To The NFL:
Yesterday, I went to a Jets game with my husband, to celebrate his birthday; it was the first time either of us had ever been to a regular-season game. As the mother of a one-year-old who already has more than his fair share of Jets gear, I was really impressed at all the ways that you found to get kids involved. This GenJets program you’ve come up with seems pretty great, especially because your “kids only” autograph area encourages parents to take their kids to see the athletes practice. I’m not sure how well the NFL’s well-publicized “Play60″ effort is going, in terms of actually increasing physical activity among your youngest fans, but it’s just common sense that kids who see a pro football team practice will think “WOW! How can I do THAT?” It’s really neat that the kids whose parents are season ticket holders get the chance to run out of the tunnel and help welcome the players on the field, and I loved seeing this same group learn how to be “Kid Reporters” by interviewing players. It’s also awesome that kids whose families do not have seasons tickets are welcome to join a “Just for Kids conference call with players and coaches.” I’ve picked out those “member benefits” to highlight, because they show children, rather than simply offer lip service, what it’s like to play a sport this demanding. Oh, and I like the reporter thing, because I’d really rather my kid want to interview people than risk brain injury by playing a sport with such a high rate of head injuries, but that’s a story for another day.
Today, I’d like to talk to you about the unadvertised messages you are selling and modeling to the NFL’s youngest fans by showcasing the Jets Flight Crew cheerleaders in a way that focuses attention on women as sex objects. It is not necessary for cheerleaders to be sex objects; I have been educated about this by a professional cheerleading coach and former cheer captain, who explained the athletic elements I wasn’t seeing. The women I saw on the field today can dance. They are talented, and they are entertaining! They sparkle and shine from all the way up in the last rows, where we were sitting, and they seem to be having a great time. But the way you showcase these women on the huge screens in your stadiums, in your merchandise and online treats them as sex objects, rather than talented dancers who help energize the crowd and provide entertainment.
To be perfectly frank, I didn’t even notice that you were doing this until the eleven-year-old boy who was sitting next to me returned from the concession stands while the camera feed you put on the big screens panned across a row of women in poses that could only have been intended to scream “SEX.” My discomfort made me squirm, literally, when adult men seated in front of me cheered and jeered at those women onscreen, while sitting next to other young boys. I thought the festive costumes were cute, as a matter of fact, until I saw just where their hemlines ended, and just how specifically that fuzzy trim around the bottom had been designed, to the inch, to give viewers a peek at the spandex beneath those “skirts.” I’ll provide an example, for readers who haven’t already conjured up a good image of the kind of thing I’m talking about:
I’m not saying that this surprises me. It doesn’t. I know that your audience is largely comprised of adult men, and that sex sells. But it surprise me that children were confronted with images like this one in your actual stadiums, during your games, and even during programs specifically designed for children. My husband made a comment about the Jets Flight Crew Calendar on his return from the concession stands with hot chocolate for us, and only when my new young friend’s appearance made me uncomfortable with the images onscreen did it occur to me that this same young boy had probably noticed that calendar, too. I am absolutely certain that adult men could enjoy the talents of these beautiful women without poses like this one and costumes meant to show off the crotch. There are children watching. Always. On TV and in your stadiums. Take some responsibility for what you are selling those kids. If you want to claim that you can convince them to “Play60″ and get them active and that your players are role modeling for them, then you need to model respect for all the athletes on your field, not just the ones with helmets.
Out of curiosity, I looked up the “jumpsuit” costume my husband mentioned, one that covers a bit more skin; it’s not the skin I object to, but rather, the poses you highlight. Your Flight Crew can be as covered up as I am, on any given Sunday, and still cater to our society’s basest instincts about women and sex.
I wanted to end there, until I saw the way you showcased the boys and girls in your GenJets club, separately and, of course, perfectly aligned with every stereotype about what we value in men and women. I was just trying to find official images and good links for this blog post. I wasn’t looking to destroy my hopes about your club for kids. I wasn’t looking for a reason to think this would be anything other than fun for my own child. And then, I saw this little array of photos and links:
For the love! Just show a little girl enjoying a game! Put ONE girl in just ONE of your general calls to join your club! I checked. There aren’t any images of girls in those general ads. There were girls in the Kids Tunnel today! Where are their pictures? I think Jets Flight Crew cheer camp sounds like it would be a lot of fun for girls who like cheerleading, so I’m obviously not asking you to take down that image. I just want to see young female fans enjoying the game the way I do–from the stands. It’s normal! SELL THAT, TOO. Sell fandom to young girls as well as young boys. Stop feeding stereotypes. And while we’re at it–stop putting costumes on women that you can’t get away with putting on little girls. If those costumes were ok, at all, you’d have the shorter females in this photo wearing matching outfits. But they are covered up, and we both know that’s because you’d get flak for putting girls in anything this ridiculous:
Adults know beautiful and sexy when we see it. You don’t need to shove it down our throats in a way that also sells our young children a particularly offensive brand of “sexy,” and a tired set of stereotypes about women. Everyone really can have all the fun, without the part that made me blush to see a child watching. Even a tablespoon of subtlety would help me believe that you care at all about the physical or mental well-being of your youngest fans; at this point, I’m pretty much convinced that you care only about selling the brand to the next generation.
A Disappointed Mother and Fan-By-Marriage