Cheerleading began in 1898, as actually leading cheers. It was a male pursuit. Over the years the practice came to focus primarily on women cheerleaders, and for professional team sports, exclusively so.
Ring card girls became a thing when the May 1965 issue of Ring Magazine contained an image of a model in a boxing ring at the Hacienda Casino in Las Vegas, holding a ring card over her head.
"If something like this caught on around the country, gate receipts automatically would fatten," read the caption. It caught on and gate receipts doubtless fattened.
The UFC eventually adopted the practice, and it is a staple today at MMA events and among several other sports. However, on Wednesday Formula One racing in Europe dropped the tradition of 'Grid Girls'.
“While the practice of employing grid girls has been a staple of Formula One grands prix for decades, we feel this custom does not resonate with our brand values and clearly is at odds with modern day societal norms,” said commercial manager Sean Bratches. “We don’t believe the practice is appropriate or relevant to Formula One and its fans, old and new, across the world."
Now the Women's Sport Trust, a UK charity focused on using the power of sport to accelerate gender equality, has called on the UFC to drop Octagon girls.
"We strongly encourage sports such as cycling, boxing and UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) to follow darts and Formula One and reconsider the use of podium girls, ring girls and octagon girls," said the company in a release. "This is not a matter of feminists versus models, which seems to be the way many people want to portray this. These changes are taking place because global businesses are making a considered choice about how women should be valued and portrayed in their sports in 2018. They deserve significant credit for doing so."
The issue is not going to go away. The UFC has several options. This is one:
Crickets could work. Sports Illustrated's best selling issue remains the swimsuit magazine, by a factor of ten or more. In a nod to changing sensibilities, SI did feature a plus-size model, Robyn Lawley, in a bikini of her own design. Gabi Garcia as Octagon girl would be different.
Another option is to follow the cheese-eating surrender monkeys of Europe and drop the practice entirely. And there is a third path.
ESPN Magazine has a rival to SI's swimsuit issue, ESPN The Body, in which both male and female athletes strip naked for the camera. A number of MMA fighters have appeared in it. If the UFC wants to respond, they could have Georges St-Pierre do the occasional stint as an Octagon person. Enough female MMA fans would appreciate it so that gate receipts would fatten. And talk about a true test of manhood ...