The Olympics are over. The Sweet 16 and NCAA tourneys lie before us. Sports, sports and more sports. Except for one sport that, though literally seen on the sidelines of major sporting events, is denied its proper place in the annals of athletics.
I refer to cheerleading. Since 1898 cheerleaders have been on our team’s side, amping up competitive spirit through acrobatics, stunts and other displays of agility, while shouting slogans of encouragement to the fans in the stands.
Which leads me to ask myself, “Self? Why isn’t cheerleading considered a sport?” The Oxford English Dictionary defines a sport as “an activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment.” Does that define cheerleading? Let’s go to the tape:
Physical exertion? Check. Hours are spent honing both physique and moves for cheerleading. Cheerleaders go through hours of rigorous training and practice to perfect the routines displayed at games. It takes a lot of work to make things look easy.
Given the number of stunts and acrobatics performed in the average cheer routine, I’d say a modicum of skill is involved. I’ll discuss Competitive Gymnastics in a minute. And as far as entertainment? A lot of times the cheer routines alone are worth the price of game admission.
Aside from game performances, cheer teams participate in nationwide competition against some of the most honed and talented athletes in the game.
Is it a sport? Doesn’t take a look too far down the road to answer that. Just ask 43 time National Champion Morehead State University’s Cheer Program. Or the University of Kentucky’s cheerleading squad, winners of an unprecedented 23 Universal Cheerleaders Association National College Cheerleading Championship titles.
And don’t think that injuries are only sustained on the field or the court. A report published in “Life Science” magazine says cheerleading is more dangerous than any other sport for high school girls and college women.
According to the National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injury Research, high school cheerleading accounted for 65.1 percent of all catastrophic sports injuries among high school females over the past 25 years. Injuries ranged from ankle sprains to disability to fatal injuries.
Meanwhile, 50 US colleges have established varsity gaming teams. And by game I do not mean quail hunting. College varsity gaming teams train and receive scholarships. The NCAA is even considering dipping their toe in the pool. There you have it -- Super Smash Bros. as a competitive sport. Cheerleading does not receive the same recognition as Gamer’s Thumb.
The Bleacher Report wraps up the argument in a tidy bow: “Approximately 16,000 cheerleaders get injured in cheer related accidents, more than any other sport-like activity in the world. They get judged, they compete, they have to stay conditioned, what could possibly make them not a sport?“
It’s time to stem the flow of the “everybody gets a ribbon” mentality in sports and go back to rewarding youth athletes for hard work and exceptional performance. Starting with Cheerleading. Recognize it as a sport. That, I think, is a move for which we can all cheer.