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How the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders Became Iconic

Texas Monthly’s ‘America’s Girls’ podcast explores how the Dallas Cowboys cheer squad became an unlikely global phenomenon that managed to straddle the line between provocative and wholesome.

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In 1972, an experiment began in Dallas, Texas. Seven beautiful young women in blue halter tops and white go-go boots burst onto the field at Texas Stadium, and pro sports culture would never be the same. The cheer squad became America’s sweethearts, a very Texas hybrid of pageant beauty, good-girl etiquette, and come-hither slink. They brought sex and glamour to the NFL, along with controversy that lasts to this day.

America’s Girls is an eight-episode podcast from Texas Monthly that takes listeners on the wild and glamorous ride of the squad’s past 50 years, as the cheerleaders became a global phenomenon, endlessly photographed, televised, and commercialized. But what’s always been missing from their story is the voices of the cheerleaders themselves—until now. Through the course of this series, we’ll explore a sideline spectacle that changed sports, fashion, entertainment, and countless childhoods of boys and girls like me.

In episode 1, The Rise to Fame, we tell the story of the squad’s unlikely rise in Dallas, a city still recovering from its role in the JFK assassination. Dallas was a place of churches and strip clubs, and the cheerleaders had a similar contradiction—sexy and wholesome at once. Below you’ll find some of the links that helped us understand their context, and impact. —Sarah Hepola

Hot Pants, Love Potions, and the Go-go Genesis of Southwest Airlines

Joseph Guinto
Texas Monthly

Sarah Hepola: “Dallas was home to three airlines in the ’70s, bringing ambitious young women flocking to the city. In 1971, a year before the cheerleaders debuted, Southwest Airlines dressed their flight attendants in hot pants and go-go boots and helped loosen the city’s once-stuffy image.”

Village Apartments Get a Facelift

Mary Malouf
D Magazine

SH: “The Village apartments became the hub of a Seventies singles scene that was still novel to Texas. Dallas is still a pretty buttoned-up place, but the Seventies were a swinging time of bars and bongs and experimentation.”

The Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader Wink That Started a Phenomenon [WATCH]


SH: “The Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders like to pin their global rise on a happy accident. It all begins when a beauty queen and cheerleader named Gwenda Swearingen winked at the camera during a big football game. But as we discover in our episode, the story is a bit more complicated.”

Cowboy Cheerleaders: Sexist or Just Sparkling?

Neil Amdur
The New York Times

SH: “In December 1977, the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders had the hottest poster on the market. Controversy swarmed as skimpy costumes became standard across the league. Ye olde collegiate cheerleader, with her bobby socks and sweater, was a relic of the past.”

Gimme an 'S' Gimme an 'E', Gimme...

Bruce Newman
Sports Illustrated

SH: “This tale of the Great Cheerleading War of 1978 captures the moment when franchises across the league started copying the sexed-up Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders. Was it good old-fashioned entertainment, or an affront to common decency? Either way, the macho world of football would never be the same.”

The Original Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders

Joe Nick Patoski
Texas Monthly

SH: “Patoski interviews the first women to step onto Texas Stadium in a uniform that would wind up in the Smithsonian. As he writes, ‘They were the first pinups of modern sports, the sizzle on the steak that was the Dallas Cowboys.’”

Sarah Hepola

Sarah Hepola is the author of the bestselling memoir Blackout. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Guardian, Bloomberg Businessweek, Salon, Elle, Glamour, and Texas Monthly, where she is a writer-at-large. She lives in Dallas, Texas.