By Kevin Henkin
Everyone has a right to express their opinion. Even if it’s so one-sided and ill-informed as to be laughable. I refer specifically to an op-ed piece on the Celtics Dancers that the Boston Globe took seriously enough to feature in the center of their most recent Sunday editorial section.
If you haven’t read the editorial, I’ll do my best to summarize it for you (otherwise, you can read it for yourself via the link I’ve provided at the bottom of this article). In essence, the piece (titled “Go-go dancing all over Red’s grave”) argues that the Celtics Dancers are a dirty and embarrassing distraction to the fans who attend the games. The author (Kate Darnton) uses the term “porn” four times in describing what the dancers do. She makes repeated references to strip joints and ridicules the names and the outfits of the Dancers. She also predictably uses Red Auerbach’s well-publicized disapproval of the Dancers to bolster her point (hence the title of the piece, which obviously panders to old-fashioned Celtics die-hards). From atop her soapbox, Ms. Darnton indignantly makes her case primarily on behalf of…..(everyone say it along with me)…The children.
Ah yes, of course. For the sake of the children, always one of the easiest tactics to employ from the moral bully pulpit. After all, who wants to include themselves on the side of those who would willingly taint and sully the minds of our most precious commodity? Of course, the issue at hand is far more complicated than it is presented, and it always takes a bit of courage and deeper thinking to stand up to those who would anoint themselves as our morality censors and the guardians of America’s youth.
Before I continue in my attempt to dismantle this tired, prudish and deeply flawed argument, for the sake of perspective, I should first be up-front about my own view of the extracurricular entertainment provided at most NBA games. In a nutshell, if someone wants to make the case that the experience of attending Celtics games can be hindered by an excess of loud distractions, I won’t disagree. This, however, is because I am a certified hoops junkie, a basketball purist, if you will. The game itself is enough to keep me entertained from the moment of my arrival to my departure. The action on the court is more than enough to captivate me throughout. To coin a phrase from a chick flick thinly disguised as a sports movie, the Celtics had me at ‘hello’. However, I am sensible enough to realize that I have become the exception rather than the rule. I recognize that a fair percentage of my fellow attendees do not share my almost irrational love of the game. It is for these people that the additional level of entertainment is provided. Providing such entertainment is a quite simply a business decision and it is one that I fully understand.
If you have any doubts as to why such entertainment is in place, look around the arena when the T-shirt Patrol roams the court or when the Jumbotron features a number of fans dancing around like loons. Many people other than me truly enjoy watching this sort of thing. It adds to their experience. The kids in particular seem to love it. Then again, children aren’t the only demographic being served. In fact, considering the late start to most of the games, they represent a vast minority of those in attendance. This is not an afternoon showing of the circus, after all. It is a professional sporting event that almost always stretches late into the evening. In recognition of the mostly-adult audience, a more adult-oriented level of entertainment is also provided by the team. This is where the Celtics Dancers come in, those women who supposedly so disrespect the grave of Red Auerbach.
Before moving onto the Dancers, allow me a brief aside on Red. The references to him in the editorial bother me because a couple of the stated facts about him are wrong and because it is my opinion that his disapproval of the Dancers was misunderstood. The aforementioned inaccuracies lie in Ms. Darnton’s timeline. Specifically, she states, “The Celtics would have cheerleaders over his dead body, Red said. And so the suits waited. In February 2004, Auerbach told the Globe, ‘They’re just waiting for me to die so they can get cheerleaders.’ He was right. Two and a half years later, Red was dead, and at the first available opportunity the girls took the court.” It all sounds so dastardly and underhanded. If only it were true. What actually happened was that the Celtics formed the entire roster of the dance team while Auerbach was still alive. Subsequently (perhaps in a case of minor cosmic karma), just before the Dancers were to be unveiled in their first in-game performance, Auerbach passed away. It’s true that he never saw them perform but he knew full and well that they existed and were on deck. Maybe I’m getting stuck on a minor misrepresentation but it’s my thought that if you’re going to invoke the thoughts and words of a legend, you should at least get all of your facts straight.
As for his famous disapproval, anyone with any sort of understanding of the Auerbach psyche would expect nothing less than his scorn at the idea of dancers. He was stubbornly resistant to such changes. And why wouldn’t he be? He was there when the league was in its infancy and then spent the rest of his life deeply dedicated to the game. In the old days, it was all about the basketball and that was seemingly good enough for everyone involved. Therefore, it’s understandable that Auerbach would prefer the continued presentation of the game in its purest form. However, as is want to happen over a period of fifty years, the world tends to change. Auerbach’s heyday was well before the invention of video games, the internet, DVDs and the explosion of cable television offerings. Entering into modern times, the NBA was forced to compete harder for its audience and they acted accordingly. Again, such decisions were based on business considerations. The dance teams exist across the league because they are skilled entertainers and because a lot more people like watching them perform than those that do not.
As for the Dancers themselves, they are certainly worthy of more respect than to be compared to people who peel off all of their clothing in seedy establishments. In addition, to refer to them as producers of pornography is borderline slanderous and is certainly inaccurate. It’s also crass and grossly unfair. These are women who dedicate a large amount of their time training and preparing to perform those routines that entertain the masses. They are students and professional women alike who also dance on behalf of the Celtics, not as a lucrative career (it’s not) but because they enjoy entertaining people with something that they happen to do particularly well. They work hard at their craft and are fully aware of the image that they portray. Please note that they do not engage in strip teases or sexual innuendos during any of their time spent on the court. Their actions are not cause for shame. They simply dance, and they do it well. They also happen to serve their local communities by making charitable appearances on behalf of the Celtics. The fact that some in the stands choose to find their movements offensive is predictable. Recall that Elvis Presley’s gyrating hips were once deemed unfit for television. It’s all a matter of perspective.
As for the sake of kids, consider this. You are the parent of your own children. I am the parent of mine. It is not your duty not to decide whether dancing women in full attire are appropriate viewing for others. Specific to your own children, however, it is your duty to provide them with a fair and balanced view of what they see so that they might better understand the world in which they live. Little girls aren’t going to enlist themselves in stripper camps immediately after watching the Celtics Dancers. They might, however, try to emulate the Dancers in terms of their high level of physical fitness and their commitment to serving their local communities. I’m pretty sure even Red Auerbach would light up a cigar to that.