Last week, word emerged that the Edmonton Oilers will become the first Canadian NHL team to have cheerleaders at their games.
Now in Edmonton, where anything the Oilers do becomes front page news (“Dump was ‘epic’, Hall says. Oiler future star credits Mexican restaurant for bowel movement ‘for the ages’.”) and fodder for thousands of on-line comments, this has become reasonably big news.
Cheerleaders are not unknown in the NHL. Cheerleaders exist in 23 of 30 NHL arenas, according to the Oilers. I suspect in a lot of U.S. cities, adding cheerleaders makes it look like there are more than 5,000 fans in the stands; they probably use them to pad their attendance statistics. But here in Canada, where hockey tickets are prized, we prefer our hockey pure and unsullied by distractions like underdressed gyrating cheerleaders; after all, that would distract us from the serious business of discussing plus-minus statistics.
Oiler president Patrick LaForge says the cheerleaders will “enhance the in-game experience” (is there an out-of-game experience?). In that regard, I can’t complain. I haven’t been to an Oilers game for years, but my recollection of the “in-game experience” was that it approximated that of a lively funeral. Sure, the Oilers do what they can: endless distractions on the video screen, and wretched music played at high decibels. But Edmonton fans (outside of the playoffs, as some of you may recall) are notoriously quiet. We take our hockey so seriously, we tend to suck the fun right out of the game. So in that regard, maybe a few cheerleaders isn’t such a bad thing.
After all, cheerleaders have a long tradition in sports. They originated in football, apparently way back in 1898. It was somewhat more sedate in those days. A “cheerful personage” would tap a fellow fan on the shoulder, and inquire: “Pardon me, dear sir, but would you care to join me in a rousing ‘huzzah’ for the home team?” In time, women were recruited to lead the cheers, but that experiment nearly came to an end in 1913 at the Princeton versus Harvard game when a “cheerleaderette” inadvertently flashed some ankle, resulting in a near riot. (I am, of course, making this up.)
Cheerleading today varies from city to city. Here in Edmonton, the Eskimos have opted for an athletic troupe that does a lot of quite impressive, college style stunts. This is an evolution from earlier Eskimo cheerleaders, who were hired more for their measurements (anybody remember ‘second chick from the left’?) than their athletic abilities. Please note I said ‘evolution’, not necessarily ‘improvement’.
The National Basketball Association has cheer teams, which, as I could see from a few clips on YouTube, are somewhat more R-rated. And by that I mean skanky.
Potential Oiler cheerleaders won’t be able to do the kind of act you see in the NBA. For starters, they can’t go on the ice, although that would provide hilarious entertainment. Cheerleaders would be restricted to the stairs, which would limit their movements appreciably. The stairs at Rexall are very narrow, with barely enough room for one fat guy at a time. This would also bring hot (we hope), undulating, tightly and/or scantily clad females in close proximity to 25-year-old rig pigs from Fort McMurray who have just spent $50 on beer and will expect something in return other than another putrid Oiler performance. Hey, nothing can go wrong there.
I’m a traditionalist in just about everything — I am old, after all — so I’m opposed to Oiler cheerleaders. The best way the Oilers could enhance the “in-game experience” is to provide a winning team that might actually get the fans to rise out of their too-small seats to cheer. Cheerleaders are no substitute for a winning team.