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Today we tackle the age-old question.  No, not what came first; the chicken or the egg.  The other age-old question: Is cheerleading a sport?  Since there may not be a consensus on the correct answer to this question for quite some time; I’d like to take a different approach and discuss how the answer to this question has the potential to shake up women’s sports. 

While everyone may have their opinion on whether or not cheerleading is a sport, legally speaking, cheerleading is not a sport. (*Gasp*) The Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR), which is responsible for enforcing Title IX, has determined on multiple occasions that cheerleading is not an activity that meets the Title IX standard of a sport.  At least one federal appellate court has determined that when determining whether or not an educational institution’s athletic program has proportionately equal opportunities for participation in sports for its male students as for its female students (a requirement of Title IX), the number of positions on a cheerleading team cannot be considered.  In layman’s terms, the government and the Courts don’t think cheerleading is a sport.  The other legal giant that has a stake in the status of cheerleading is the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA).  The NCAA, the self proclaimed protector of college sports and amateurism, does not classify cheerleading as a sport nor does it classify it as an emerging sport.  Since it is pretty well established that legally cheerleading is not a sport, let’s pretend what would happen if cheerleading were a sport.

I’d like to preference the following by stating that I think there is nothing wrong with cheerleaders and I have complete respect for them.  I have some good friends who are/were cheerleaders and I think what they do is great!  But, for the sake of other women’s sports, I really hope that cheerleading is not considered a Title IX sport.  If schools are allowed to count cheerleading as a sport, I believe schools will stray from recruiting and managing varsity teams in other more accepted women’s sports, causing a general decline in women’s sports and collegiate attendance. 

The case I cited above, Biediger v. Quinnipiac University, is a prime example of what I believe would happen on a larger scale if cheerleading is considered a varsity sport.  In Biediger, Quinnipiac University decided to cut women’s volleyball (an Olympic sport) and turn its cheerleading team into a varsity sport in order to meet Title IX requirements.  It would be counterproductive for women if schools were allowed to cut Olympic-sport teams (like volleyball) in favor of activities that originally existed to support and encourage other teams (like cheerleading).  If schools were able to decide to support cheerleading programs over Olympic-sports I believe that we would see a significant decline in Olympic-sports for women on college campuses.  Currently, college campuses easily fill cheerleading squads without scholarships or recruiting.  Let’s face it, girls will always want to cheer.  Not so for sports like tennis, lacrosse, golf, cross-country, for example, where it is not uncommon to find teams with incomplete rosters because they were not able to successfully recruit enough athletes.  Schools need to incentivize girls to play these sports with scholarship offers.  If schools are no longer required to fill these teams because they are able to meet their Title IX quotas with cheerleaders, many girls will forgo participation in collegiate athletics and maybe even college as a whole since many girls rely on athletic scholarships to fund their education. 

The idea of substituting cheerleading for tennis or lacrosse, for example, is also bothersome in that it encourages and perpetuates gender-limiting (and I think sexist) ideas of women.  It sends a message that it’s more important that women fill space as sideline fans and encouragers rather than be actual competitors.  Making provisions for cheerleading scholarships as opposed to scholarships for widely excepted sports teaches young girls that it’s somehow more profitable to throw on makeup and a short skirt to do some tumbling and cheering then to duke it out on the soccer field or basketball court.  This may be a bit dramatic, but I can just imagine this little girl looking back and forth between a lacrosse stick and some pom-poms, and choosing the pom-poms because she knows it will pay for college.  What a travesty that would be!

Without acknowledgement from the OCR or the NCAA, cheerleading is growing and will continue to grow.  Other sports, on the other hand, need Title IX protection in order to grow.  I do not foresee any harm being done to cheerleading if it is not eventually sanctioned by OCR and the NCAA as a Title IX sport, but the harm to women and women in sports if it is sanctioned could dramatically affect the way college campuses look and the way women view themselves as a whole.  So for the sake of future athletes and women as a whole, I say no, cheerleading is not a sport. 

What do you think?  Is cheerleading as sport?  Take our survey here.  And share your comments below. 

Biediger v. Quinnipiac Univ., 691 F.3d 85 (2nd Cir. 2012)

I should note that while there is a presumption that cheerleading is not a sport, OCR has determined that it will consider requests that a particular cheerleading squad be considered a sports team on a case-by-case basis.


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