If you haven't been on Netflix recently, you may not be aware that there's a new cheerleading docu-series out simply called Cheer. So, obviously the show is about professional paddle boarding. Duh!
Okay, so it's about cheerleading. Community college cheerleading, at a small town Texas school… who have always managed to win big thanks to their ruthless coach.
Oh, yeah – I said it. I know she's being lauded as a role model and beacon of support and fierce attitude, but when I watch the show, all I see is Coach Monica being ruthless at the cost of her young, impressionable wards – I mean, team.
Cheerleading is a rough sport and a lot of the kids (who are all between like 18 and 21 or so) are impressionable and want to make a good impression and please the adults in their lives, mostly those in authority. Enter Coach Monica.
She prides herself on taking kids with a "rough past" (or at least the show makes it look like she does) and turning them around. Great – the typical sports narrative of the kid who's rough around the edges turning everything in their life around thanks to a tough coach who pushes them.
Which is where I have my first complaint with the series; I know cheer is an exceptionally rough sport with an incredibly high rate of injuries and lasting body and brain damage, but this seems like overkill. The guys have back injuries, the girls have cracked ribs, dislocated elbows, concussions; everyone has knee issues, ankle issues, wrist issues – and yet they push through.
It's a common theme, but why are these kids putting permanent and lasting stress on their bodies and minds? Because they're coerced into it by society, social pressures, and gaslighting and verbal abuse from the leadership team of the Navarro Community College cheer squad.
But most importantly, they're sold a dream by their coach, and that's where the show gets hard to watch. There are several instances on camera where coach Monica yells at the team, belittles them, and crosses some lines (in my opinion) all for the sake of achieving her goal of winning…again.
Now, maybe I just don't understand the cheer world, but this seems…not right. I mean, when I was in community college, I would have done anything to consider myself successful and earn the praise of those in charge and above me. Now, does this series make it look like Coach Monica is exploiting that? Most definitely.
The amount of pressure put on these kids is absolutely absurd. There was a particular story of a boy who attempted suicide after he wasn't chosen to compete in the nationals routine. Think about that: you are put in a situation to value this competition, this team, and this coach, over your own physical and mental health, academics, future, and even life.
That's bleak, even for someone who is indoctrinated in the cult of cheer. I suppose my biggest recurring problem with the series is that this coach and team of leaders is being praised for taking advantage of young adults so desperate to belong, so in need of direction, that they willingly sell her their youth at the cost of peaking at 19 and suffering broken bodies, minds, and dreams the rest of their lives. She is not a role model – she is a predator dressed like Sandra Bullock's character in The Blind Side.
I'm not even going to touch on cheer culture – aka the "you have to look/act/present yourself a certain way to be a cheerleader", because that's not the point of this article. Agree with that sentiment or don't, but this lifestyle and sport means the world to these kids. It's given them a place to belong and that's crucial, especially for that point in life and development.
At the end of the series, the team wins nationals, despite a routine-stopping injury and last minute replacement, they win and it's supposed to gloss over all the pain and suffering we just watched these young athletes endure all season, but it doesn't. It's just a reminder that it's not how hard you push, it's how hard you let yourself get pushed, and how many times you let them keep pushing you down before you can't get up again.
Now, why does Navarro basically always win? Is it because they're dedicated and push themselves and work harder than anyone else? Not exactly. There's a reason they've won 14 national titles in recent years: it's because they have the harder, more dangerous moves in their routines, which means more points, but consequently means more chances for danger and injury, especially in practice.
And that's part of the problem with Navarro cheer and coach Monica – they win because they push the team too far. Why is this too far you may ask? The universities have full time dedicated athletic trainers and people constantly looking out solely for the health and safety of the cheerleaders. Community colleges don't generally have those, hence why they don't have the more dangerous moves in their routines.
Except Navarro, whose support team feels like they're less than prepared to deal with the university-caliber damage the harder stunts and tricks do to the team. Now, Navarro does have an athletic trainer on staff, but he's the only one for all of the sports at Navarro. His assistant is more consistently seen with the squad, but they are limited in what they can do, and neither of them are doctors.
In the show, there are multiple instances of him diagnosing a concussion and telling the cheerleader to just sit out the rest of practice and they'll be fine, or to relax in a dark room and not to look at her phone. When you're concussed, there's a lot more that could go wrong, and it needs a little more caution and attention than that. Brain trauma is not something to be taken lightly; especially not as lightly as Navarro is shown to be treating these injuries.
This whole series feels like cruel and unusual voyeurism, but I suppose for some who were unaware of exactly how far down the cheer rabbit hole of brutality goes, it's eye-opening. Apparently the NCA (national cheer association) takes issue with something in the show, because they've just banned teams from doing future shows like it.
They have a saying at Navarro Community College: "You spend two years wanting to get out of here, but you spend your whole life trying to come back." That's a sad, sad statement spoken by decades of former team members who peaked in community college cheerleading.
It may be comfortable and tempting to want to stay forever in that "good place", but it's a lot like getting out of bed in the morning: it may be comfy and tempting to stay there forever, but life will pass you by if you do. There is a time to move on and grow up and if your accomplishments when you were young are impossible to live up to, it doesn't feel like there's anywhere else to go.
I hope that the kids featured in this show realize that there is more to life than cheer and they are worth so much more than just how tiny they are and how easily they can be flipped up into the air (or, for the guys, how long they can keep a 96 pound girl in the air). Nobody really knows what they want to do forever at the age of 18, but I feel like putting that much emphasis and pressure on a sport (any sport, not just cheer) has devastating consequences for the athletes down the line.