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.”
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
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.”
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.”
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 Dallas Cowboys: The Outrageous History of the Biggest, Loudest, Most Hated, Best Loved Football Team in America. [EXCERPT]Culture Map Austin
SH: “No one captures the history and cultural sprawl of America’s Team like Joe Nick Patoski, whose interviews for this podcast were essential. This excerpt from his 2012 book takes us to JerryWorld, aka Cowboys stadium, which stands in a long Texas tradition of grandeur and overcompensation.”
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.