The first two episodes of “Hellcats,” the new show based on my book Cheer!: Inside the Secret World of College Cheerleaders, were all about the ladies—Marti (Aly Michalka) and Savannah (Ashley Tisdale). But in tonight’s episode, we’re going to get the back story on Lewis Flynn (played by Robbie Jones), the Hellcats’ star base who, as we’ll find out, was once a Lancer University star football player. So just how realistic is this plot line? Actually, very. Most guy cheerleaders started out as football, baseball, or basketball players. Some of them had an injury that took them out of their original sport; others didn’t get college sports scholarship they were looking for and decided to change focus. There’s one guy in my book who played both football and rugby before becoming a cheerleader. “Cheer is by far the hardest sport I have ever been a part of,” he said.
Here are six more things you probably didn’t know about male cheerleaders.
- They’re not all gay. When I first started researching my book, I assumed that most male cheerleaders would be gay. It’s actually just not true. While I met a few male cheerleaders who were out, the grand majority were straight. And it’s a hyper-masculine culture.
- They get recruited by the women. Almost all guy cheerleaders give the same three-word explanation of how they got into cheerleading: “For a girl.” Most guys don’t think, “I should be a cheerleader” on their own. Sometimes a girlfriend, a female friend, or a sister suggests it. Other times, a guy will be working out in the weight room at his college, and a random female cheerleader will come up to him and suggest he come to a practice. Almost all of the guys say it only took one practice to get hooked. Why? Because in basketball, it’s hard to come up with, say, a new dunk. But cheerleading is constantly evolving—and there’s tons of room to innovate and try new moves.
- It quickly stops being about the girls. Cheerleading is one of the only sports where men and women compete on the same team. And though they may start out with the idea of their team being a dating service, the guys quickly find that they develop big brother/little sister-type relationships with the women on their team. Though on any given squad, there may be one or two couples, for the most part, dating and hooking up with teammates is discouraged. Cheerleaders on other squads, though—they are fair game.
- They’re strong. Very strong. I watched one guy cheerleader tear a phone book in half, and another lift the tail end of his car.
- They’re in it for the long haul. In sports like basketball and football that are governed by the NCAA, you’re only eligible to play for four years. But cheerleading isn’t technically a sport—and it isn’t under the NCAA’s umbrella. So it’s very common to meet guy cheerleaders who are cheering for their 5th, 6th, even 7th year in college. One guy in my book is even cheering for his 8th year in college.
- They feel body pressure, too. The aesthetic in coed cheerleading is to have teensy girls and ginormous guys—the size differential makes it easier to perform acrobatic stunts. But for guy cheerleaders, this means that there’s a ton of pressure to be even bigger and stronger. As one guy explained to me, it’s considered embarrassing for a guy cheerleader to be under 200 pounds. Most eat a ton and work out to put on weight. But steroid use is also surprisingly common in the cheerleading world.