Body shaming

Coaches accused of objectifying and sexualizing high school cheerleaders with annual awards

(Doug Pensinger/Allsport)

Coaches at a Wisconsin high school have been accused of humiliating school cheerleaders and their parents at an annual March banquet by giving out awards to the girls with the biggest breasts and backside, and to the skinniest “String Bean.”

According to parents in attendance at the banquet for Tremper High School’s cheerleading squad, a coach handed out a “Big Boobie” award to one girl while joking that her boobs bounced so much when she ran that she risked giving herself a concussion. Another girl, the winner of a “Big Booty” award, was told in front of her peers and their parents that “everybody loves her butt.”

“I looked around and thought, ‘Did that just happen?’” recalled one mother. “If my daughter would have won one of those awards, I would’ve absolutely been rushing the stage. It was just so wrong, in so many ways.”

In May, cheerleading coach Patti Uttech was told by the school districts’ head of human resources to submit her resignation and write a letter apologizing to her students. She and another coach, Nely DeThorne, sent out emails saying they were sorry for “any embarrassment or distress,” but neither resigned, according to a memo from Tremper’s principal, Steve Knecht. In an email sent to Knecht, Uttech complained that the world had become too “politically correct,” and that the awards were actually “a huge hit and truly lots of laughs and fun.”

Speaking anonymously out of fear of retribution from coaches, two current Tremper cheerleaders told The New York Times they disagreed with Uttech vehemently.

“When the girl went up to accept the Big Boobie award, what do you think everyone in the room was looking at? I would’ve died,” said one girl.

On Tuesday, the American Civil Liberties Union said they had been contacted by one of the girls’ mothers and issued the school district a formal warning of potential legal action should the district “fail to take any meaningful corrective action.” Coaches, the A.C.L.U. said, were found to be using “harassing language towards cheerleaders during practices.” The district was enabling sexual harassment, it claimed, and in doing so was violating federal nondiscrimination and equal protection laws.

“The incidents described all reveal a culture in which female students are objectified and sexualized,” the ACLU wrote in its demand letter, the Washington Post reports. “The objectifying awards are just one example of a broader culture of body shaming, victim blaming, and harassment throughout KUSD.”

“It’s so important that we intervene at a young age and girls are taught their worth and are treated equally,” said A.C.L.U. lawyer Emma Roth. “When that doesn’t happen, they carry this message for the rest of their life.”

Read the full story at The New York Times.

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