The case for cheerleading as a sport

Marsriana Datta
Memphis, Tenn.

Illustration by Samuel Lee

Illustration by Samuel Lee

In a recent interview I asked Jerry Price, the senior associate director of athletics and athletic communications at Princeton University, whether he considered cheerleading a sport. This will be my first year as a cheerleader at my high school in Memphis and I am curious about people’s opinions on cheerleading.

Price said that at Princeton, “The cheerleaders are a club, not a varsity sport,” referring to how the school classifies the team for funding. I had never met anyone who does not believe that cheerleading is a sport, but he’s not the only one. Many sports administrators don’t believe that cheerleading is a sport, which can be illustrated by a case in Hartford, Conn.

In 2012, Quinnipiac University made a case at a federal appeals court to consider cheerleading a sport. The court ruled that according to the components of a varsity sport under Title IX, cheerleading doesn’t meet the standards (yet). In the future, cheerleading could be recognized as a varsity sport if it is better organized and creates defined rules. For example, competitive cheerleading does not have a recruitment system or many other teams to compete against.

Even though federal law does not consider cheerleading a varsity sport, there is significant evidence that it could be. According to The New York Times, “The American Medical Association says cheerleading should be considered a sport because of its rigors and risks.” The AMA wrote a report that identifies the safety reasons that cheerleading performances should be considered as a sport.

Cheerleading is demanding, just like any other sport. It has stunts, which involve women and men being lifted and thrown in the air. It takes a lot of strength and training to lift someone in the air and also to balance in the air. In my own cheer experience, I know I could have seriously hurt myself if I hadn’t learned to stunt properly. Summer practice was rigorous — lasting eight weeks, ranging from 8 to 16 hours a week.

According to the American Association of Cheerleading Coaches and Administrators (AACCA), cheerleading’s primary purpose “is not competition, but that of raising school unity through leading the crowd at athletic functions.” On the other hand, there are cheer teams that exist for the sole purpose of competition. Cheer team is spirit and competition. If the purpose of sport is competition and it requires athletics, then cheerleading should be considered a sport.

Cheerleading should be respected and acknowledged as a sport because men and women cheerleaders train as hard as any other athlete who gets formal recognition by colleges.  According to the International Cheer Union, cheerleading began at Princeton University in 1869 as an all-male club. It would be very significant if Princeton was also the first to consider cheerleading a sport.

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