On “Cheer”, Jada Wooten is a role model, despite the story of “too much” around her

In the second season of “Cheer,” Netflix’s popular documentary series about the world of competitive college cheerleading, one person among many emerged as the most compelling, with a story and a competitive edge, the obvious main character in a sea of ​​potential stars.

Jada Wooten.

The first season of “Cheer” centered on Navarro Junior College, a community college in Texas whose team is the nearly undefeated Nationals College Nationals champion of the National Cheerleaders Association (NCA), Advanced Large Co-ed Junior College division. . Almost.

In its second season, the show expands its scope to include Navarro’s rivals, another community college just up the road, Trinity Valley Community College (which originally refused to film the first season of “Cheer “, wanting to focus on their athletics without distractions). If Navarro is Goliath with his many thousands of dollars, personalized scene, and athletes with agents and reality TV appearances, Trinity Valley is the underdog with less of everything (money, support, fame) except talent.

Significantly, the Trinity Valley team also has more “on-mat” (meaning: competing when it counts) athletes of color, especially more women of color. This includes Wooten.

Related: ‘Cheer’ Comes Back and Runs Out, Even When COVID and Criminal Arrest Happen for Cheerleaders

Wooten is a main cup and a flier for the Trinity Valley team this season. She seems like one of those true athletes who can do it all, and do it all Good. “She’s the Michael Jordan of this team,” ‘Cheer’ manager Greg Whiteley said in an interview with ET.

But Wooten was barred from scheduled appearances with Rebel Athletic, a major sports equipment company, and said she was never invited to participate in the “Cheer” Live Tour. In an Instagram post, Wooten, who was asked to sign with Rebel Athletic ahead of the airing of the second season of ‘Cheer’, said the company cut her from scheduled mall, NCA and Cheersport appearances.

“Their reason was that my language on the show was bad and I didn’t fit their brand,” Wooten wrote, sharing screenshots of an email exchange with a company representative. “She told me ‘moms won’t want their daughters taking pictures with you.'”

I’ve watched the entire “Cheer” series, and Wooten’s language doesn’t stand out. She doesn’t swear any more than other athletes – or their coaches. It’s also important to note that “Cheer” is not a children’s show. After season one star Jerry Harris was arrested for child pornography, the show devotes an entire episode to the subject of child sexual abuse, an episode that was hard for me to get through. Other regular topics on the show include physical abuse and substance abuse.

It’s not for children. “Cheer” is rated MA.

But Wooten is a female athlete of color and as such is held to different standards than others. The language is an excuse, as is attributing her passion, drive and success to “attitude,” a code word attributed to black women and girls.

As Jennifer Farmer said in an interview with Salon: “Black women have learned since we were little girls, you can’t be angry. You can’t show emotion. They’re going to call you a black woman. angry, then you better be careful how you present yourself.”

And in “Cheer,” Wooten appears incredibly, time and time again: sticking his landing, soaring into stunts, pushing and modeling excellence, both on and off the mat. Despite critics like Rebel Athletic, Wooten is instead the best model in the series.

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Wooten is persistent. She fell in 2019, an injury that required serious recovery, both physical and mental. Like Simone Biles and the “twisties”, Wooten faced “mental blocks” that interfered with her sport. “It took me three years to completely get back to where I was… You can rely on the coaches and your family all you want, but they can’t do it for you. So at the end of the day, mentality is the hardest thing to beat,” she said in an interview with POPSUGAR.

But Wooten returned to competitive cheerleading and — spoiler alert — led her team to victory in 2021.

Wooten has the following of many athletes on the lack of “Cheer”. After competing and studying at Trinity Valley Community College, Wooten went to Sam Houston State University (just like her teammate DJ Burleson). If one of the goals of a junior college like Trinity Valley or Navarro is to potentially prepare students to enter four-year colleges to earn a bachelor’s degree, why do many Navarro athletes return year after year? A central plot point of both seasons of the show is whether the athletes “come back”.

Importantly, as the previous year’s season was cut short due to COVID, Wooten is one of the only veterans on a rookie team in “Cheer.” This propelled her into a position of leadership within the team, a position in which we see her grow in real time, become more comfortable with responsibility and become a person others trust.

Wooten is supportive, not only a good athlete but a good teammate. She calls her team “the most talented team I’ve ever been on… [we’ve] has children who can do anything. But she’s also not afraid to admit her weaknesses and help her teammates if they come to her for advice, which they do. She shows them videos on her phone, coaching them like a coach herself. .

Her trainer Vontae Johnson calls her a teacher while fellow trainer Khris Franklin says, “You really only need one person who will come to you the right way. And that’s Jada,” citing her as the reason for which other athletes have made a breakthrough. She also keeps her teammates on task with college classes (something other athletes on “Cheer” notably overlook).

“This semester, I feel like a mom,” Wooten said on the show. “I think rookies have changed a lot in me… And I have a soft spot for all rookies here. All of them. You just have to try to understand people. And some people need that, like they need that. people prove to them that they actually care.”

“She cares so much,” director Whiteley said.

Wooten fights back tears as she speaks with her team. “He’s someone you can look up to,” Johnson said on the show. “She won’t be the type of leader you don’t see setting a good example.”

If you think it’s shocking for sports professionals to vilify someone with obvious athletic talent, academic drive and leadership skills, maybe you don’t know the reality of black athletes, how dehumanized they are. , targeted and rejected, continuing a long history of anti-darkness. You might have missed the moment Biles was called a “childish national annoyance” for putting her mental health issues ahead of Olympic praise. Or the threats Naomi Osaka faced, official threats from the organizers of his sport. Or the drug-taking rumors that have followed Florence Griffith Joyner all her life.

Denying Wooten scheduled media appearances doesn’t just prevent girls from getting their picture taken with an athlete of color they can look up to, it’s denying Wooten income and future opportunities. As a woman of color, Wooten is already destined to make far less money her entire life.

And competitive cheerleading is not a sport that athletes can play after college. It is an event without a professional counterpoint, without a long-term future. They can’t go pro. Their season ends at Daytona. Although Wooten certainly seems to be planning ahead for her college projects, she deserves to have as many opportunities, media and otherwise, as white cheerleaders.

As Gabrielle Union wrote of Wooten: “I see a young woman who seems to be suffering the consequences of being a passionate athlete in a way that other girls who have expressed themselves, in the same way, do not. haven’t done. I see a woman who understands her worth and refuses the constant shape-shifting to appease people who find shameless black women inappropriate.”

And Wooten wrote to himself, “I won’t ‘clean my tongue’ to appease them to fit in. Because you know what? It never ends there. There will always be ‘too much’ more. “

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Rebecca R. Santistevan