Bring it On for Cheer!
By Lily Crowell and Mele Buice
The past few weeks, it seems as though everyone’s screens have been filled with pom poms, big bows, and girls being tossed into the air like ragdolls. There is no doubt about it; Netflix’s new hit show, Cheer, has captivated American pop-culture.
This somewhat niche documentary series––released on Netflix in January—went viral seemingly overnight. But why?
Part of what makes this show so special is that it reveals another side of a sport that is completely foreign to many viewers. Unfortunately, stereotypes too often paint cheerleaders as popular, pretty, vapid girls who dance provocatively in tiny flaps of fabric on the sidelines of football games. While it is true that during competitions girls are required to wear the quintessential high ponies, heavy makeup, and short skirts, Cheer shows that these same girls work tirelessly, and often through injury, to be at the top of their sport.
As we follow the Navarro cheer team through their journey to championships in Daytona, Florida, we see just how taxing this sport is on the athletes. Girls and boys bruise, dislocate, fracture, and break bones so frequently that it has become virtually normalized within the culture. What else would you expect when you are throwing a person into the air (or being thrown yourself), doing death-defying flips, and building a human pyramid for hours every day?
As Willa Gilbert-Goldstein (‘20) pointed out, “Cheer is unique in that it is simultaneously binge-worthy and fast-paced while also being deeply emotional and layered.” Like many other viewers, she was surprised by how thought-provoking a show about cheerleading could be.
The connections the audiences have made with the cast is a big draw to the show. It seems as though every member of the Navarro team had endured some tragic event before being recruited by Monica Aldama, the Head Coach of the college’s cheer squad. Some fan favorites include Jerry Harris, La’Darius Marshall, and Gabi Butler.
Jerry stole hearts with his upbeat attitude and killer mat-talk (when cheerleaders hype up their teammates before going “full out” in their routine). His positive demeanor is even more admirable when considering the fact that his mother died of cancer when he was young.
After the audience falls in love with La’Darius’ bubbly and vibrant personality, it is revealed that he and his siblings were left in a home by his mother where he was sexually abused by an older boy. Gabi also garnered pity after watchers viewed her parents pressuring and overworking her throughout the show.
In highlighting each of the main characters’ connection to their cheer family after enduring extremely difficult childhoods, the show is able to pull at viewers’ hearts. Following the families and support systems of these kids, viewers are shown a more vulnerable and honest representation of what they are going through outside of the cheer world.
The cast of Cheer has taken the world by storm and is appearing on popular shows such as Ellen and Oprah. Cheerleader Jerry also interviewed celebrities at the Oscars red carpet, and it’s safe to say he wasn’t the only one left starstruck. A-listers like Cathy Bates, Billie Eilish, Reese Witherspoon, and Brad Pitt were all fangirling over him and saying that Cheer was their new favorite show. Tyler Oakley, YouTube-activist-author, went so far as to tweet, “okay but who is Jerry from the Navarro cheer team endorsing for the democratic primaries?? i feel like i trust his judgment.”
Reese Withersoon also tweeted: “Watched so much #CheerNetflix last night I’m hooked.”
The Cheer infatuation has certainly hit Packer as well. Backstage at Dance Concert, it wasn’t uncommon to see people huddled together watching the show before they were called to perform. A few girls even took it upon themselves to try to learn the Navarro routine.
Even teachers are obsessed with the show. Micheal Barbaro, Dean of the Class of ‘22, who cheered for Flagler College in his freshman and sophomore years, admired the realness of the show and felt reminiscent of his own cheer days while watching. He pointed out that while “cheerleading is gonna have a very glossy, glamourous, everybody’s perfect feel to it,” the show exhibits what people are really going through, and “takes you on the ride of the disappointment and the joy.”
Allison Bishop, Upper School Assistant Division Head, cheered at Stephen F. Austin State University, a D1 school where many of the Navarro team members graduate to. When watching Cheer, she felt an immense connection to her own experiences in the sport, almost as if she was watching “an insight into [her] soul,” remarking “Oh god that’s me,” Mrs. Bishop appreciated Cheer’s ability to capture both the the physical and mental toughness of the sport, and even more, its success in conveying a life long lesson she learned from the sport: “no matter how hard it gets, you just put a smile on your face and endure through it.”
Ultimately, Cheer has exposed main-stream culture to the true rigor of this sport, some of the warmhearted athletes who participate in it, and to a place in rural Texas where all types of people, no matter their gender, sexuality, or race, are accepted and pushed to be their best athletic selves.
With the success of this show, it’s safe to say that cheerleaders are no longer just on the sidelines.