Cheerleading Safety without the “Sport” Label

July 22, 2010

Over the past few days, we’ve talked about the possible consequences of cheerleading being named an official sport in college and high school by the various regulatory organizations that have a say in such decisions.

We found that there has been some exciting progress toward the athletic part of cheerleading being developed into an official sport called Competitive Stunts and Tumbling, but that sideline cheerleading for other sports will likely never be officially labeled a sport itself.

Moving forward, how do we address complaints that sideline cheerleading coaches often fall short of the safety and experience requirements they should meet, and that other safety measures could be improved?

Many advocates thought that cheerleading becoming a sport would help those things. But, if we want to make changes in the way sideline cheerleading is regulated, we’re probably going to have to use laws or sue institutions that deal with cheerleading as it currently exists, says Erin Buzuvis, associate professor at the Western New England College of Law and author of the Title IX blog.

“That would be your better political strategy, rather than trying to turn it into a sport, because [in changing it] you lose the essence of the activity you’re trying to protect,” she says.

T. Lynn Williamson, an attorney for the University of Kentucky and adviser to its cheerleading program, hopes that safety improvements will begin with individual schools, as general awareness of the athletic nature of cheerleading spreads. Although cheerleading is not classified as a sport, high school athletic associations often refer schools to the safety guidelines set by the American Association of Cheerleading Coaches and Administrators.

“Speaking as an attorney, I’d say any institution has a significantly higher risk without a certified AACCA coach,” Williamson says. In other words — a school would be in big legal trouble if one of their cheerleaders was injured under the watch of an uncertified cheerleading coach.

But, overall, many of us are hopeful that as competitive cheer gains ground as a sport by the name of Competitive Stunts and Tumbling, respect for cheerleaders as athletes will also increase, and that will lead to increases in safety standards.

Kimberly Archie, founder of the National Cheer Safety Foundation, advocates for increased safety requirements for cheerleaders. The word “sport” is important, she emphasizes, because when cheerleading is characterized as an “activity” or “entertainment,” it simply isn’t going to be treated as risky or dangerous.

And while sideline cheerleading may not get a “sport” label, if the stunts and tumbling affiliated with it are understood as a sport, it’s a huge step toward helping everyone understand that cheerleading is a truly athletic activity.

Unfortunately, over the next few days, we’ll all be seeing a lot of “Judge says cheerleading is not a sport” headlines, and we won’t be able to help feeling a little annoyed, just knowing that many other readers won’t understand what’s really involved in this issue.

But, as Archie points out, we should be thankful that the issue of cheerleading as a sport is finally receiving so much attention. The publicity is only going to help us get closer to the day when we can watch the NCAA Competitive Stunts and Tumbling Championship on ESPN. 🙂

(Remember: Anyone familiar with cheerleading today knows it’s athletic. It’s a no-brainer, and if someone wants to argue about that fact, it’s probably not worth your breath.)

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