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We live in interesting times, eh?
Opinion Column
Jeff Whitten may 2017
Jeff Whitten

By now, you’ve likely read about the Liberty County sheriff’s deputy who cuffed a kid as part of a career day demonstration.
Yeah, that one.
All I know is if a law enforcement officer had arrested me at a career day as a kindergartner it would’ve made my school year.
Had I’d told my folks about it, they’d of told me it was good for me. And if a deputy had gotten in hot water over it, well, I don’t know that my folks would’ve been too happy with the sheriff.
End of story.
Except in this case, it wasn’t. The story popped up on WTOC’s website late Tuesday afternoon. I can only suppose it was a slow day in Savannah news. Still, I sent a link to our freelance reporter, Lewis Levine.
His response:
“You have got to be kidding me. It was a demonstration.”
I know. We live in interesting times, eh?
It appears the NFL will have male cheerleaders for the first time in history this fall. I learned to keep my mouth shut about cheerleaders way back in 1995 after I wrote a column saying it wasn’t a sport.
This started, by the way, while I was eating lunch at my desk. It was a deadline day and a woman called to talk to me in my capacity as sports editor (I was also the paper’s only reporter, and still a bit green when it came to newspapers).
The woman seemed put out as soon as I said hello.
“How come you never write about cheerleaders,” I was asked, and before I could come up with a good excuse I was pretty much read the riot act about what great athletes these young girls were and how I was missing the boat by not giving them coverage.
“They work as hard as the football players, maybe harder,” the woman said.
I thought about that for a second, and then, inspired, wrote the column, the memory of which still makes my dad chuckle.
I forget all the points I made, but I made them. In fact, judging by the swift and angry reaction, you’d of thought I’d wrote that Jesus hated cheerleading (which I did not write, just to be clear. Jesus loves everybody).
The day the column hit the streets I was getting gas when someone pulled up and asked me if I was trying to get hung. It went downhill from there.
There were letters to the editor calling for my job, angry phone calls, the works. This was before emails and social media, thankfully, so the damage was sort of contained locally. I remember one beet-red woman who was so mad when she came into the office she could only shake a copy of the paper at me, and make a gargling noise.
“What’s this ARGLARGLEARGLE” she said, shaking the paper with both hands. “ARGHGARGLEGARGLE! PFFTHTPHGARGLE!”
There were a few who agreed with me — both ladies had played softball in high school — but, as I was told by a sports editor at another paper a few weeks later, “Dude, nobody but cheerleaders thinks cheerleading is a sport, but nobody’s dumb enough to write that.”
Except me, obviously.
I wrote a mea culpa the next week, in effect stating that far as I was concerned what constituted a sport was up to everybody but me.
About a year went by, and things had kind of died down, or other tempests had cropped up. And then I went out to talk to a coach at the local middle school and was leaving when a middle-aged teacher poked her head out of the door and said, and I’m not kidding:
“Well, there goes Mr. Cheerleader Basher.”
This woman was no gargler. Her tone of voice implied coolly that I was some kind of despicable commie loving liberal who hated the things that made America great, like cheerleading.
I stopped. I may be little, but I’m mean when cornered. “Can I help you?” I asked.
Right out there in the walkway, the teacher harangued me, giving me her view that cheerleading was more physically and mentally demanding than just about anything I could ever possibly do, etc. She suggested I put my lack of writing talent to better use next time by extolling the virtues of these young ladies, all of whom were smarter, better athletes and, importantly, far more popular than I likely ever had been and ever would be.
It was then, I think, I came to the realization that some teachers act the grade level they teach, as if they’ve become students all over again.
In retrospect, I suppose I was treated kindly by that teacher, and by all those who threatened to tar and feather my sawed off, loathsome, terrible, fusty little cheerleading disrespecting self.
They could’ve called a TV news station on me.

“Sports editor writes cheerleading not a sport! Suspension likely while investigation underway! Film at 11!”

Whitten is managing editor of this newspaper. Nobody ever cheers for him.

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