Competitive cheerleading may be recognized as an official sport

The Oregon acrobatic and tumbling cheerleading team
Image credit: Eric Evans/University of Oregon via the New York Times

Last year, Chloe argued that anyone who claims cheerleading is not a sport is “flat-out wrong.” And now we’ll see if the NCAA agrees. The New York Times reports that they will consider two proposals to recognize competitive cheerleading as an “emerging sport” that could ultimately become a championship sport.

“Now, in a development that may settle the debate, two groups are asking the National Collegiate Athletic Association to recognize a new version of cheerleading as an “emerging sport” for women, a precursor to full status as a championship sport. If successful, dozens of athletic programs could begin to fully finance cheerleading teams, recruit scholarship athletes and send them to a national championship.

The implications go beyond giving cheerleading a stamp of legitimacy. If this more athletic form of cheerleading — technically known as competitive cheer — evolves into a sport with rigorous competitions and standards, college athletics programs will be able to count the new teams for the purposes of complying with Title IX, the federal law banning gender discrimination in education.”

As the NYT article notes, some women’s athletics advocates have been wary of recognizing cheerleading as a sport because, in addition to having pretty sexist origins, some schools have traditionally tried to get around Title IX requirements by counting sideline cheerleaders as female athletes without actually investing in the program or treating it like a varsity team.The two proposals being considered by the NCAA, which were spurred by a federal court ruling last year that Quinnipiac University’s cheerleading team did not meet Title IX guidelines for a sport, would address these concerns by making competitions longer, more standardized, and no longer a side-show rallying support for another team.

Based on my limited knowledge of cheerleading, which comes solely from watching the movie Bring It On more times than I can count, I think competitive cheerleading is most definitely a sport–and pretty bad-ass one at that. But I figured I’d better ask an expert. My boss Mary Alice Carr, a former cheerleader herself, said that recognition as an official sport would help to ensure safety and coaching standards. (And boy is it sure dangerous.) She added:

“We tend to demean cheerleading because we assume it is all sideline fluff. But the range of cheerleaders is vast and varied and until we put a different lens on the cheerleaders that train and compete like the athletes they cheer along side of, we’ll never get the talented young women the support they deserve.”

As Nancy Hogshead-Makar of the Women’s Sports Foundation said, “As long as it’s actually operating as a sport, we welcome it into the women’s sports tent.” Word.

St. Paul, MN

Maya Dusenbery is executive director in charge of editorial at Feministing. She is the author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm: The Truth About How Bad Medicine and Lazy Science Leave Women Dismissed, Misdiagnosed, and Sick (HarperOne, March 2018). She has been a fellow at Mother Jones magazine and a columnist at Pacific Standard magazine. Her work has appeared in publications like,, Bitch Magazine, as well as the anthology The Feminist Utopia Project. Before become a full-time journalist, she worked at the National Institute for Reproductive Health. A Minnesota native, she received her B.A. from Carleton College in 2008. After living in Brooklyn, Oakland, and Atlanta, she is currently based in the Twin Cities.

Maya Dusenbery is an executive director of Feministing and author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm on sexism in medicine.

Read more about Maya

Join the Conversation