Why Cheerleading ISN’T a Sport (And What it Means for Cheerleaders)

by omni
why cheerleading isn't a sport

You think it. I think it. All the Omni Cheer Blog writers think it. Cheerleading is a sport. It takes stamina, confidence, flexibility, and strength to succeed. You work hard, you sweat hard, you kick butt and take names while wearing a cute uniform —cheerleaders are athletes. What, then, is cheer if it’s not officially a sport?

While 31 U.S. states recognize cheerleading as a high school sport, the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) does not recognize it as a college-level sport. There are also those people who haven’t seen Bring It On and still think cheerleaders just smile, wear glitter makeup, and wave pom poms in the air on the sidelines. (So. Not. True.)

Despite what you or I think, cheerleading is technically not a sport and was ruled so by Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. This portion of the amendment laid out the definition of a sport and since then there has been a lot of controversy. In order for an activity to be considered a sport, it has to comprise of several elements, including:

1.) A set of rules or customs
2.) Coaches and practices
3.) Physical exertion
4.) Physical contact, either with opponent or teammate
5.) Competition should be a primary goal

Cheerleading has coaches, daily practices, rules, and physical exertion. But, according to the court, cheerleading does not meet the fourth and fifth criteria: physical contact and competition goals.

Hold the phone.

I can think of a few sports that don’t necessarily involve physical contact: tennis, baseball, volleyball, golf, swimming, diving, gymnastics, skiing, and track and field. Yet they are still considered sports.

Then there’s the competition factor.

At a school sports game or pep rally, there is no competition for the cheerleaders. They’re not competing or scoring points against another team. Many cheer squads do not attend competitions either.

Until this law changes, cheerleading can’t legally be considered a sport.

At this point, some people are probably thinking, “So what if cheerleading isn’t a sport? What’s the big deal?”

Here’s the big deal: because cheerleading isn’t considered a sport, it isn’t subject to the rules and regulations that keep athletes safe. At many schools, cheer squads don’t receive the best equipment or facilities. Recognized sports have access to trainers, medical care, suitable facilities, certified coaches, and appropriate practice time. The regulations and training requirements ensure that the athletes aren’t exposed to avoidable risks.

With cheer teams performing more dangerous and risky stunts, injuries have increased (and we’re not just talking about bruised shins and swollen ankles). Cheerleaders have suffered from broken bones, concussions, and spinal injuries; some, even paralysis. Many of these injuries are a result of a lack of appropriate practice materials and spotting and stunt training.

Did you know that amongst high school female athletes, cheerleading accounts for 2/3 of catastrophic injuries? Among all sports, cheerleading has the most injuries second only to football. In 2011 alone, 37,000 cheerleaders visited the emergency room.

If cheerleading was recognized as a sport, regulations could prevent injuries and rules could provide coaches more access to training. For example, a regulation could require that certain stunts be performed only on a spring or foam floor. Cheerleaders could be required to get a physical before the season to make sure they’re healthy and fit.

The best way to prevent injuries is to declare cheerleading a sport and require teams to follow the same regulations and rules as any other physical sport.

As the debate rages on, cheerleading professionals are seeking new options, including creating a brand new category of cheer titled “Stunt”—which is being designed to meet NCAA standards. While that may work on a college level and even for All Stars, there are still high school and middle school teams and youth programs that will be left with no regulations.

Does your school view cheer as a sport? What about your friends and family? Leave us your comments.

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