Penn & Teller: Bullshit! (2003) s08e01 Episode Script

Cheerdleaders

Hi, I'm Penn Jilette and this is my partner, Teller.
High school can be a dangerous time, and high school sports are certainly dangerous.
Think about it: Teenagers slamming at full speed against each other, and against the ground You wouldn't even consider to do that without protection for their elbows and arms.
Or without hip pads and rib protectors.
And they'd never get on the field without knee pads and thigh pads, and without a helmet or shoulder pads? No fucking way! Unless, of course, you're a cheerleader.
Fuck football! The toughest high school athletes are cheerleaders and we're letting them get seriously fucked up every day and that's bullshit! Ho-ho-ho-- Hold it! We're not doing the title sequence yet! Did you forget what show this is? Go bullshit! "Cheerleaders" Welcome to the world of modern cheerleading.
With its gravity-defying flips, three-story basket tosses, and multiple back handsprings.
Cheerleading sure has changed since the old days.
Now it's flipping every fucking flying direction.
And, as a result, more and more cheerleaders are suffering catastrophic injuries, from brain hematomas to broken backs, and worse.
Give me an M! Give me an R! Give me an I! What the hell is going on? Oh! Tonight, we're gonna find out, with a little help from A doctor who's on a crusade to save the cheerleaders A feminist who fought stereotypes with government regulation A former cheerleader who thinks she knows who's profiting from it all And cheerleaders.
Buttloads and buttloads of cheerleaders! Tonight, we're gonna bring it on! Rah! Rah! Sis boom fucking bah! Teller and I have invented a cheerleader training device built to the latest cheerleader safety standards.
Listen, honey, you make eye contact with everybody.
Not just the folks here on the fifty yard line, but send a smile to the end zone, Look at the front again, and send a smile to this end zone.
And then don't forget the people in the bleachers-- They're back there, they love you, too.
And over here in the end zone again.
And, oh, your boyfriend's out on the field, ok? Now you're getting the idea.
Look over here, look back there.
Look over here, keep smiling, keep happy.
Remember you're cheering, cheering, cheering, everything's fine Perfect! Absolutely perfect! Get her out of there, would you, Teller? Oh, you're ok, just Shake it off.
Let's go! We wanted to take a closer look at cheerleaders.
Oh, shit.
That doesn't sound right.
Um, ok, this is Bullshit But these are high school girls, we gotta keep it clean.
We wanted to expose cheer-- Oh, fuckin' Christ on a pom-pom stick! Ok, we wanted to get a behind-the-scenes look.
Is that ok? Oh, fuck it-- We asked our camera crew to go out and find some basic high school cheerleaders.
Hey! Basic High School! Wow, they're good! We are the Basic Varsity cheer team! Yeah, they're psyched up.
Basic's got a big game against Generic this weekend.
Turns out Basic cheerleaders are just a bunch of cute, friendly, all-American girls.
Like most teenagers, they talk about their phones, boys, and the Mormon vampire "Twilight" series.
It made me-- It made me a total Jacob fan.
Really? That's Ashley and Shayla.
The really hot topic at the cheerleader table? Bryanna's big ankle injury at practice yesterday.
Wow! A girl gets hurt the day before we show up to talk about cheerleading injuries.
How lucky is that? I mean, poor thing.
Oh, get better soon, Bryanna.
But while we're on the subject, can I ask you cheerleaders a question? How many of you have ever had a cheerleading injury? Oh, my! That's, uh, 16 out of 19.
That's 16/19ths.
And exactly what kind of injuries are we talking about, girls? I came down wrong and hit my head.
Ow.
I caught an elbow to the temple.
That'll hurt.
Dislocated and shattered my elbow, and I've had a lot of concussions.
- I hit my head on the floor.
- I rolled my ankle.
- I hurt my wrist.
- I got a concussion.
I got a hairline fracture in my wrist.
- I hurt my lower back.
- I cracked my growth plate, from tumbling.
Cracked your growth plate? I don't even know what the fuck that is, but it sounds excruciating.
So, uh, what about you? I've pulled my hamstring.
Ok, well, that was kind of a weak one to end on.
Maybe she pulled it really hard.
I think we should ramp things up with a couple of people with some really fucking scary stats.
Underscored with scary music There were 30,000 emergency room visits last year alone in cheerleading-- Girls who are dropped and break their neck.
Girls who are dropped that fracture their skull.
Head injuries and neck injuries.
Serious concussions, brain damage, subdural hematomas, bleeding in the brain.
And that's more than double all other ten sports combined.
More than women's soccer, softball, basketball, gymnastics, volleyball, track, swimming, lacrosse, field hockey, and ice hockey.
More than ice hockey, for fuck's sake.
Did you ever watch ice hockey? Yeah, me, neither.
But I've heard it's fucking brutal.
Consider shit ramped up.
My ass is bummed.
Can we just please cut to a cheerleader? Any cheerleader? Ah, that's better.
Thank you.
I started cheerleading back when I was in seventh and eighth grade.
I loved it.
It was competitive.
It was hard.
It was a big commitment but I always liked it.
Jenna Jackson, former Varsity cheer captain.
Jenna's feelings about cheerleading abruptly changed the day she went with her younger sister Laura to her first cheerleading tryouts.
I see people all coming out of the room kind of whispering, kind of, you know, looking in the window.
And I was waiting to see Laura.
So I got nervous when I didn't.
And sure enough I went in there.
And she was She was the one on the floor.
Saying she couldn't breathe and that she couldn't move.
The school called Laura's parents and they raced to the hospital.
And they took us to a private room and they said that Laura had broken her neck.
- I'm Daryl Jackson.
- And I'm Melody Jackson.
We're Laura's parents.
We saw her; she had a tube down her throat.
She couldn't speak.
But she could blink her eyes.
No, she couldn't even do that.
She was out.
She was in bad shape.
This is Laura.
Her accident fractured her neck and damaged her spinal cord causing her to be paralyzed.
She will never walk again, and can only breathe with the help of a ventilator.
Our hearts go out to Laura and her family.
Looking back, do you see anything that could have prevented this? Yes, I think it would help if it was a sport-- Declared a sport everywhere.
You see, most state governments have gone out of their way to rule that high school cheerleading is not a sport.
That's right.
They don't think these girls competing in these national competitions, sometimes televised on sports networks, are in any way athletes.
Why does being designated a sport matter? We're gonna talk about that in a bit, but for now, you should know this seemingly small bureaucratic distinction has led to a series of heartbreaking accidents like Laura Jackson's.
So how can a government ruling cause cheerleaders to get hurt? It begins with this woman.
Uh, is cheerleading a sport? There are a lot of people, or some people, who would like to say that it is a sport.
But under Title 9, and to me it does not appear to be a sport.
I'm Dr.
Bernice Sandler, and I'm the godmother of Title 9.
Title 9-- the root of this whole cheerleading injury shitstorm.
Title 9 is probably the most important law passed since women got the right to vote in the United States back in 1920.
Title 9 is also known as--no joke-- the Patsy T.
Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act.
This law states that public schools must provide girls with the same sports opportunities they provide for boys.
Our favorite is beach volleyball.
Now that's a sport.
Bernice Sandler helped get Title 9 passed back in 1972.
The same year she settled on that haircut.
Shit, I think she heard me.
Ms.
Sandler intended to bring gender equality to federally financed institutions.
Her intentions were certainly good.
But good intentions often have bad, unintended consequences.
How many times do we have to hear it? Be careful what you wish for.
Think about the Midas touch, the monkey's paw.
And how's that magic wishing hat working out for you, Teller? Oh.
Well, it is 18 inches.
So how could Bernice possibly say cheerleading isn't a sport? We'll let her tell you.
Because the purpose of sport is to compete.
But what is the purpose of cheerleading? They encourage the teams.
It's performance art.
Cheerleading is performance art? Could you be any more patronizing? Its mostly lovely young women doing dancing of various sorts.
Uh, various moves which could be called dancing.
Wow! You can be more patronizing.
Maybe they hear the term "cheerleading" and say, oh, these cheerleaders are not "athletes.
" So they don't really know what cheerleaders are going through possibly.
I'm Dr.
Fred Mueller, and I'm director of the National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injury Research.
Dr.
Mueller is one of the country's foremost experts on catastrophic sports injuries.
He maintains a comprehensive database of all such injuries that have occurred since 1982.
His work requires lots of sophisticated medical equipment.
Well, maybe "sophisticated" isn't the right word.
He has a lots of really, really, really sexy medical equipment.
Let your minds run wild.
It's ok.
She's over 18.
Dr.
Mueller agrees that most people's perception of cheerleading is stuck back in the seventies.
They don't realize what cheerleading is today.
The competitive aspect of it, and the gymnastic aspects of it, and that cheerleaders can be seriously injured in cheerleading.
Or maybe there's a more sinister side to it.
There seems to be an undercurrent, at least among Title 9 proponents, of, you know, women's equality and women's liberation.
Neal McCluskey, associate director, Center for Educational Freedom, CATO Institute.
And the idea that something like cheerleading, you know, with pretty bows on your head, and wearing lipstick, is forcing women into old gender stereotypes and old gender roles that simply aren't acceptable anymore to these women.
We thought we smelled an agenda.
And it doesn't seem to matter that much to some Title 9 proponents that lots of girls love to do this.
I don't think feminists speak for all women, and that's one of the things I love about cheerleading, is that it allows women to be as feminine as they want and still be a bad-ass athlete.
Hi, my name is Kimberly Archie, and I'm the founder of the National Cheer Safety Foundation.
Kimberly created the National Cheer Safety Foundation after her daughter was injured cheerleading, and has since dedicated herself to making lawmakers aware that there's a crisis.
By the way, we asked Kimberly to dress "normally" for our shoot.
She thought we said "formally.
" So she is now officially the best dressed person in "Bullshit's" 8-year history.
Cheerleading embraces femininity.
And so it's ironic that feminists are against that.
But they love to hate cheerleaders.
How could anybody hate cheerleaders like Ashley? We love Ashley.
I definitely think cheerleading should be a sport.
We work hard and we do pretty dangerous things, and football players may lift weights, but we lift girls, so It's pretty intense.
We can see why a 1972 law wouldn't recognize cheerleading as a sport.
I was in high school in '72 and I don't think cheerleaders did flips or anything.
They just waved their pompoms in their short little skirts, and chanted my name Penn, Penn, P-E-N-N! Oh.
Maybe my memory isn't that clear, but, but, but there were no fucking flips.
The problem is, when you say there ought to be a law, you don't consider the consequences to everyone else, and what they might want.
Ready? One, two What do the Basic cheerleaders want? Well, they'd prefer not to get paralyzed pursuing their extra-curricular activity.
But it seems when feminists look at a cheerleader, they worry more about their image than her safety.
That's a very dangerous thing to say, essentially saying, "I know what you want.
"You don't know what you want.
And we're gonna force you to have it.
" Whoopsies.
So what does Laura Jackson think about cheerleading? Well, it's time to let her speak for herself.
I loved cheerleading.
It was a passion I've always had, just-- My sisters did it.
I wanted to do it.
My friends did it.
And so I wanted to, you know, do everything I could to make sure I made the team.
Laura recalls being concerned about spotters that day.
Specifically, the lack of them.
You know, when you tried out in front of a panel of a couple judges doing your tumbling.
But you couldn't use a spotter or you didn't get points.
And so I was, you know, nervous that I wouldn't-- I wasn't sure if I could do it without a spotter.
I was nervous, but I knew I wanted to get the points.
A few minutes later, Laura attempted a back tuck.
And that changed her life forever.
6 years after I broke my neck, and I'm still sitting in my wheelchair.
I'm still on my ventilator.
And, I mean, it's gotten somewhat better, but I'm not getting up and cheering any day soon.
To say that with a smile and a laugh takes as much strength as anyone we've ever seen.
Certainly more than it takes to argue against labeling cheerleading a sport.
But Bernice is not alone.
I definitely think that Varsity, being involved with the leaders of Title 9, is a recipe for cheerleading to stay the status quo.
"Varsity.
" Seems like we've seen that name around a lot.
Varsity Brands incorporated is the largest cheerleading company in the world.
Anything that cheerleading offers, Varsity sells it.
You name it.
Ok, cheerleading double dildos shaped like Penn and Teller? What? She told me to name it.
Varsity Brands, run by CEO Jeff Webb, controls the lion's share of the cheerleading industry, with annual sales exceeding $300,000,000.
The company is actually a mammoth conglomerate made up of over 30 subsidiaries, each with its own acronym, to give people the illusion they're making a choice.
Uh, acronym? These aren't acronyms.
Who wrote this fucking script? Attention citizens Attention citizens: They're initialisms.
A bunch of initials.
Acronyms are initialisms you pronounce like a word.
"Scuba," Self-contained underwater breathing apparatus.
You can pronounce "scuba.
" Fubar, fucked up beyond all recognition.
Sarmoti, Sigfried and Roy, masters of the impossible.
Initialisms, you can't really say.
FBI.
Fubee? IBM.
Ibum? WTF.
Whtuf? It just doesn't work.
So please, friends, recognize the difference between acronyms and initialisms.
Thank you, from all of us here at "Penn and Teller, masters of bullshit, PATMOB.
" Carry on, citizens.
Carry on.
The bottom line is that Varsity brands owns all of these companies.
Rusty McKinley, Memphis State University National Championship Cheerleading Coach, 1983-1984.
And in college, Rusty was a guy cheerleader.
The male nurse of sports.
That takes balls.
They may look like internal or external entities, they're not.
They're all one.
What? Your balls? Oh, oh, no--you mean Varsity and all of their initialisms.
But why would Varsity care if cheerleading is included under Title 9? Varsity's real revenue production comes from selling uniforms.
Everything else they do is pointed and directed at sale of those uniforms.
And here's a cheerleading family that is painfully familiar with the bottomless Varsity money pit.
My name is Marcus Thuna.
And I'm Deanna Thuna, and we're cheer parents.
The Thuna's 3 daughters-- Samantha, Jade, and Sydney-- are all into cheerleading.
Which means in order to continue in competition, the family needs to buy into Varsity's relentless sales campaign big-time.
The cost of competitive cheer is very expensive.
Anywhere from 10 to $15,000 a year.
Man, it sounded exactly like she said fifteen Gs a year.
Anywhere from 10 to $15,000 a year.
WTF.
In fact, the Thunas pay so much to Varsity incorporated, Deanna and Marcus had to budget it into their divorce settlement.
Yes, they're split up, though you'd never know it from their body language.
So, guys, what exactly are you paying Varsity for? There's uniforms that are anywhere from 3 to $400.
Ok, uniforms.
Got it.
There are gym fees that are involved, monthly dues that are about a $150 a month.
Gym fees.
Check.
There's competition fees.
They do anywhere from 8 to 10 competitions a season, and they range from anywhere from 70 to $150 a competition.
That's almost five grand for competitions in this non-competitive sport alone.
Fuck! Well, at least you get free admission to see your children compete.
No, as a parent, you still have to pay to get in it to watch.
Unless you're one of the coaches.
So yeah, we're paying double.
Wow! That is some fucking expensive ass bullshit.
By the way-- also bullshit? Varsity's so-called "National Championship" competitions.
When most people hear the word "Nationals," they're thinking there's one Nationals.
Well, welcome to cheerleading.
There's like a hundred.
Actually, we only found 66.
But really, if there's only one nation involved, that seems like about 65 too many nationals.
Those lucrative "Nationals" are the key reason why Varsity's so hell-bent against cheerleading becoming a sport under Title 9.
If cheerleading becomes a sport, they will be restricted to a state level competition.
A state level competition run by the state, just like all other high school sports.
Varsity will not be in charge.
They lose the revenues from the national championship, which drives the revenues for cheerleading skirts, outfits and uniforms.
It could be a huge change for them.
That's what they're concerned about.
Not the safety of their participants.
Ultimately, Varsity doesn't take the forefront in safety for cheerleading because there's no reason for them to.
I think the game plan has been for years to just push it under the rug, so that they would have the freedom to control the industry.
We flew all the way to Varsity's charmingly nondescript headquarters in Memphis to hear what they had to say.
We should have called first.
They wouldn't talk to us.
We don't blame them.
Fuck, we sure wouldn't talk to us.
Well, anyway, here's a shot of Varsity's parking lot.
Varsity CEO Jeff Webb declined our interview request, but he did eventually get back to us in writing, saying He calls it a "sport," and he calls cheerleaders "athletes," and he supports safety training.
If he'd only admitted it was a competition.
Well, at least he's typing the talk.
Is he training the walk? We followed the Thuna girls to the Varsity-affiliated cheer gym where they train.
And while we were there, we happened to see this.
5, 6, 7, 8, Let's go! You all right? Holy shit! The person running walking over there to make sure the poor girl is all right is her trained coach, Nicky.
You freak yourself out? Yeah? - It hurts.
- What hurts? - My knees.
- Your knees? Take a deep breath.
Can you walk on it? Here.
It's okay, babe.
Ok, halfway through, you freaked out.
If you would have finished it, you would have hit it.
I know that scared you, ok? But I'm gonna have to make you go again.
Good thing that coach Nicky's been trained in safety by the USASF, the United States All-Star Federation.
Oh, one problem though.
The USASF just happens to be owned by, you guessed it, Varsity fucking brands.
Most people perceive the United States All-Star Federation as an independent safety organization for cheerleading.
What they don't know is that it's completely funded by Varsity and controlled by Varsity.
It's not an independent organization that's making the best rules available for all the cheerleaders.
It's an internal organization.
So there's a huge conflict of interest there.
Varsity's a lot like tobacco industry.
I mean, they know what the injuries are, when they're happening, how often, why they're happening, but they don't want to do anything about it.
I mean, as long as they can keep making the money they're making, why are they gonna draw attention to something? Just out of curiosity, Kimberly, what kinds of things should a cheerleading coach know? Uh, CPR, first aid, AED training - Right.
- Injury prevention That's reasonable Catastrophic emergency plan.
Uh, heat illness prevention-- Wow, that's a lot of shit! But I bet we can remember it with an acronym.
So what would I have to do to become a Varsity-certified cheerleading coach? Quit "Bullshit!", cut my hair and move to Arkansas where no one would recognize me.
Then attend a 3-hour training program on a Saturday morning, and then pass an open book test.
That's less hands-on training than Starbucks requires to make a fucking latte.
In their defense, a bad latte can really fuck up your whole morning.
Once I was in line and this Barista had like a--oh.
Teller, that looks bad, it looks really bad.
Oh, oh--bleeding.
Bleeding, bleeding, uh, internal or external? Well that's, that's external, no doubt about that.
And it is uh, is, is bright red, coming in spurts, that's uh, uh, arterial, and not capillary.
And then that's gonna be ice, I imagine, or elevate or, uh, uh, oh, probably direct pressure.
Direct-- Oh, sure! Yeah, you, Teller, just uh, shove that in the wound.
Meanwhile, back at your Basic High School, Ashley and her squad are hard at work practicing under the watchful eye of another Varsity-trained coach! Oh, no! Ashley! Are you ok? That's how girls get hurt.
The coach says, laughing.
Good thing the spotter was there.
Oh, that's right-- Cheerleading coaches aren't real big on spotters.
Obviously, this half-assed approach to cheerleader safety has to stop.
The stakes are too high.
But what's the answer? Kimberly and Dr.
Mueller think Title 9 stinks on ice, but they're holding their noses and proposing a solution.
Because of the amount of risk involved in cheerleading, it needs to be categorized as a sport.
If you make it a sport, you have a decent facility, you have an athletic trainer, you have an emergency plan.
So that they have the same safety measures in place as other sports and activities at the high school and college level.
For some incredibly fucked up reason, if you call something a sport, government-run schools sit up and pay attention.
The word "sport" seems to carry more weight than, "our children are getting hurt.
" But as cheerleading is being practiced in schools right now, it's the most dangerous sport you can let your children do.
So if your child is a cheerleader, demand a program that does have safety equipment and spotters, and coaches that know their CPRFAADTIJCEPHIPHIPRTOPS.
Nicely done.
And that brings us back to the Jackson family.
They've learned more about cheerleading than anyone should ever have to.
It could've been done differently, that's all I can really can say.
You don't expect your kid to go for a tryout and come home with a broken neck.
So something should change somewhere.
And Laura, in spite of her accident, isn't bitter or angry about cheerleading.
To a young girl that wants to be a cheerleader, I would say go for it.
Just parents and kids alike, you need to make sure that your school and that your team has the right safety precautions.
Laura wants to make sure this doesn't happen to anyone else.
I didn't walk into cheerleading tryouts and thinking hey, I could almost die today and I'm gonna end up being paralyzed.
I mean, I knew that there were some risks, but not anything like this.
It was a bad day.
W-O-L-F B-A-C-K! W-O-L-F B-A-C-K!