Just Because Cheerleading Is Hard Doesn't Mean It's a Sport


Two, four, six, eight, to whom do we not allocate? Cheerleaders! At least, that’s what the Second US Circuit Court has ruled in a case that pitted women’s volleyball against competitive cheerleading. According to the ruling, although cheerleading is physically demanding, it doesn’t qualify as a Title IX sport, and therefore a cheerleading team isn’t a suitable replacement for another women’s athletic team. As it should be. Replacing volleyball with competitive cheerleading as it exists today would be a huge step back for women’s sports.

The girl jock-on-girl jock drama began in 2009, when Quinnipiac University announced that it was cutting its women’s volleyball team and replacing the squad with a competitive cheerleading brigade (is that the proper terminology for of a group of cheerleaders? Let’s say that it is). The volleyball team sued to preserve its existence, and in 2010, a federal judge ruled that under Title IX, cheerleading isn’t a sport. The school, apparently dogged in its quest to be rid of the volleyball menace, appealed, and yesterday, the Second US Circuit Court handed down an almost identical ruling to the federal judge. Cheerleading isn’t a sport, and cheerleaders aren’t athletes — at least, not under the law.

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.

The Second Circuit wrote in its ruling that while competitive cheerleading doesn’t fit the definition of a Title IX sport yet, it may in the future. It just needs to work on having a defined season, getting more organized, and existing as a primarily competitive event rather than a warm-up act. And while a knee-jerk reaction to the ruling may be one of disappointment (“…but cheerleaders work HARD, y’all! It’s like being a gymnast without mats who has to yell and smile and look pretty almost breaking her neck!”), if the Court had ruled that Quinnipiac was justified in replacing volleyball with cheerleading, what kind of a precedent would that have set? What other competitive sports would universities have wiped out in favor of promoting a sport that, for all its physical demands, still obliquely requires its female competitors look pretty in a traditionally feminine way?


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