First Person Singular: Redskins cheerleader Jamilla Keene
I remember the day that we got our rookie rings at the end of my first season. I felt like: Oh, wow, I've made it. Kind of like becoming a part of a sorority. In college, I always thought about pledging for a sorority but never really had the time because, as a scholarship athlete, you're very busy practicing. But that's how it felt. It's like having 39 sisters every year. And we perform with the alumnae every couple of years, so you get to meet the ladies from the '60s and the '70s, too. The "sorority," the family, is huge. I have a group of ladies that showed me the ropes when I got here, showed me what it was to be a Redskins cheerleader. There's six of us; we call ourselves "Sex in the City" when we go to dinner and catch up, see how everyone's doing, their kids. So that support system never goes away.
This is my eighth season cheering now. Most people stay about two, three years, but I love doing this. Sometimes I wish I could stop time. But seeing the next generation come in and how much they enjoy it, that keeps me going. We have a few girls on the team now that are 18, 19, and you're mentoring and coaching them to be that next generation. Because, in the end, their success is the alumnae's success, as well.
We all come from different backgrounds with the same passion for dance and sports. Like, we've had lawyers on the team, we have a young lady working on her MBA, one's in med school, one just passed her bar exam. One girl's from South Africa; we've had a few from Japan. Most of us work full time or are in school. And we also have a few full-time moms. We all come out here at night to practice twice a week. I think some people get the idea that we are cheerleaders all day, every day, just like the football players. I remember one time walking off the field and a lady screaming from the stands: "My gosh, those cheerleaders make way too much money; look at their earrings!" We wear a kind of Swarovski-style crystal; it's costume jewelry, but it looks extremely expensive. So it made me giggle that this lady had this perception that we make a lot of money. I mean, for football games we get paid $75 -- that's no secret. You do it for the love of what you do.
-- Interview by KK Ottesen