If you still think cheerleading is not a sport, you obviously have not watched Netflix’s documentary, Cheer. Cheerleading began as secondary entertainment to other larger sporting events, such as football and basketball. The sport is still excluded from the NCAA’s list of sponsored events. Nevertheless, Cheer is here to show you that cheerleading has evolved into much more than that.
The documentary shows the life of Navarro College cheerleaders who have come together to become the best in the country. However, Cheer is much more than a story of talented athletes – it is a story of troubled kids finding their way in a world of income inequality, parental neglect, injury and abuse. The documentary, while centered around the sport of cheerleading, is undoubtedly a story of kids who find an escape from their troubles in their teammates and coach, Monica Aldama.
While fighting their own personal struggles, the cheerleaders are also fighting against one another for a chance to compete in the largest cheerleading competition in the nation, Daytona Beach. With 40 cheerleaders on Navarro’s team, only 20 can compete “on mat” at Daytona, adding just one more strain on these devoted athletes.
One memorable male Navarro cheerleader, La’Darius Marshall, discusses his struggle against homophobia and sexual abuse during childhood. Another cheerleader, Morgan Simianer, finds a home at Navarro after being neglected by her mother and father and being left to live alone in a trailer park at a very young age. Tumbler, Lexi Brumback, struggles to overcome her dangerous, self-destructive past and ultimately is kicked off the team for possession of illegal substances.
With Navarro being located in conservative Corsicana, Texas, the gender and racial dynamics which are present are an interesting addition to the documentary. In one episode, we see a professor at Navarro discussing Texas’s political and social views of traditional marriage and the right to bear arms.
Athletes are usually protected from gender discrimination under Title IX of the Education Amendments Act. Title IX states that “no person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” However, club sports, such as cheerleading, are not subject to Title IX. This leaves open the possibility that athletes participating in club sports will be subjected to a wide array of discrimination.
Navarro’s cheer team is made up of many different races and sexual orientation. Coach Aldama, despite being a devoted Christian, fiercely defends her gay male cheerleaders. Moreover, with cheerleading comes inherent stereotypes. Cheerleaders are historically small-framed, flirty, spunky, white females. Navarro is working to break this. Navarro cheer team is made up of Hispanics, African Americans, males, and athletes of all body types.
The documentary shows what is really behind all the sparkles and glamorous uniforms worn by Navarro cheerleaders – abuse, homophobia, economic struggles, and many other real life battles. Cheer, while focused on the sport of cheerleading, gives the world a behind the scene glimpse of what it really takes to be a Navarro cheerleader.