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Cheerleading A Sport?

Should cheerleading be formally designated a sport? The American Academy of Pediatrics says yes, for the safety of cheerleaders.

A Bowling Green cheerleader performs during an NCAA college football game against Massachusetts in Foxborough, Mass., Saturday, Oct. 20, 2012. (AP)

A Bowling Green cheerleader performs during an NCAA college football game against Massachusetts in Foxborough, Mass., Saturday, Oct. 20, 2012. (AP)

When bobby socks were big at school, cheerleading was pretty tame stuff.  “Gimme an A!  Gimme a B!” Pleated skirts and pom poms.  Today, cheerleading is full-on gymnastic.  It’s acrobatic.  It’s flipping and spinning and tumbling and way up high in the air.  Cirque du Soleil with school colors.  Its competitive form is full-on athletic.

Now the American Academy of Pediatrics says cheerleading should be formally designated a sport.  For the safety of all those flying kids.

This hour, On Point:  is cheerleading – should it be? – a sport?

-Tom Ashbrook


Cynthia LaBella, Associate Professor in Pediatrics-Academic General Pediatrics and Primary Care at Northwestern University school of medicine. She is the co-author of the recently released American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines on cheerleading.

Katie Dowd, reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle. She is a former writer for Yahoo News, where she wrote this piece on competitive cheerleading.

Kimberly Archie, a mother who’s daughter was injured in cheer, she founded the National Cheer Safety Foundation in 2005.

Jim Lord, executive director for the American Association of Cheerleading Coaches and Administrators.

From Tom’s Reading List

Los Angeles Times “Laryngitis might once have been the worst injury a cheerleader faced. But cheerleading has become a full-on competitive sport of its own, with injuries to match.”

Pediatrics “Over the last 30 years, cheerleading has increased dramatically in popularity and has evolved from leading the crowd in cheers at sporting events into a competitive, year-round sport involving complex acrobatic stunts and tumbling. Consequently, cheerleading injuries have steadily increased over the years in both number and severity. Sprains and strains to the lower extremities are the most common injuries.”

Time “Cheerleading isn’t as aggressive as high-impact sports like football or hockey, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t dangerous. According to a report published in the journal Pediatrics by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), as cheerleading has become increasingly competitive, more and more cheerleaders are appearing in doctors’ offices with serious injuries.”


Here’s a video from the 2008 Columbus High School state champs.

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  • Unterthurn

    NO! NO! And NO!
    It’s part of the entertainment industry.
    Cheerleaders are entertainers. They are more like stunt people.

    • TinaWrites

      Stunt workers have to be extraordinarily athletic — plus brave!   It’s competitive in that they have to be good enough to compete for jobs  – especially when it’s their livelihood.  And they often work in teams with other stunt workers or with actors or extras.

    • Colleen Corliss

      When they are competing against each other, it is not for entertainment, it is for a trophy. 

    • DrewInGeorgia

      So why do baseball, football, hockey, and soccer have viewers numbering in the hundreds of millions each year? Wouldn’t they also be considered part of the “entertainment” industry? Evidently many people find them entertaining. The adulation of professional athletes is a result of nothing more than their fans finding them entertaining. Maybe no activity should be considered a sport…

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_Y6CO5C2HE4WM2OYGCDVWGPRXXM oldman

      I’d say the same of all the “sports” players. A small handful play – the rest watch. It’s all entertainment.

  • Shag_Wevera

    Define “sport”.  Is golf a sport?  How about Nascar racing?  If this is about some bureaucratic definition that withholds medical treatment to cheerleaders, then I say sure, call it a sport.

    • harverdphd

       Cory…No need…pediatricians can give free medical treatment to cheerleaders and bypass the bureaucrats…or..is it pediatricians who want to withhold treatment until they get the blessing from Obama?

  • AC

    aftr 2 twisted ankles my gymnastics ‘career’ turned to cheerleading instead; it was still grueling and physically demanding – def a sport.

  • Acnestes

    Absolutely!  If golf, ping pong and pool can be considered sports then competitive cheerleading, which is not quite on a level with gymnastics but requires a heck of a lot more physical ability than either of the above certainly should.

  • J__o__h__n

    How does Sue C it?

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/J5HKZ7ZWENCY55AG7HTHWYBEG4 Allison

    Dictionary.com says a sport is:an athletic activity requiring skill or physical prowess and often of a competitive nature.
    Cheerleading: *athletic (can you run around, do challenging jumps,and other gymnastic moves)…check
    *requires skill: (can you lift another person and have them stand on your hands while they are moving around or can you be that person being lifted, hold your balance AND look graceful?) …check
    *competitive: most cheerleading teams compete against other teams…check
    Yup, it’s a sport!

    • Yar

      Marching band qualifies as well!

  • Yar

    How much does this have to do with title nine?  What funding is at stake for other sports?

    • http://twitter.com/vsalisburys vsalisburys

       Because Title IX basically requires a one-to-one relationship between men’s and women’s sports. So if a school has an even number of men’s and women’s sports, and cheerleading is added as a women’s sport, they either have to add a men’s sport (unlikely) or get rid of an existing women’s sport (more likely).

  • Luke Wilson

    Shouldn’t cheerleaders just vote with their feet and walk away until the safety measures are more stringent?

  • http://twitter.com/vsalisburys vsalisburys

    My concern with designating cheerleading a sport is its impact on Title IX. Cheerleading definitely reaches the mark for a sport, however if these programs are provided sport status, are we risking losing girls’/women’s programs for “less popular” or “less profitable” sports.

    Would classifying it as “co-ed” prevent this potential issue?

  • Scott B

    At my former college cheerleading was considered a “club”, equal to the radio club, the debate team, environmental club, chess club, et al.  But they were the only club that required a physical and had insurance issues.  They also sucked up the very limited  monetary resources that were set side for clubs.  In my years as VP and as Pres of the radio station club I lost count of how many time we were lucky to get $100 for new CDs, replace broken mics and monitors, or any equipment, because  the cheerleading “club” was sucking up the  money for uniforms, travel, professional coaching, choreographers, etc., none of which any other club required, but which ALL sports teams required. If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck… 

  • http://twitter.com/vsalisburys vsalisburys

    My concern with designating cheerleading a sport is its impact on
    Title IX. Cheerleading definitely reaches the mark for a sport, however
    if these programs are provided sport status, are we risking losing
    girls’/women’s programs for “less popular” or “less profitable” sports.

    Would classifying it as “co-ed” prevent this potential issue?

  • Yar

    Every person who goes into a school requires a background check. Making it a sport would not change background checks.
    That is a red herring.

    • harverdphd

       I’ve been to my kids’ schools countless times, and I’ve never asked for a background check from anyone.

  • MBoston

    The tv show “Leverage” on TNT recently had an episode discussing this. I thought it was “make-believe”, but considering what I’m hearing today, the show was really spot-on.  There can’t be adequate accountability if the same company runs everything, clothing, training, insurance, etc.

    Plus, if cheer-leading was not mostly of girls, would this still be an issue?  It’s obviously athletic in nature, so why not make it a sport?

  • http://twitter.com/grovellingdogs Dave Rotenberg

    This is a ridiculous conversation.  Ballet is just as dangerous, and has been around well before Cheerleading…and Ballet is an ART.

    As to the issues of Title 9, it is unfair for those female athletes who fight for recognition to compete against “cheerleaders”.  Gymnastics already exists as a sport, and cheerleading could connect with existing organizations to connect back with Rhythmic Gymnastics.

    Cheerleading is nothing more than an evolved form of Dance and Gymnastics for Football Games.  If safety is an issue, put down a mat and shut up…this debate has to do with $$ and Legal Rights ONLY.

  • http://twitter.com/SpecialKTaylor Kendra Taylor

    I grew up doing gymnastics, we would joke that cheer leading was gymnastics and dance gone retarded. A lot of that is because the tumbling and form of cheerleaders is atrocious. Because cheer coaches are not trained on gymnastics form and tumbling, their girls get hurt due to poor form. Almost all injuries occur because of POOR FORM.

    You should take a look at USA Gymnastics Acrobatic and Group Gymnastics Programs. They are just as group oriented. The only reason those are sports is because they have regulations on how to perform each skill, how to judge each skill, and on what surface to perform these skills.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j9lBOSRS3eU - Acro

    • Colleen Corliss

      As a former competitive cheerleader, I have to agree with you about form. Our coaches definitely did not encourage us to follow the appropriate progressions before trying something new. You could do a horrible back tuck, and as long as you didn’t land on your face, it was in the routine!

  • mlfrost

    Why can’t there be two levels of cheerleading:  Competitive cheerleading which could be a sport, and Sideline cheerleading which could be not designated as a sport.

    I’m sure that the distinction could be easily made between them. This would permit schools to continue to have the older traditional cheerleaders without the investment in the sport.

    Mary Lou

  • Jennifer Ten Eyck

    In my high school, in the northeast where it’s not as big, cheerleaders were mainly ‘ sideline’ cheerleaders.  The dance team was where the talent was

  • sarahVT2011

    Are there activities out there — dominated by boys — that are still not considered sports and very much should be due to the skills and agility required to participate?  

    I can’t think of one.  

    The elephant in the room is quite clear — this is a woman’s equality issue.  Here we have kids — young women — positively engaged and contributing in their athletic communities and there are those of us interested in containing this sport as entertainment-only??  What message does that send to our young men and women?  What does this say about our society?  I wonder, if cheerleading were dominated by boys and men, if we’d be having this same conversation and supposed ‘dilemma’ …

  • J__o__h__n

    Did former cheerleader George W Bush ever land on his head?

    • harverdphd

      Well…we know for sure he landed on his feet twice…2000 and 2004

  • gemli

    Parents are letting their kids get thrown 12 feet in the air without a mat, and you think the problem is with the “sports” designation?  Why don’t the parents insist that a mat be provided, or voluntarily chip in as part of the cost of watching their kids risk their health and lives?  The problem is not with designations as much as it is with parents who are willing to let their children essentially fall off a roof.  Boo to the irresponsible parents who know the dangers and let their kids do this anyway.

  • Jack Acme

    The November issue of Harper’s Magazine has a fascinating and terrifying article about the manipulation of electronic voting by right-wing interests. I quote:

    “But as the twentieth century came toa close, a brave new world of electionrigging emerged, on a scale that mighthave prompted Huey Long’s stunnedadmiration. Tracing the sea changes inour electoral process, we see that twomajor events have paved the way forthis lethal form of election manipulation:the mass adoption of computerizedvoting technology, and the outsourcingof our elections to a handful of corporationsthat operate in the shadows, withlittle oversight or accountability.”

    From “How to Rig an electIon:The G.O.P. aims to paint the country redBy Victoria Collier
    Please, please do a show on this topic!

  • Isernia

    The sports medicine industry depends for its profit on the injuries endured by young “athletes” who engage in these dangerous activities -whether as avocations, as amateurs or professionals. Parents who allow their children to endanger their health with potentially life-long injuries in these activities are victims themselves of America’s sports competition mania. 

  • Axel_Jay

    Anyone who is telling people “just put down a mat” – I have coached cheerleading, and it’s not as simple as putting down a mat. Putting a mat down is more dangerous, as the stunt (those who throw, catch and lift the person on top) group can trip up on it, or if it’s not wide enough get frantic, and to be able to base on it, it needs to be hard – which totally defeats the purpose of a mat.

    Yes, a lot of the supposed “dangerous cheer” is competitive cheer, but a lot of squads practice those skills on the sidelines, and all aspects of cheerleading needs to become a sport, not just “one type.”

    A lot of it is bad technique, bad coaching, and some stupid kids who think it’s not dangerous and relax and don’t put themselves in the way of the flyer and so let the flyer get dropped. And that’s when the injuries happen.

    Fool to those who think the parents should stop it. Gonna put a leash on your kids climbing trees too? What nievity.

  • http://twitter.com/chacal_lachaise chacal

    I love the “sway” question. Thank you Tom. However, it is insulting to say this is simply “entertainment” to matter the flavor of cheerleading. To me I see, sad to say, responses belying a sexist attitude that encourages audiences to only view these young women and men as eye candy, and not as trained athletes.

    Cheerleaders, like other athletes, express their school spirit through their athleticism. They train all year, just like dancers, football and tennis players, and runners. Moreover, cheerleaders (of any sort) suffer injuries by the simple fact that they need spotters, like gymnasts, and as such do need protection.

    But, who currently looks out for them while everyone is so concerned with athletes receiving closed head injuries and using steroids? There should be regulation, with designation as a sport, like football, track and field, and baseball/softball. If it is only competitive and a spectacle, what then is football? What is gymnastics?


    Certainly a lot of cheerleading on public radio/television these days but no sportsmanship involved……or fair play.

  • misle

    Every Child is covered by the Umbrella of Child Protection Law on every inch of ground, or every venue, during every nanosecond of time. That Umbrella is passed from Caretaker to Caretaker as Children pass from one venue to another. Children are never without the Umbrella of Child Protection Law, until they reach the age of adulthood,18 in most states. The job is not complete when non-lawmaking groups, associations and societies label the venue i.e. Sport or whatever if the main problem is to be addressed. If the primary objective of the AAP is Child Safety and Prevention of Child Injuries and Deaths in Cheer, then everyone should understand Not-Accidental, Preventable Injuries and Deaths of Children, who participate in Sport, Recreation and Exercise (SRE) are secondary to Physical and Emotional Maltreatment, Endangerment and Sexual Abuse and Improper Supervision and account for 50% of Cheer and other Sports Injuries and Deaths. [50% from CDC and Survey, Safe Kids Worldwide J&J ] Proper implementation of the Umbrella of Child Protection is the Responsibility of the Coach or other Supervisor who have the Duty for Child Protection and Safety during any activity in which Children Participate. Children’s SRE Coaches are “Temporary Substitute Caretakers” (TSC) in the eyes of the Public Law 111-320, Child Abuse Prevention Treatment and Reauthorization Act 2010 and in the eyes of the U.S. Surgeon General and most Department of Community Based Services (DCBS) and Child Protection Services (CPS). “Education, awareness and enforcing the Coach TSC role are the simple solutions to 50% of the complex SRE child athlete injury risk management problems. “Children athletes with SRE injuries and deaths will be prevented, athlete safety first will be promoted and coaches will not be blind-sided with criminal and civil litigations and citizens and doctors will report and child athletes will more likely self-report Child Athlete Physical,
    Psychological and Sexual Maltreatment once the role of the Coach TSC becomes “crystal clear” public policy. [ J KY Med Assoc. Sept. 2012, vol.110, p384] When the Complete Role of the Coach as “Temporary Substitute Caretaker” is fully published Public Policy, all SRE and Cheer Injuries and Deaths will dramatically decrease.

  • misle

    When it comes to Sports, Recreation and Exercise (SRE), Child Athletes (18) are another matter. Child and Youth Cheerleaders, therefore, like apples and oranges, cannot be compared and governed the same.

  • gabby917

    I think cheerleading is absolutely a sport. Every cheerleader works just as hard as football, soccer, or baseball players. They work hard to perfect their routines and win just like all the other sports. They lift people in the air, flipping and tossing them, which is extremely dangerous. Cheerleading last year accounted for 96% of concussions and 60% of all injuries. Basically, cheerleading accounts for half the injuries of people between all the sports. There is absolutely no reason why it should not be considered a sport. Everybody thinks its so “easy” but the question is, have they ever even tried it? And half of the people that say this probably haven’t. Its more then just pom poms, bows, and jumping up and down. It has meaning and should be recognized like all the other sports. 

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