Whether or not cheerleading is a bona fide sport has been a hot topic lately.For years it's been described as a sexist activity that exists so girls can shake their pom poms. More recently cheerleaders have mastered difficult gymnastic stunts and participated in competitions. With the increased physicality, cheer has become one of the most dangerous activities for girls, accounting for 65% of all female catastrophic injuries in high school and college.
Much of the recent debate about cheerleading stems from a high profile Title IX court case in which members of the Quinnipiac University women’s volleyball team sued the school after it was announced they would eliminate the team. The school then replaced the sport with a competitive cheer squad to stay in compliance with the 1972 federal law that mandates equal opportunities for men and women in athletics. Ultimately, U.S. District Judge Stefan R. Underhill ruled that competitive cheerleading is not an official sport for schools looking for ways to meet Title IX gender-equity requirements.
The ruling has spurred proposals for cheer to become an NCAA sport and perhaps put an end to the debate over its legitimacy. Until then, the question remains - are cheerleaders athletes?
Nancy Hogshead-Makar, Women’s Sports Foundation Senior Director of Advocacy, Professor of Law and Olympic Champion, recently weighed in on the topic for BlogHer. Here's what she had to say:
The New York Times released its third edition in a series about gender equity in athletics with an article on cheerleading and its development into competitive athletics, “Born on Sidelines, Cheering Clamors to Be Sport.” This article focuses on the two separate visions of the sport, and the two organizations competing to be declared the sport's governing body by the NCAA.
As competitive cheer develops, the Women’s Sports Foundation will embrace it along with other aesthetic sports that also provide girls with legitimate sports experiences. The pivotal question we ask as the NCAA considers the different proposals from the two organizations, is whether this new sport will provide the same educational experience that schools are currently providing to men. Does it provide women with comparable opportunities for rigorous training and skill development, competitions, earning post-season play and college scholarships? Schools adopting the new sport will also need to provide expert coaching, medical care, uniforms and training equipment, promotional efforts and travel to competitions that is comparable to the support provided to boys’ sports. As such, it is doubtful this new sport will cost less than current sports in short order.
As the new sport develops, the WSF will embrace it inside our rather large tent, along with our other aesthetic sports. But competitive cheer is probably not schools’ saving grace to remedy the large gap between female enrollment and sports opportunities currently being provided. Schools already have many exciting choices with strong followings and established rules to expand opportunities for women, such as current NCAA "Emerging Sports" rugby, equestrian and sand volleyball. Triathlon is also vying for NCAA emerging sports status. Women's lacrosse, softball and golf are other sports that are rapidly expanding throughout the NCAA with large high school constituencies. Rather, the lack of planning and commitment to the principle of fairness and equity has hindered the promise of Title IX within athletics, a root problem that cannot be solved with another sport, no matter how rigorous the organizations creating it may be.
What do you think? A real sport or not?
dare to dream
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