In 2006, a little app called Twitter launched. A show about a pop star living a double life named Hannah Montana premiered on Disney Channel, starring a not-yet-fifteen Miley Cyrus. And CMT debuted the show Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders: Making the Team to provide an inside look at how America’s Sweethearts were chosen.
What started as a sort of ragtag, co-ed high school cheer squad in the 1960s eventually morphed into what we now know as the smiling, star-studded-vests- and tiny-white-short-shorts-wearing Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders. These women served as community ambassadors for the NFL team, came to be respected worldwide for their dancing abilities (and kicklines), and were ultimately codified in NFL cheerleading history as an untouchable combination of sexy and sweet. By the time the cult-favorite CMT show premiered, America’s Sweethearts had become a cultural institution in their own right. They spawned kids’ Halloween costumes (which I owned), calendars and posters that hung in many a boy’s bedroom, and even a pornographic film titled Debbie Does Dallas.
Sixteen years later, the show CMT once touted as its longest running and “most popular” series unexpectedly came to an end. Texas Monthly broke the news last week, after crew members quietly received text message updates. Hours after the story ran, a media representative from the Cowboys issued a press release stating they were seeking a new home for the show. The release included a statement from the cheerleaders’ director Kelli Finglass: “The women who competed and shared their personal journeys should be applauded, those who earn the right to wear the legendary uniform have influence and inspiration that deserves to be shared worldwide… My hope is to continue their stories with our fans more globally, as we are in the process of negotiating a new partnership and we look forward to continuing to feature the DCC on a new platform.”
It is still unclear if the cheerleaders, the talent and subjects of the show, were given the same heads-up as the crew members. The women are currently in Mexico for the annual bikini calendar photoshoot, and the DCC’s social accounts have not shared the news of the show’s cancellation. Perhaps more concerning is the speculation pertaining to why the show may have been canceled.
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In February, an explosive report from ESPN claimed that the Dallas Cowboys paid out a whopping $2.4 million settlement. The settlement was in response to claims from four members of the Cowboys’ cheerleading squad who alleged that the team’s longtime senior vice president for public relations and communications Richard Dalrymple filmed them on his iPhone while they were changing. The claim alleged that Dalrymple had also taken upskirt photos of Charlotte Jones Anderson, a team senior vice president and the daughter of team owner Jerry Jones, in the Cowboys’ war room during the 2015 NFL Draft. Dalrymple conveniently retired the same month the report dropped. Notably, the Cowboys launched an internal investigation and found “no wrongdoing,” while the NFL in classic NFL manner did not investigate the issue further.
Then, in March, a 25-year-old woman sued Jerry Jones. Her suit claims that
Jones is her biological father and that the multi-billionaire had paid his baby mama hundreds of thousands of dollars in 1996 to keep the child’s existence hush-hush. In the span of mere weeks, the Cowboys’ spotless reputation appeared to be going up in flames. Not even a month later, the CMT show chronicling the lives and hardships of the team’s cheerleaders was canceled—almost certainly a decision the NFL had some influence in.
While there’s no proof that these scandals amidst Dallas team executives are the direct cause for the DCC show getting the boot, there’s certainly precedence for this sort of fallout. In 2014, after five former Buffalo Jills cheerleaders filed a lawsuit against their team, the Buffalo Bills, alleging wage theft and groping, the organization cut the team in its entirety. In 2018, Sports Illustrated released a report on the Dallas Mavericks’ misogynistic workplace, and the organization soon after disbanded its dance team. And seven months after a Washington Post investigation revealed the Washington Football Team’s culture of sexual harassment and verbal abuse of female employees (notwithstanding lewd videos that had been filmed of former cheerleaders without their consent), the team ended its all-female cheerleading program (and its nearly sixty-year legacy) for good. As they say, when your team executives are accused of sexual harassment and generally shitty human behavior, the most logical response is to take away opportunities from the cheerleaders.
Though the line of causation can’t be drawn definitively in the sand, even the optics of such a move are indicative of a larger cultural shift that doesn’t favor professional cheerleaders. In a post-#MeToo world, in which the Bad Men are finally being held accountable for the abuse of women under their employment and care, NFL teams are often looking for highly visible public relations tactics that signal to their fans that “no, no, no of course we love and respect women! See?” It’s no wonder that the NFL doesn’t have a clue of what the fuck to do with the confident, strong, skin-bearing women they planted on their own sidelines decades ago.
The widespread misunderstanding of what and who NFL cheerleaders really are is exactly why cancelling Making the Team is a punishment much graver than simply losing a little reality TV show. In a field where so many of the privacy measures imposed on the women (i.e. first names only, no sharing photos on personal social media handles, etc.) also breed a sense of anonymity on the field, the cancellation of this show contributes to the mass erasure of the cheerleaders’ nuanced existence. Without it, we lose the people behind the poms.
Making the Team was one of the few forums where the intensity and the pressure the women cheerleaders were subjected to was crystal clear. The women had quirky personalities, inspiring back stories (some of them finally made the team after years and years of appearing on the show), and charming bad habits, like all dancers have. They were, really, just like us. Ironically, the show inspired me in ways it probably never meant to. (Of course, like many other viewers, I fell in love with the spunk and Southern charm of KaShara Garrett, who still works with the team.) But the series also introduced me to Hannah, one of my favorite current professional dancers, who dared to speak up about unsatisfactory covid protocols during the filming of the show in 2020 (an unsuccessful Dallas Cowboys Cheerleading bubble, if you will), and Meagan Pravden, now an inspiring body positivity influencer. What happened to Meagan during her time on the show (cringey, early aughts as it may have been) is part of the reason she’s become authentically herself today.
No other television show has so accurately depicted the ugliest nor the most beautiful moments of NFL cheerleading. When we lose forums like this, we lose these women’s humanity and effectively turn them back into the sex object stereotypes they’ve been fighting so fiercely against. Knowing Making the Team is now potentially gone for good says an awful lot about where the culture is shifting: away from these women who’ve done nothing but dream about doing what they do today.