Being a professional cheerleader is no walk in the park: tough workouts, broken bones, and pressure to look good are all part of the package.
But for the 60 athletes who make the Baltimore Ravens cheerleading squad and spend long days training for the big games, being a National Football League cheerleader is a job worth fighting for.
A look at the Baltimore Ravens cheerleader tryouts, where hundreds of competitors hoping to make the squad face three intense days of sudden-death eliminations against returning team members.
“The moment I stepped behind the curtain I was overwhelmed… shocked at the abundance of chaotic activity"
Hey football fans… Imagine walking past the solid steel doors guarding the locker room outside one of the National Football League’s most treasured teams and standing inside watching 60 professional athletes preparing to take the spotlight in front of 70,000 expectant Baltimore fans.
Talk about fantasy football coming true. That ultimate backstage pass was given to Reuters’ photographers Jason Reed, Larry Downing and Molly Riley as an early Christmas present last December by the Baltimore Ravens, who granted them complete photographic access to their cheerleaders during the production of an in-depth multimedia project by Reuters titled, “Ravens Rule the Skies.”
Three unobstructed first-class seats inside a fairytale wonderland watching “girly girls” primp and polish their images into even greater splendour while transforming themselves into NFL cheerleaders. All with total access!
“This was one of those assignments envied by many,” said Riley, whose mission was to bring back photographic souvenirs from “the forbidden zone of a cheerleader’s locker room.”
“The moment I stepped behind the curtain I was overwhelmed… shocked at the abundance of chaotic activity… even as a woman I found it difficult to concentrate,” she said. “At a certain point I had to leave to clear my head.”
“Not an easy environment for working,” according to Downing. “A collection of so many beautiful girls at once stunned all courageous actions, leaving me intimidated every time I wanted to approach one. I was never able to overcome my nervous, school-boy giggles,” he explained.
That same reaction was evident before every home game when the cheerleaders signed autographs and greeted fans outside the stadium. Shy, ordinary men suddenly were face to beautiful face with a Baltimore Ravens Cheerleader and had one big chance to reach out of life’s slow lane to say “hello”.
Nevertheless, Reed explained: “Our objective from the beginning was to dig deep into a rigorous sport most people have stereotyped as nothing more than a parade of pretty girls waving pompoms.”
“This project puts those claims to rest while illustrating the dangers professional cheerleaders face when they step onto a field to entertain their fans,” he said.
The length of time devoted to the project gave Reed new opportunities to experiment with ideas normally not useful in his photographic duties while assigned to the White House. He maximised the use of video to add a fresh dimension to the story “offering more than just still pictures and words.”
“I spent six months asking permission to strap a tiny, portable, video camera, called a “GoPro,” onto the chest of one of the flying girls at practice before kickoff,” Reed explained.
“The answer was always no…no…no… But then on our last shooting day in the stadium I was told ‘yes’, if their most seasoned stunter, Jaime, agreed to wear it during practice. She’s fearless and I knew she would jump at my offer.”
“That video of her twisting in mid-air is worth a million words,” said Reed.