Feature

Cheerleading: Is it really a sport?

A judge ruled that a university violated its “gender equality” obligations under the federal Title IX statute when it counted “competitive cheerleading" as a varsity sport for women.

“Is cheerleading a sport?” asked Mary Elizabeth Williams in Salon.com. Some people will tell you that cheerleaders are skilled athletes who perform difficult gymnastic feats. Others consider them “a bunch of chicks in short skirts.’’ Now a federal judge has weighed in, ruling last week that Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Conn., violated its “gender equality” obligations under the federal Title IX statute when it eliminated its women’s volleyball team and tried to count “competitive cheerleading” as a varsity sport for women. Cheerleading, Judge Stefan Underhill concluded, is “too underdeveloped and disorganized” to be counted for Title IX purposes. The judge was obviously right, said Scott Burdow in The Arizona Republic Online. “An essential part of sports is competition,” and while some cheerleading squads do compete in regional or national events against other squads, cheerleading is not, at its core, competitive. “Last I checked, ‘2-4-6-8 who do we appreciate’ isn’t a sport.”

Today’s cheerleaders do a lot more than cheering, said Deanna Harvey in the New York Daily News. I was a cheerleader for five years in high school and college, and I can tell you firsthand that it has evolved into a grueling sport in which girls back-flip, do handsprings, and throw each other through the air. To develop and hone our routines, we practiced five days a week—more practice time, not incidentally, than the basketball, football, and swim teams. My message to those who say cheerleading isn’t a sport is this: “Try one stunt, perform a back-flip while you soar into the air, and wait for two petite girls to catch you. And then get back to me.”

The most impressive “gymnastics” involved here, said Cathy Young in Newsday, are the “intellectual” variety that schools have been forced to engage in under Title IX. The 1972 law requires colleges to ensure that “roughly equal proportions of male and female students participate in varsity athletics.” But for a variety of cultural and biological reasons, “women generally tend to be less interested in competitive athletics.” So some schools have been forced to achieve an artificial parity by cutting back on athletic opportunities for men, and male track, tennis, rowing, and wrestling teams have been decimated. Quinnipiac, on the other hand, sought to save male teams by equating cheerleading with football. It’s absurd, but it’s what comes from the government insisting that men and women must be equal in every way.

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