Project: Football, Baseball, Cheerleading and Basketball- stereotypes about sports at High School

For our project while visiting Bartow High School, we thought about stereotypes regarding American high school life. We realized that stereotypes about sports are predominant. Furthermore sports are very interesting for young people like us. So we decided to concentrate on the different kinds of sport at American high schools.

Everyone knows these high school movies: An iffy cheerleader loves a tall, popular football player… There are so many more prejudices and expectations to people doing sports at high schools which are supported by movies. We collected the most common ones.

 

Sports stereotypes

Sport number one is American football. The prejudices about it are that the players only beat each other up, the rules of the game are difficult to understand and every American football team has its own cheerleader team and a lot of fans, so they are very popular.

The second sport is cheerleading. The prejudices about cheerleading are that there are screaming girls in glittering dresses and lots of make-up in their face. They always use pompoms and most male cheerleaders are gay. Some people say that all cheerleaders are iffy and popular and that cheerleading is not a real sport.

The prejudices about basketball are that the players are very tall and that a lot of Afro-American guys play it because they are very successful at it,

And last but not least, baseball: The prejudices are that the fans like to go there only because of all the food. Another prejudice about the baseball players is that they are very muscular and pretty.

 

The way we verify these

In order to find out the truth about these stereotypes, we decided to do some interviews with students doing different kinds of sports and other people of different ages. We also interviewed pupils not making any sport. But we also tried to check some of these stereotypes in the daily routine of the high school life.

American football stereotypes

In the first week, we shadowed our exchange partners in an English lesson, in which they read a book about a cheerleading girl, who talked about good looking football players. So the prejudice that football players are beautiful and often coupled with cheerleaders is also represented in the U.S. itself. But there is no reason to say „all football players are good looking“ because the sport is not related to someone’s looks. A few of the kids we interviewed also support this point of view. „Sometimes, but not always [the football players are good looking].“ (A. & J. B.). In general, it’s very unfounded to assume that cheerleaders and football players often are a couple because everyone could fall in love with someone. A possible reason for that prejudice is another stereotype, which says that both of them are popular in high school, so they may have the same status. When they are at one school, they also could spend much time together, when the team has a game and the cheerleaders cheer the players on.  But all in all these statements are very superficial and are only based on individual situations. So we cannot generalize them.

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synthetic turf in Lakeland’s stadium (Picture: Theresa Bartel)

We also wanted to check if the grass of a football field would get destroyed when we went to a game. After the game, we went on the field and the grass was very well-tended and strong because it was no natural grass. It was synthetic turf – not every stadium has real grass. Consequently we asked Mrs. Brown, a teacher of Bartow High School, about the field in Bartow’s stadium and she agreed that football players would destroy the grass of the stadium and make holes in it.

Beating ups and rules

For a viewer who does not even know anything about American football, it might look like they only beat each other up and run around the field. Due last this, I will just explain the most important rules. At first, the team with the most points wins. They play four times for 15 minutes and when they have to stop the game, they will also stop the time. When a player of team (A) fouls another player of team (B), one of the four to seven referees will stop the game and the fouling team (A) could decide whether they want to count this move or to redo it. When there is a kick-off, the referee will toss up for the team (A). This team’s challenge is now to throw the ball into the other half of the field as far as possible. The offense (A) has to catch the ball and bring the ball back to the place where it came from. The defense (B) of the other team has to try to inhibit this and if they stop the offense (A) there is a series of downs. At this point, the offense (A) has to reach special track by (the quarterback) throwing the ball or running. The other team (B) has to try to stop them by tackling until the running player is stopped.

How to reach points?

  • Touchdown (6 points) : The ball gets to the end zone of the other team and the team gets another try
  • Extra point (1 point) : A kick through the goal after a try
  • Conversion (2 points) : Touchdown after a try
  • Field goal (3 points) : When there is no down after 4 tries, the other team gets the chance to make a field goal (by kicking the ball though the goal)
  • Safety (2 points) : An offense player from the own zone has to be stopped in the foreign zone

Defense and offense change after four tries. It also changes when one defense team drops the ball or when the defense team catches the ball (Interception).

(Source: http://www.giga.de/events/super-bown/specials/american-football-regeln-einfach-erklaert/)

This still seems very confusing because they are very hard to understand and to remember. And when someone does not know the rules, they cannot understand the game and the logic between the „beating up“.

Furthermore the teams in America are used to have their own cheerleading team because, on the high school level, many schools have a cheerleading team too, working with them. But, once again, you cannot generalize this because there may be some teams, having no own cheerleaders, but the American high schools usually do.

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Football match Bartow against Lakeland. (Picture: Theresa Bartel)

Cheerleading stereotypes

Cheerleading is a mix of stunts, acrobatics and dance and it is a popular sport in America. Many girls and boys are cheerleaders in American high school teams like the pupils at Bartow High School. The BHS team is a COED team because they have female and male cheerleaders. They cheer for the football players and they go on competitions for battle against other teams and show their skills. So they have to practice a lot for their routines in the gym and this takes a lot of time and work. Nevertheless, society has many stereotypes about cheerleading and they have the opinion that it is not a real sport. They think that the girls are only wearing glittering dresses and are holding pompoms.

A common stereotype is that the cheerleaders are often very popular and famous in high school and they have many friends. Based on our interviews, we can say that cheerleaders are often very nice and friendly. Anyhow they are not really famous and not all pupils have a cheerleader as a friend. So this stereotype seems to be false.

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Female and male cheerleaders performing. (Picture: Theresa Bartel)

Another prejudice is that they are wearing short glittering skirts and tight tops. Most of the cheerleader uniforms in American high schools are neither short nor cropped because this would be against the dress code. We did not see a single cheerleading uniform during the normal school day, all cheerleaders dressed in regular clothes.

But there are many All Star Cheerleader teams in America (All Star teams do not belong to a high school and they only go on competitions), which have short skirts and their tops are cropped.

The cheerleaders from Bartow have pompoms in orange and blue, like the school colors. When we went to the football match we saw them cheering the whole two hours . They are very motivating at football games when they cheer and dance for the audience and for the players.

Many people share the opinion that the girls have a lot of make-up. But this seems to be only halfway true. They just use make-up when they go on competitions and when they cheer during matches. Moreover, the make-up is very discreet. When they practice, they wear no or only casual make-up.

In many movies about American high schools, the homecoming and prom queens and the prom and homecoming kings are cheerleaders and football players. This stereotype has been confirmed because the homecoming queen of BHS is a cheerleader and the homecoming king is a football player this year.

There are a lot of people who think that cheerleading is not a real sport. But most of the teams practice every single day and they spent a lot of their free time doing this sport. Furthermore they need a lot of power, endurance and fitness because they do dangerous stunts and noone should get hurt.

A lot of people claim that male cheerleaders are gay. But the very first cheerleaders were in fact male. They just needed girls because it is easier to built pyramids with girls and to lift them up.  Boys are often stronger, taller and they can help better. This is why they are a good and important part of the team. The sexuality of someone does not depend on the sport the person is doing.

All in all, most of the stereotypes about cheerleaders could not be confirmed. There are only a few prejudices that seem to be true.

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Cheerleaders at the football game, Bartow against Lakeland. (Picture: Theresa Bartel)

Basketball stereotypes

When we got a tour by one of the BHS pupils around the whole campus, we went into the gym and saw the basketball team. Most of the players are Afro-American and boys. So we did not see many girls or Caucasian pupils. This confirms the prejudice that basketball players seem to be mostly Afro-Americans. But one student told us: „I wouldn’t say that they [the Afro Americans] are better all around, ‘cause, who knows, anyone can be better at basketball then anyone else. But the majority of our basketball team and the state basketball team and national basketball teams are always advertised to be African-American. Just the majority.“ (A. J.). All in all, we can say that a lot of the basketball players are Afro-American, but one shouldn’t have prejudices about someone based on their skin color. The athleticism of a person does not depend on their skin color.

It is the same with the height of the players. A lot of basketball players are tall. You often can see this on TV and we also saw this when we visited the school team’s training. But one of the pupils gave us an answer like „No [they do not have to be so tall, for example the] point guards, I think it’s the point guard, so some of them can be shorter, like short (…) compared to other ones who are like six feet tall.“ (A.J.). Based on this statement we doubted that this stereotype is correct. So we began to do some research and found out that the point guard is mostly the shortest player of a basketball team. It is advantageous if this player is not so tall because he has to be quick and manoeuvrable. He has to plan some moves and actions for his team in the right moments.

(Source: http://www.trainingsworld.com/training/eigenschaften-point-guard-aufbauspieler-basketball-2673363.html)

This helped us to decide that this statement is only partially right. Another pupil answered to the question whether they are always very tall „sometimes that’s true, I think it makes it easier to be tall, but you don’t have to“ (N. K.). We had to agree with his point of view because, on a few positions, it is favorable to be very tall, but there are also positions which can be occupied by shorter players. In conclusion, this statement is not completely legitimate.

 

Baseball stereotypes

Baseball is a sport with two teams. One person of the first team throws the ball to the person of the other team, who has to hit the ball with their baseball bat. The other people of the first team stand everywhere on the field and try to catch the ball, which has been hit by the first person of the second team. When the first player has hit the ball, he / she has to start running around the field before the other team can catch the ball. The goal of the game is to get as many points as possible.The teams can get points with homeruns. If the player with the bat misses the ball three times, another person of the team tries to hit the ball. In America, baseball is a very popular sport and many girls do it, too. Then it is called softball. But there are many stereotypes about it, which are not always kind.

The first stereotype is that baseball teams have no „real“ fans. Instead of fans, there are people who are coming to the games because of all the food. We have interviewed some people to be sure that this is true and one of them said that „this is one reason for the people to get there, [… ] but it is not the main reason.“ (A. J.). The teams have real fans, who watch the games usually and do not only want to eat there. Two weeks ago, I watched a softball match and I have not seen any food stands and there were many fans who cheered on the players.

The second stereotype is that the players are always muscular and pretty. The interviewed people mostly agreed with this, but some of them told us that the players are often small and that not all of them are pretty. They said that there are ugly and pretty ones, too.

This is completely comprehensible because someone’s looks are not connected to the sport he / she is doing. Of course, when someone does a lot of sport and does a lot of workouts per week, they are more muscular, but someone’s beauty would not change if they make different kinds of sport.

 

Conclusion

All in all, the interviews were very different in various aspects, but they did not express very strong opinions about the different sports. A few of the interviewed students gave us long answers and explained their point of view in detail, but some of them also only answered with „yes“ or „no“. Otherwise they all had different points of judgement which are based on the different people they know. We interviewed 6 pupils of the Bartow High School: one cross country runner, two lacrosse players and three students who are not doing any sports. 

There was no interview standing out of the mass, a possible reason could be, that they all did not mean to offend their friends who are doing this sport. We asked lots of very personal questions so maybe they did not wanted to show us all of their thoughts because they all were a little bit to shy or did not want to show us their mind.

Many stereotypes seem to be false and almost every student cannot agree with them. They were able to make up their own opinions based on their experiences. Nevertheless, the opinions differ in some points because not all students do sports or are interested in different sports. We can also say a lot of prejudices are very superficial and founded on stories and false expectations so that they are refuted by facts.

 

Interview questions:

Questions about the person:
  1. Are you doing sports?
  2. What kind of sports are you doing?
  3. How many times a week do you practise?
  4. What kind of sports would you like to do?
  5. When did you start doing sports?
  6. Is anyone doing sports in your family?
Questions about stereotypes:
  1. Do you know anyone who is practising cheerleading?
    • What do you think about him / her?
    • Do you agree with these statements?
      • Cheerleaders are iffy and popular.
      • They are screaming girls wearing glittering dresses.
  2. Do you know anyone who is practising football?
    • What do you think about him / her?
    • Do you agree with these statements?
      • Football players are popular and good looking.
      • They only beat up each other.
  3. Do you know anyone who is practising basketball?
    • What do you think about him / her?
    •  Do you agree with these statements?
      • Lots of Afro-Americans play basketball and they are very successfull in it.
      • They are always very tall.
  4. Do you know anyone who is practising baseball?
    • What do you think about him / her?
    • Do you agree with these statements?
      • Fans like to go to matches because there are a lot of food stands.
      • The players are always tall and pretty.

 

Tim Pilatzki, Lydia Brandt, Leonie Hofmann, Theresa Bartel