, “Debbie, alcohol is here to stay.”

Hansen resigned, and he or she wasn’t the one one. Fourteen cheerleaders stop, though Jones sweet-talked them again, saying it was all a misunderstanding. He introduced in his Stanford-educated daughter, Charlotte, to assist straighten out his PR mess, and in time she’d change into president of the cheerleaders and a significant energy participant within the Jones household enterprise. 

This specific standoff evokes a stress that has existed in ladies’s lives for generations. The previous regime wished to guard the ladies, however the strict guidelines additionally constrained their habits—and positioned all accountability solely on the ladies’s shoulders. Cheerleaders had been kicked off for relationship gamers, who by no means suffered a factor. Cheerleaders had been kicked off for a lot much less, the truth is—consuming in uniform, sporting a salty Halloween costume, any habits deemed unladylike. Immediately, a brand new regime wished to loosen the corset, granting the ladies extra leeway—however to do what? One cheerleader, a two-year veteran named Cindy Villarreal, stated she stop after getting an uncommon request to look with one other cheerleader on Jerry Jones’s non-public jet. (The Cowboys group declined a number of interview requests. A spokesperson for the crew disputed Hansen’s and Villarreal’s accounts however provided no particulars.) 

It was, certainly, Jones’s crew now. And over the subsequent many years that crew would nab three Tremendous Bowl championships, garner a heap of tabloid scandal, and change into probably the most profitable model identify in sports activities, valued at greater than $6 billion.

dallas cowboys cheerleaders
Cheerleaders on the final Cowboys matchup at Texas Stadium, in September 2008.Donna McWilliam/AP

We actually wished this yr’s calendar to be particular,” cheerleaders director Kelli Finglass tells an ESPN movie crew on a windswept Caribbean seashore in 1999. “We wanted it to be classy and elegant and to expose the cheerleaders as the premier group of women in all sports.” 

“Expose the cheerleaders”—was {that a} cheeky joke or a slip of the tongue? The swimsuit calendars, first launched within the early nineties, actually did expose these cheerleaders: over time, the bikinis obtained smaller, the poses extra risqué. The ladies had been busy retaining tempo with a tradition gone wild. The nineties noticed the rise of Victoria’s Secret Angels and MTV Spring Break, all of which amounted to plenty of soft-core porn on cable channels simply as actual porn began operating rampant on the web. It was now mundane to see an almost bare lady rolling in sand in a business for watches, for cologne—for something, actually. 

Finglass had been a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader from 1984 to 1988, when her final identify was McGonagill. Raised within the small East Texas city of Lindale, she was identified for her outgoing character and radiant smile. She’d studied advertising and marketing in school, and Jones finally employed Finglass as the brand new director in 1991. She turned out to share her boss’s advertising and marketing prowess and knack for company partnerships. Each final element on these cheerleaders obtained a sponsor, from their Lucchese boots to their visits to Planet Tan. 

The swimsuit calendars turned a fixture of show tables at Barnes & Noble, subsequent to Sports activities Illustrated pinups and Far Aspect desk calendars. Their attain was prolonged even additional when ESPN determined to movie these making-of-the-swimsuit-calendar specials, hoping to refill programming on an increasing cable community. It was one lengthy hour of behind-the-scenes moments: cheerleaders getting their make-up accomplished, cheerleaders posing beside rocks as waves crash in opposition to them, all set to tropical membership music. A number of years later, the Cowboys produced their very own swimsuit particular, which they bought on DVD.

However in 2006, the cheerleaders’ publicity hit a brand new degree: they obtained their very own actuality present. Making the Crew was the brainchild of writer-producer Eugene Pack, whose many credit included the Miss USA Pageant. This was excessive tide for actuality TV, a style that exploded across the flip of the century with Survivor, Dancing With the Stars, and American Idol, exhibits that allowed viewers to go judgment from the consolation of their couches. Like these hits, Making the Crew adopted the audition course of every year, because the judges—led by the ever-poised Finglass—whittled down a whole lot of hopefuls. The present had built-in dramatic stress: solely 36 ladies would (metaphorically) survive. Thrilling competitors, tearful eliminations, and plot twists drawn from actual life (accidents, heartbreaks, private tragedies) turned part of the narrative.

Not like exhibits corresponding to The Actual Housewives, Making the Crew didn’t visitors in catfights, and it felt earnest in a approach that swept you up into these ladies’s hopes and desires. Whether or not or not the producers had been scheming behind the scenes to drum up scores (I used to be advised by a number of crew members they weren’t), the ladies who made the reduce appeared chosen as a result of they had been the most effective candidates, not as a result of they might instigate drama. Though early seasons included a sure mean-girl snideness and informal body-shaming endemic to the period, the present began to maneuver away from that. Maybe probably the most stunning factor about Making the Crew—given all of the cleavage, hip thrusting, and hair flicking—was how endearing it could possibly be.

“I used to watch that when I was stoned in college with my friend Suzy,” New Yorker author Jia Tolentino, who grew up in Houston, advised me. “It was the kind of thing where we thought we might be watching it in a snarky, we-will-laugh-at-these-people way, and then we were like, ‘I would f—ing die for these women.’ ”

Tucked away on a cable channel referred to as CMT (Nation Music Tv), it was ignored by most media even because it caught on with a hard-core fan base of girls, a lot of whom would possibly by no means set foot inside a soccer stadium. If honey photographs had diminished the cheerleaders to cutaway intercourse objects, the fact present expanded them into bona fide abilities. Dance turned the central theme, from the opening cattle name, when teams carried out a quantity in entrance of a panel of judges, to the lengthy studio practices, as newbies struggled to good their excessive kicks and soar splits. Probably the most entertaining segments had been the solo performances, when the ladies revealed a finesse for pirouettes and grand jetés that appeared to shock even them. Early seasons had an American Idol–model tendency to mock much less gifted performers, and the specter of actuality present cameras could have tanked the audition numbers, main fewer hopefuls to check out, however the ladies who did present up had been top-notch. Making the Crew turned one of many longest-running and hottest actuality sequence in CMT’s historical past, and it turned ladies who’d lengthy been nameless into characters whose journey viewers may observe by the seasons.

However one other actuality was rising alongside the present, and this one didn’t get airtime. In 2014 two Oakland Raiders cheerleaders filed a class-action swimsuit in opposition to their squad, claiming wage violations. The lawsuit resulted in a $1.25 million settlement for the cheerleaders and launched a wave of litigation throughout the NFL. For many years, low pay had been business commonplace, and a few even argued that this was a great factor. “You get a better quality of girls who aren’t doing it for the money but for the love of dance,” Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders choreographer Judy Trammell advised a reporter from E! Information again in 1996, when the pay fee was nonetheless $15 a recreation. 

A brand new era of younger ladies, steeped in social media activism, had been revealing this custom to be one thing else fully: in opposition to the regulation. Comparable fits adopted with the Cincinnati Bengals, New York Jets, and Buffalo Payments, whereas ones that cited body-shaming and discrimination hit the Houston Texans and the New Orleans Saints, respectively. A chill shot by the NFL.

A lot of what had made it attainable for the Cowboys cheerleaders to change into a world phenomenon—the armchair voyeurism, the throwaway pay, the strict weight necessities making certain a supposedly ideally suited physique, one which could possibly be dissected by cameras—started crashing into battle with the #MeToo period, as therapy of girls took middle stage. Squads began sporting more-modest costumes, including males, buying and selling hip thrusts for the sorts of stunting seen on Netflix’s Cheer, strikes that had been much less “all-American, sexy girls” and extra Cirque du Soleil.

In 2018 the Cowboys had been hit with a lawsuit too. Erica Wilkins had been a star on the squad who appeared on the duvet of a Cowboys Star journal swimsuit situation in 2016. It was her most profitable yr, and, in line with her grievance, she raked in a complete of about $16,500, together with recreation day and look charges. Probably the most damning element discovered within the grievance was that Rowdy, the crew’s mascot, made about $65,000 per yr throughout that very same interval. 

Although Wilkins filed the swimsuit as a collective motion, no different cheerleaders joined her. Excessive-profile veterans, together with Actual Housewives of Dallas star Brandi Redmond, as an alternative circled the wagons on social media. “I would do it all over again for free,” she wrote, a standard sentiment amongst cheerleaders however one which isn’t really related to the legality of a contract. In keeping with Wilkins’s swimsuit, the Cowboys labeled their cheerleaders as staff, however they weren’t making minimal wage. They acquired $200 for recreation day and $8 an hour for rehearsals. The seventies ladies could have died for that form of scratch. However even with the pay bump, Wilkins stated, her pay usually fell far beneath minimal wage as soon as she logged all of the hours. She settled her swimsuit out of court docket, and whereas no cheerleaders ever joined her, it benefited them anyway. Sport day pay reportedly doubled to $400. 

In the meantime, a lot of the media, which had as soon as handled cheerleading as the final word fantasy, began to deal with it extra like a waking nightmare. “A Ponzi scheme in hot pants,” learn a bit on Deadspin. “So, Uh, Why Does the NFL Have Cheerleaders Again?” requested the Ringer. What was as soon as new and horny now regarded outdated and sexist. And but, every Could, a whole lot nonetheless vied for the respect.

dallas cowboys cheerleaders
A midfield routine in 2008. Greg Nelson/Sports activities Illustrated by way of Getty
dallas cowboys cheerleaders jerry jones
Jerry Jones on the ribbon chopping for the brand new stadium in 2009. James D. Smith/Icon SMI/Corbis/Icon Sportswire by way of Getty

Final November, the cheerleaders carried out a sixtieth anniversary halftime present at AT&T Stadium, a.ok.a. Jerry World (it changed Texas Stadium in 2009), the place the Miller Lite and Pepsi logos had been displayed proper beneath the American flag. The quantity sixty really got here as a little bit of a shock. For a very long time, the cheerleaders dated their inception to 1972, when the uniform debuted. However now they had been relationship it again to the very starting, 1961, the yr Dee Brock began the squad.

I purchased an inexpensive standing-room-only seat within the rafters and jockeyed for a greater view as cheerleaders from every decade—white-haired girls from the seventies, adopted by long-haired girls from the eighties, adopted by much more long-haired ladies from the nineties—took the sphere for a choreographed routine, one danceable hit after one other. After which all of them took the sphere collectively for the finale, “We Are Family,” by Sister Sledge.

The Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders have at all times been a household. At the least, that’s what individuals I interview inform me. And so the scandal that erupted in February was extra than simply an alleged transgression. As a result of the offense was coming from inside the home. 

PR maven Wealthy Dalrymple had unexpectedly retired earlier that month. He was greeted with hosannas from native sports activities journalists, who didn’t appear to note that for the group to quietly disappear one in all Jerry Jones’s high advisers with out a lot as an announcement on their web site was very bizarre. Weeks later, veteran investigative reporter Don Van Natta Jr. broke the story on ESPN. Dalrymple had been accused of secretly filming as 4 cheerleaders modified of their dressing room. 

It was stunning, however not stunning. Throughout a 2001 postgame present for a playoff matchup hosted by the Philadelphia Eagles, a sportscaster revealed that visiting gamers, whose locker room was adjoining to that of the Eagles cheerleaders’, had been caught peeping on the ladies as they undressed and showered. A lawsuit adopted, with claims that such habits had been occurring for practically twenty years, that the peepholes had been “common knowledge among virtually the entire National Football League,” and that they had been “considered one of the special ‘perks’ of being a visiting team of the Eagles.” Extra lately, the Washington Soccer Crew (now the Commanders) had their very own voyeurism scandal after a former government was accused of getting workers create a lewd video that pieced collectively nip slips and different risqué B-roll footage from their cheerleaders’ swimsuit shoot.

Representatives from the Cowboys claimed that an investigation into the Dalrymple incident, which happened in 2015, revealed no wrongdoing. But the crew nonetheless paid that confidential settlement of $2.4 million. On the time, my podcast on the cheerleaders had simply wrapped, and I went on the Dallas sports activities station the Ticket. One of many questions I’d been pondering was the way to shield in opposition to poisonous voyeurism, when, as I defined on-air, “low-key voyeurism is part of their brand.” I famous that in 2013 followers had been invited to pay $6,999 to journey to Mexico and watch the swimsuit calendar shoot in particular person. Among the many listeners that day was Kelli Finglass, who later messaged me on Instagram, the place we had often traded direct messages. Kelli had complimented my work on the podcast (although she’d declined to take part), however she wasn’t thrilled with me that afternoon.

“Your comment that the DCC were designed for low key voyeurism made me gasp,” she wrote. I had a momentary stab of guilt, questioning if I’d gotten the story improper. However I’d usually suspected that lots of the cheerleaders didn’t absolutely know their very own story, and that trendy audiences hadn’t absolutely absorbed the extent to which we’ve all change into voyeurs—watching the grand spectacle by the screens in our dwelling rooms, which turned our bedrooms, which turned our laptops, which turned the telephones in our palms. 

Cheerleaders started texting me, keen to speak however cautious of occurring the
report. The crew instills fierce loyalty (some would possibly say quaking worry), and it’s uncommon to listen to cheerleaders overtly questioning the group’s integrity or griping about present management, however a number of had been chopping unfastened that day. “Don’t Tarnish the Star” was a mantra these ladies had taken to coronary heart. They adopted the foundations, they toiled for subsequent to nothing—and the individuals tarnishing the star turned out to be those in management all alongside. “Every decision I’ve made in my life, I thought about that team,” Tami Barber, now 64 and staring down a most cancers analysis, advised me. She was one of many uncommon few who didn’t thoughts being quoted. Her coronary heart would at all times be with the cheerleaders, she stated, however the Cowboys? “If I were in AT&T Stadium today, I would puke on the star.”

It turned an extended, darkish low season for the Cowboys. In March, information broke that Jones had been slapped with a paternity swimsuit by a 25-year-old lady alleging he was her father. (She later dropped the swimsuit.) Later that month, Making the Crew was quietly canceled. No motive was given, but it surely was laborious to not speculate both that the scandals had given CMT chilly ft or that the cheerleaders, scrambling to manage the narrative, felt that actuality cameras got here with an excessive amount of threat. The Cowboys saved on as if there have been nothing to see right here. There was a giant NFL draft get together outdoors the crew’s Frisco apply facility later that month, with cheerleaders high-kicking and shaking their silver-and-blue pom-poms. 

After all, the franchise has been nothing if not bulletproof. By summer time, speaking heads had been debating when (if?) they’d win the Tremendous Bowl once more, and Jones was awarded a bid to host the 2026 FIFA World Cup in his behemoth stadium. The way forward for the cheerleaders, alternatively, was much less clear.

The cheerleaders modified the world. And the world modifications. They burst out of that tunnel and shifted the best way we noticed intercourse and sweetness, commerce and tradition. However as our views shift, so do our heroes. Ladies don’t wish to be on the sidelines anymore. Sexiness in service of males’s sports activities strikes many as painfully outdated. The erotic contagion the cheerleaders despatched by the NFL is heading within the different route now, with many squads reinventing themselves as coed, extra athletic, family-friendly. Can the all-American horny ladies stick round in a panorama that appears to be crumbling? A panorama they helped construct? I wouldn’t guess in opposition to them.

Nonetheless, fifty years is a very long time to carry on to custom. A number of of the ladies who formed this phenomenon have handed on. Texie Waterman died in 1996, Suzanne Mitchell in 2016. However the unique architect continues to be round. 

On a sunny afternoon in early June, a Cowboys bus pulled up alongside a curb in Tyler. Eight present cheerleaders stepped out in summer time attire, adopted by a number of former cheerleaders in denims and sparkly Cowboys jerseys. All of them made their approach up the sidewalk and into a house whose entryway led to a comfortable book-lined room. Sitting in an armchair was Dee Brock, 92 years previous however with the identical nice bone construction, her lengthy white hair swept to the facet in a ponytail. Brock hadn’t been capable of attend the sixtieth alumni reunion, so the cheerleaders introduced the celebration to her.

“Dee knew how to get people’s attention back in the day,” Finglass stated as soon as everybody had gathered inside. And so her present, she defined, ought to be equally eye-catching. She pulled out a lifetime achievement award, a white leather-based soccer studded with rhinestones that caught the sunshine when Brock turned the ball in her fingers, earlier than gamely tucking it below her left arm, as if she had been about to run for a landing. Her central position had lengthy been forgotten, so it felt like an indication of institutional well being that she was being honored, as if the current may shake fingers with the previous.

The younger cheerleaders lingered by Brock’s facet all afternoon like long-lost granddaughters, leaning their heads on the chair the place she sat, absorbing her knowledge, holding her hand, virtually as in the event that they by no means wished to let it go. The squad started as solely an experiment—however what an experiment it turned out to be.

This text initially appeared within the September 2022 situation of Texas Month-to-month with the headline “A Half Century of High Kicks and Hot Pants.” Subscribe in the present day.

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