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.

Atlanta, GA

Maya Dusenbery is an Executive Director in charge of Editorial at Feministing. Maya has previously worked at NARAL Pro-Choice New York and the National Institute for Reproductive Health and was a fellow at Mother Jones magazine. She graduated with a B.A. from Carleton College in 2008. A Minnesota native, she currently lives, writes, edits, and bakes bread in Atlanta, Georgia.

Maya Dusenbery is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Editorial.

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  • Miss Priss

    Anyone who questions whether cheerleading is a sport or not should watch SFA. They dominate competitive cheer in large co-ed stunt.
    It’s impressive stuff!

  • Ruthi

    Did you read the comments for the NYT article? A lot of them are really negative, I think because they still associate competitive cheer with sideline cheerleading. Others are saying that it’s just the same as gymnastics.

  • Alicia

    Penn & Teller: Bullshit has an episode on cheerleading which also exposes the dangers of it not being classified as a sport. I highly recommend watching it.

  • Jordan A.

    I wonder if this will encourage more schools to legitimate cheerleading by taking off some restrictions from it. In my high school, they deemed most real stunts that cheerleaders would do in competition as too dangerous – basically limiting them to cheering with little else. Whether that is because they didn’t have an adequately funded coach/safety protocol or because they didn’t feel it was that important, I don’t know, but I believe that if cheerleading becomes legitimated as a sport, these real world limitations might be easier to press against.
    On a different note, is drill team considered a sport under Title IX? Our district had major competitions for drill team and intense performances, but cheerleading was shirked. I have always wondered whether that was because of funding allocations, interest, liability, or a bit of everything.

  • spiffy-mcbang

    It’s been a few years, but from time to time I would see cheerleading competitions on ESPN during the day. It’s pretty much impossible to watch that and not accept that it’s a sport. But I noticed one thing from the article:

    “recognize a new version of cheerleading as an “emerging sport” for women”

    When I saw it on TV, most, if not all of the programs had teams with male cheerleaders.

    Now, the women were able to do everything the guys did with teamwork- throws, lifts, etc.- so it’s not like all-women teams will lose a lot. What I’m thinking is, if this is set up as a sport for women, how much butthurt are we going to see from the boy cheerleaders who can’t join the fun? Somewhat more importantly, how is that restriction going to play legally? And if the guys are allowed to join, is this going to help the Title IX aspect at all?

  • vanessa

    Ha! Of course cheerleading is a “real” sport, arguably more real than, say, GOLF. Although as a gymnastics fan their form makes me NUTS and the former cheerleaders my adult gymn coach works wth make him nuts too. :)
    but yes…it’s a real sport. Duh.

  • Brüno

    A step in the right direction. Where is it written that female sports have to be mens sports with female put in front of it? Offering women sports women are actually interested in, will get more girls involved in sports, rather than just the odd girl which takes an interest in basketball or football.