‘Cheer’ Is a Lesson on How Not to Treat Young People

The hit Netflix show is a reminder of how resilient kids are, and how often adults fail them

Jessica Valenti
Published in
3 min readJan 23, 2020
Photo: Netflix

IfIf you’d asked me about cheerleaders a few weeks ago, I would have told you that they seem like great athletes who don’t get their due — the female-dominated sport is better known for participants’ makeup and skirts than their tough athleticism. But that was about as far as my knowledge went.

By the time I finished the hit Netflix series, Cheer, though, I was ranting to my husband about basket tosses and flyers. If team member Jerry didn’t “make mat,” I insisted, I was going to drive down to Texas.

Such is the emotional response that Cheer provokes. The docuseries, which follows the championship-caliber cheerleading team at Navarro College, a junior college in Corsicana, Texas, and their head coach Monica Aldama has been a smash success. The reviews are all raves, celebrities are tweeting their obsession with the series, and Twitter is abuzz right along with me.

But as I rooted for this amazing group of young student-athletes, I couldn’t help but feel furious at the adults who surrounded them. The mother who “reminded” her daughter not to eat too much, the teacher insisting in the classroom that marriage is just between a man and a woman — even beloved coach Monica expects her cheerleaders to work through bruised ribs and concussions in the name of winning another championship. The grown-ups of Cheer are invested in the students’ successes, to be sure, but often at these kids’ expense.

In the end, I realized as much as Cheer is about the resilience and talent of young people, it’s also about how often adults fail them.

The series focuses on several cheerleaders in particular who have had rough lives: Morgan, who was abandoned by her father as a teenager to grow up in a trailer by herself; Jerry, an orphan whose seemingly never-ending optimism masks a rough childhood; Lexi, who says she would have been in jail if not for the team; and La’Darius, who is a victim of homophobic violence and childhood molestation.

These kids will do anything for their coach, a woman who they see as having saved them…



Jessica Valenti
Writer for

Feminist author & columnist. Native NYer, pasta enthusiast.