Tribeca Film Festival Review: “Sidelined”

The Chargerettes perform in “Sidelined.” | Photo by Jack Schwaesdall

BY CHARLES BATTERSBY | In television sports coverage, it’s called a “honey shot” when they point the camera at one of the cheerleaders instead of the players. For most of the 20th century, cheerleaders were just on the sidelines of sports coverage — but in the ’70s, the exploitation of NFL cheerleaders became big business. The filmmakers behind the short documentary “Sidelined” pin this on the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders, who rose to mainstream awareness thanks to a convenient honey shot, and their skintight short shorts. Most other cheer teams, like the San Diego Chargerettes and Chicago Honey Bears, got caught up in the rush. When Playboy magazine capitalized on this trend, and did a spread with cheerleaders, it destroyed at least one squad. “Sidelined” looks at this scandal from a variety of perspectives to explore just how much the “girl next door” can be sexualized before going too far.

“Sidelined” shows old footage of TV news reporters in front of disgraced cheerleaders walking out of stadiums. There are photos from newspapers that had an excuse to run racy pics of girls in skimpy uniforms. To be fair to the newsmen of the ’70s, this really was the perfect scandal for salacious headlines. Among the women interviewed for “Sidelined” is a former Chicago Honey Bears cheerleader who posed for Playboy, and was a police officer too — a trifecta of fetishization. Others include a Chargerette who feels that her spread in the magazine was directly responsible for the team being disbanded. The filmmakers also provide the perspective of Playboy’s staff and photographers, including archival footage of Hugh Hefner addressing the topic back when the events were unfolding.

Framing all of this is a reunion of the scandalized cheerleaders, 40 years afterwards. Through these present-day interviews, the film provides a retrospective on the hypocrisies of the mainstream media in the ’70s. The NFL wanted to simultaneously project an image of the girl next door, but also provide as much sex appeal as they could get away with on network TV. Meanwhile, Playboy wanted as much of the girl next door as they could get, while still being overtly sexual. In one of the 40-year-old interviews with Hefner, he even proposes that what the NFL was doing is essentially the same thing as what Playboy did. It’s an argument that “Sidelined” presents quite compellingly.

While the filmmakers demonstrate the overt exploitation of ’70s media, it can’t be overlooked that a documentary about sexy cheerleaders is readily marketed in the present as well. “Sidelined” includes plenty of its own honey shots of the cheerleaders in their sexy uniforms, along with the occasional nude or topless picture. This creates a mixed message that can’t be entirely dismissed under the guise of thoroughly documenting the scandal.

The cheer squad members themselves look back on the incident with the “I was young and needed the money” viewpoint. They talk about their joy at being part of a sisterhood, but ended up being haunted by their inclusion in the roster of women who have been in Playboy — something that Playboy’s photographers warned would be an inescapable sisterhood of its own. Even four decades later, this remains true, as evidenced by the very existence of this documentary.

Wed., 4/25, 10pm at Regal Cinemas Battery Park (102 North End Ave., at Vesey St.), Fri., 4/27, 6:30pm (this screening is free w/ticket) at Cinépolis Chelsea (260 W. 23rd St., btw. Seventh & Eighth Aves.; free with reserved ticket), and Sat., 4/28, 6:30pm at Cinépolis Chelsea. For tickets and more info, visit To order by phone, call 646-502-5296 ($23, evening/weekend; $12, matinee; service fees apply for web and phone orders).

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