OPINION: Out-of-bounds comment robs focus from NFL's sexism

Oct. 12—Football and politics are collision sports that share something else. Each has more than its share of sexism and hypocrisy.

Consider the troubles of the rugged old Cowboy Troy Aikman. He is being roasted for a comment he made while broadcasting ESPN's Monday night game between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Las Vegas Raiders. Aikman's inspiration was a bad call. The game officials penalized a Chiefs pass rusher for a clean tackle on Las Vegas' quarterback.

"My hope is the competition committee looks at this in the next set of meetings and, you know, we take the dresses off," Aikman said during the broadcast.

Countless viewers tore into Aikman. They called him a misogynist and a tone-deaf announcer of 2022 spewing sexism as if it's 1974.

But as far as I could tell, none of Aikman's critics on Twitter and talk shows said a word about the NFL's 50-year-old practice of lavishing attention on young women who are barely dressed.

More than three-quarters of the

32 NFL teams still feature cheerleaders, a euphemism for scantily clad females carrying pompons.

Those who receive appointments to these so-called cheer squads share one characteristic: They are fit enough to be magazine centerfolds or actors on knockoffs of Baywatch.

NFL cheerleaders patrol the sidelines of packed stadiums and often appear for a few moments on the television broadcasts, though they contribute nothing to a viewer's understanding of the game. Their only purpose is to provide sex appeal as a marketing tool for teams. That in itself might be considered at least as bad as anything Aikman said.

I should report that NFL teams have shown themselves capable of growth in their portrayal of nubile young female associates. For example, sensitive executives ditched sexist nicknames of cheerleading squads.

Gone are the Seattle Sea Gals, the Buffalo Jills and the Chicago Honey Bears. The NFL teams in Chicago and Buffalo disbanded their cheerleading units altogether. The Seattle team's featured females are now called the Seahawks Dancers, a more politically correct name than its ribald predecessor.

Even the team Aikman starred for came around, at least a little. The Dallas Cowgirls were renamed the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders. Their outfits remain as skimpy ever, and their contributions to the game continue to be nonexistent.

Still, every network that covers NFL games pays homage to cheerleaders in provocative costumes. The only exceptions to the cheesecake coverage occur when a television crew is in the home stadium of one of the seven teams that do not have cheerleaders.

My friends and enemies are having a good time telling me Pittsburgh doesn't have a pro football team this season. The Steelers also have never featured cheerleaders in hot pants and halter tops. The Rooney family, owner of the Steelers since the team's inception in 1933, didn't see any purpose in placing swimsuit models on the playing field.

Also without cheerleaders are the aforementioned Buffalo Bills and Chicago Bears, as well as the Cleveland Browns, Green Bay Packers, New York Giants and Los Angeles Chargers.

In a league that ought to be obsessed with better treatment of players who have concussions, the other 25 teams find time to remain in the business of titillation. Their carefully planned sideshows featuring young women are seldom questioned or criticized.

Aikman within an hour received more heat than all the team owners combined. His comment about putting quarterbacks in dresses sprang from a few seconds of raw emotion. A hall-of-fame player turned broadcaster, he was angered because inept officiating could change the outcome of a game.

If sexism really is the issue, Aikman is small potatoes in the biggest football league of all. He repeated a line I often heard high school coaches use when they wanted to disparage a player.

Most NFL team owners rarely speak on hot microphones, lessening the chance they'd say something stupid in public. But when the majority of them put their product on the field, part of it looks like it arrived from the late Hugh Hefner's empire.

The owners call it pageantry. If those who say Aikman was out of bounds look harder, they might describe the spectacle differently.

Ringside Seat is an opinion column about people, politics and news. Contact Milan Simonich at msimonich@sfnewmexican.com or 505-986-3080.