By Gregg Easterbrook
Page 2 columnist

Entry in the Tuesday Morning Quarterback dictionary:

    gawk (gk): verb, intransitive. To stare slack-jawed or gape stupidly.

    Derivation: Possible alteration from dialectal gaulic, "gaque," clumsy; possibly from obsolete "gaw," to gaze transfixed; possibly from the Middle English "gawen," meaning to stand next to a Philadelphia Eagles' cheer-babe.

TMQ with Eagles cheerleaders
TMQ has been unable to speak since this photo was taken.

Last night, TMQ his ownself attended the Bucs at Eagles contest on Monday Night Football, far more importantly, got to hang out with the Eagles' cheer-babes. You know what goes through your mind standing next to a near-naked mega-babe in dazzling lights, in a public arena with 67,771 other people? I have no idea, because mine went blank.

Also, I was in the Eagles' cheerleaders' locker room. But the women made me promise never, ever to tell the truth about what happened there. OK: nothing.

In a moment I'll offer a philosophical defense of men gawking at cheer-babes; and also admit that, yes, this all means that inevitably, female fans should have shirtless cheer-hunks to gawk at. First let us praise famous women by declaring that the Eagles' cheerleading squad has advanced to No. 1 in the NFL. Brianne Salzano, cover model of this year's Eagles' lingerie calendar, is just one indicator. Salzano is an industrial engineer! And men of America, she looks better in person. In fact, standing next to her made me think -- I can't remember what.

The Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders started the cheer-babe fade, and deserve the thanks of a grateful nation. But the Dallas cheerleaders have slipped in both aesthetics and pizzazz in recent years; of course, everything about the Cowboys is in a cycle of decline. If Texas women were going to be bested for the No. 1 designation, you'd figure they'd be passed by a cheer squad from California or Florida, right? Well, the Miami Dolphins cheer-babes are high up in both aesthetics and dance quality, as are the San Diego and Oakland squads, so that upholds the California-Florida theory. The Denver Broncos and Minnesota Vikings cheerleaders round out the current NFL elite.

Brianne
Brianne, this year's calendar cover girl, shows off the new uniforms.

But the Eagles cheer-babes are now tops, and almost all are local Pennsylvania products, not flown in. Here's more proof: Lauren S., an eighth-grade science teacher! And she looks even better in person, especially almost naked. The Eagles' signature touch was advancing the state of the art from swimsuit calendars to lingerie. In the 2004 number, several Eagles cheer-babes pose just a couple of ounces of fabric shy of nude.

Barbara Zaun, a former Ravens' cheerleader with an interest in marketing, took over the Eagles squad a few years ago and decided, "The goal was to become No. 1. We wanted to be the most sexy and the most glamorous and also to put on the best show, since it's all about entertainment. We wanted to become more distinctive and more eye-catching than Dallas, and we wanted national exposure." These objectives have now been achieved. Eagles cheerleaders have leap-frogged all others in media coverage -- cover of ESPN The Magazine ("Published on Earth the Planet"), spread in the current Maxim, and the summit, of course: praise in TMQ. The Cowboys cheerleaders are now off the map, which Philadelphia has redrawn.

THE COMPLETE TMQ
TMQ's report on Week 1 of the NFL season include Cincinnati's fudge-like uniforms (not good), the Marine Mammals not running Ricky Williams (not good), Eagles fans (not good) and Lawyer Milloy (good for Bills, not good for Pats).

Last night, the Eagles unveiled their new stadium, their old offense (from the 1940s, apparently) and new cheerleader outfits by Vera Wang. Zaun says the goal of the outfits was to make the Eagles' look as visually distinctive as the Dallas look. Wang, who calls herself "a jock at heart," having played on her college tennis team and just back from the U.S. Open -- high-end brides, bear in mind that your $20,000 Wang bridal gown was designed by a jock -- designed a variety of new Eagles' cheer-babe outfits for various weather conditions. "I wanted the outfits to be sexy and very revealing," Wang told me, "but also give lots of athletic support, so the women could really perform."

Last night's hot-weather outfits certainly achieved, on Monday Night Football, Zaun's goal of "national exposure" -- cleavage and cheeks! And I didn't hear a single rude remark from any Eagles fans, who were, after all, confronted with the spectacle of 32 near-naked mega-babes dancing directly before them. But then, Eagles fans were totally preoccupied with booing their own team.

Click here for a Forbes article on NFL cheerleader economics. The main points are that the 25 (of 32) teams that have cheerleading squads add about $1 million annually in revenue from calendar sales, appearance fees and the like; but cheerleaders are underpaid, averaging less than $1,000 per month despite a demanding practice schedule.

Kelly
After finally meeting Kelly T., TMQ insists he's giving up his writing gig to enroll in the Penn State engineering program.

Aside to regular TMQ readers -- I met Kelly T.! Regular readers know that for two years TMQ has been joking about Kelly T., an engineering student at Penn State, whose lingerie poses ESPN can link to, but not show "for thong-based reasons." TMQ has argued with ESPN that we should show Kelly T.'s new thong pose since it does, after all, appear in a calendar published by an NFL club. The counter argument was, "14-year-old boys can't handle that picture." I've been very happily married for longer than such boys have been alive, and I can't handle that picture! At any rate, Kelly T. is very charming, I think; it's hard to remember because my mind went blank. About the Eagles' all-out approach to cheerleader sex appeal, Kelly told me, "They wanted to push the envelope, and that was fine with us." In this sense "push the envelope" means "wear less."

Now the philosophical defense of cheer-babe gawking:

First, professional sports are fundamentally a form of entertainment. The objective is to have fun and be diverted from reality. Beautiful women performing great dance routines while wearing very little is certainly fun, adding to the sense of entertainment and excitement. Half the men in America -- OK, at this point in history, somewhat less than half, but it's still a huge number -- like watching beautiful women dancing with hardly anything on. And though cheerleaders are sexy, there's nothing even vaguely erotic about standing in front of 67,772 people in blinding lights. (Sexy is what you can do in public, erotic is what you do in private.) In entertainment, sexy is good, fun is good. Given that the NFL is head and shoulders above all other sports in the big three of ratings, attendance and revenues, the entertainment part of its formula does seem to be working, doesn't it?

Next, bear in mind, you're supposed to look at the cheerleaders. In daily life, women's privacy and gender-neutral treatment are essential concerns. But cheerleaders choose to go on display, and train for it elaborately. The French say that if a woman decides to wear something revealing, it's an insult if men don't look. Yes, oppressive socially constructed stereotypes create -- I can't go on with that line of thought, because the whole business is about having fun. Besides, you can't watch the dance routines if you don't look.

Lauren
Can eighth-grade boys focus well in Lauren's science classes?

Third, consider how the typical NFL game is telecast, since most perceive the league via the tube. We see endless sideline shots of neck veins bulging on the faces of angry, screaming coaches. We see endless sideline shots of players pouring water over their heads or slapping each other's pads. These shots are tedious and visually dull. Yet we don't see anywhere near enough of the cheerleaders, who are pleasant to look at! Cheerleaders work hard all year to prepare: the dedication and professionalism of the modern cheer-babe is one of the great untold stories of our time. Network cameras should show the cheerleaders much more often! Especially at games involving Philadelphia, Miami, Denver, Minnesota or San Diego.

Tuesday Morning Quarterback is moved to phrase the shameless gawk-adoration of the modern cheer-babe in this haiku triptych:

The cheerleaders' skirts
can never be short enough.
Please, another gust.

The cheerleaders' tops
can never be low enough.
Please, lean forward soon.

Great dance routines, too.
Your professionalism
we also admire.

And now female readers interject: given that the NFL is rising in popularity among women, doesn't everything you've said pertain to the male form as well? It does, and TMQ thinks it is both fair and, inevitable, that cheer-hunks flexing their biceps join cheer-babes on the sidelines. To date only the Ravens and Titans have male cheer-hunk squads, but more are sure to join. And ladies, it is only a matter of time until the shirts come off.

Gregg Easterbrook is a senior editor of New Republic, a contributing editor of The Atlantic Monthly and a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution. He is believed to be the first Brookings scholar ever to write a pro football column. You can buy his book, "The Here and Now" here ... and now.




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