Sexist “Secret Psych” Tradition between Cheerleaders and Football Players Needs to Stop

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Walpole Cheerleaders decorate the Football players lockers with encouraging posters.

Emily Massarelli

Walpole Cheerleaders decorate the Football players lockers with encouraging posters.
Walpole Cheerleaders decorate the Football players lockers with encouraging posters. (Photo/ Bryan Kelleher)

Many sports teams throughout the school participate in “secret psych”: a tradition in which players are assigned to another player through their captains and must decorate their lockers with posters, leave encouraging notes, and purchase food of the recipient’s preference. While all other sports teams and clubs at the school practice this tradition among themselves, varsity football and cheerleading intermingle their two teams for the occasion of home games.  Typically, football players attend the cheerleaders’ Bay State Conference Meet as a form of repayment for a season’s worth of “secret psych” decorations.  If properly reciprocated by both sides, outsiders perceive this transaction as one that is fair.

Unfortunately, that balanced reciprocation is not the case.

This year, Walpole Girls Cheerleading won the Herget Division at the Bay State Conference Meet and were named Best Overall; however, the football players were unavailable to attend because their practice conflicted with the schedule.  If this schedule conflict was solely a schedule conflict, if the football players truly appreciated the seasons worth of decorations, this tradition should continue with some type of fairness.

If not, then this sexist tradition should stop, indefinitely.

The sport of cheerleading—and yes, it is a sport—originated during a time where girls were subordinate, sexualized objects who simply stood on the sidelines to serve as motivation for the football players. Since then, cheerleading has grown into a competitive sport which requires immense conditioning, hours of practice, and a great deal of strength. In 2014, attending sports games is the secondary necessity of cheerleaders, while preparing and competing is their primary purpose.

In the Walpole High School lobby, there are numerous trophy cases for sports and extra-curricular clubs  that extend into the hallway outside of the gymnasium.  Do you know who has the most trophies in there?

The Porkers?

The Walpole Rebel Football Team?

No.

In fact, Walpole Cheerleading currently has over 40 trophies in those cases – the most of any organization.  In second are the Porkers.

Why then are the cheerleaders treated as second-class citizens who subordinate themselves to the game-day appetites of the football team?  Why then do they arrive at school at ungodly hours to decorate the lockers of people who do not even appreciate their artwork?

Within the last few years, Walpole High has increased the strictness of it’s anti-hazing policy. Sport’s team captains are required to sign a paper which signifies that they and the rest of the team have read and will comply to the school’s anti-hazing rules. The enforcement of said policy is met with enforcement by coaches and school administration, while acknowledgement of the blatantly sexist dynamic of football and cheerleading has yet to occur. The lack of backlash for these sexist traditions only foments the building of character of young men and women who follow such gender roles which if not acted upon will simply continue for generations to come.

Some may claim that this article is an outrage due to its lack of school spirit or support. However, the outrage should come from the truth about how school spirit and blind loyalty to athletes are used to overshadow the condemnable sexism and faults of its teams. The secret psych traditions of the football and cheerleading teams are merely a front for the sexist dynamic of the two teams which begs to be finally acknowledged.  Perhaps to start the resolution of said dynamic (if showing respect to the cheerleaders is too strenuous for the football players), football players could spend a few hours of their day at one cheer competition to compensate.

Or, if it isn’t such an incomprehensible notion, they could break their “tradition” and reciprocate the secret psych.  Could you imagine that?  Football players decorating a cheerleader’s locker?  Is that really that incomprehensible?  In a world where many wives may make more than their counterparts, why are we falsely reinforcing the belief that men are better?

One might question why the cheerleaders themselves do not choose to boycott the tradition too. Technically, any one of the girls could follow the inaction of the stubborn football players, but they are then inherently subject to harassment and taunting from the then perturbed football team.  The captains of this team simply do what the captains before them did, and those captains did what their captains before them did – a trend which seems to have extended back to the 1980’s.  However, most cheerleaders probably do not see the sexism behind their actions; “secret psych” is just something cheerleaders do.  It is that mentality (the naive mind that cannot even perceive the sexism) that is the most dangerous to the teenagers in this school.

Although the very institution of cheerleading is intrinsically sexist — the idea of girls in skirts cheering on the strong football players — the way the two teams treat each other does not have to be. Just as cheerleaders have evolved from objects on the sidelines to strong, athletic competitors, perhaps football players can shed some of their fiercely protected masculinity in order to show respect to their fellow classmates and acknowledge the validity of cheerleading as a sport. Walpole High School may be known for its athletics, but unless all sports are treated equally, it will also be known for its inequality and sexism.