Teaching Feminism: Cheerleading Isn’t a Sport?
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For the second time in as many years, the United States court system has ruled that cheerleading isn’t a sport. The Second Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals has ruled that competitive cheerleading does not yet quality as a sport under Title IX. This upheld the 2010 ruling that Quinnipiac University was in violation of Title IX for getting rid of its women’s volleyball team and replacing it with a competitive cheerleading team.
Cheerleading has a tumultuous history as far as women’s rights goes. Historically, cheerleading’s sole purpose was to rile up the men before their big games, and to get the crowd cheering for the athletes on the field. It hasn’t been until recently that cheerleaders have participated in competitive activities, and it is still not mandatory that all teams in all schools compete, as it is for other sports such as volleyball, basketball, or football. (Well, maybe it’s not mandatory, but it’s awfully hard to have one of those teams and not compete against another team.) Even though cheerleading has become competitive in recent history, there are still cheerleading teams out there who exist only to cheer the other players on to victory.
Sports in general have an interesting history, too. Competitive sports were first started as a way to prepare young men for battle during peacetime. Cheerleading is most certainly not such a sport, but does that mean it’s not a sport at all?
According to Erin Gloria Ryan at Jezebel, “Just Because Cheerleading Is Hard Doesn’t Mean It’s a Sport”:
While it may seem kind of head-scratching to call cheerleaders anything but “athletes” — their Aly Raisman-like tumbling passes and difficult pyramid maneuvers require training and can lead to the same sort of broken bones and torn ligaments one might suffer after a padless football practice — Title IX defines “sport” and “athlete” differently than a physical fitness test might. In order to be a Title IX “sport,” the activity must have coaches, practices, competitions during a defined season, an organization that governs the sport and standardizes rules, and have competition as its primary goal. Competitive cheerleading is still, at its core, “cheerleading,” and until very recently, it existed primarily as a way to rile the crowd up so they get good and excited to watch men’s sports. Women’s volleyball was never an activity that got the crowd going for men’s volleyball. You can’t win a gold medal in Olympic cheerleading.
Well, Ms. Ryan, you can’t win a gold medal in Olympic American football, either, but that doesn’t stop us from calling them “athletes” or from calling American football a “sport.” The fact of the matter is that cheerleaders — competitive or not — show an amazing amount of athletic prowess. They jump, cheer, tumble, smile for the entirety of the game, hold each other up in amazing formations that always make me nervous, and toss each other in the air only to (hopefully) catch each other as they come down.
However, it makes sense that the court upheld the 2010 ruling saying that Quinnipiac was in violation of Title IX by dismantling the volleyball team and creating a cheerleading squad. The point of Title IX was to give women more opportunities than historically provided. Cheerleading has been the norm for young women who want to participate in extracurricular athletics. What Title IX aimed to do was create other competitive sporting options for women who were interested. If the court had overturned the 2010 ruling, that would have set a precedent for schools to ditch their women’s sports in favor of cheerleading, causing us to take a huge step back.
The ruling makes it very clear that cheerleading is physically demanding. Saying that it isn’t a sport under Title IX doesn’t mean it isn’t a sport, or that the women and men on cheerleading squads aren’t athletic. It means that we need to uphold opportunities for all women athletes, and, at this point, allowing cheerleading to take the place of women’s volleyball would be unfair.
Photo Credit: SD Dirk