What if I told you that one sport accounts for 65% of all catastrophic injuries in girls’ high school athletics, and that 67% of female athlete injuries at the college level are due to mishaps in this same sport as well? While Basketball, Soccer, Field Hockey or other physically demanding sports may first come to mind, the correct answer to the sport alluded to is Cheerleading. A study by the National Center for Catastrophic Injuries said that cheerleading is, statistically speaking, the most dangerous sport – even more dangerous than football. The report cited that there were 44 fatalities or serious injuries during the course of the study, and that such injuries continue to rise. Let me preface this article by stating that I have a sister who is currently a cheerleader in High School, a brother who is an alpha male body builder, and I was a multiple sport athlete in High School, so I think I have all sides of the spectrum pretty well covered.
Recently there has been much debate over the validity of a decision by the federal court stating that Cheerleading is not in fact a sport. The federal judge ruled: “… competitive cheerleading does not qualify as a varsity sport for the purposes of Title IX and, therefore, its members may not be counted as athletic participants under the statute.” He went on to say that “competitive cheer may, sometime in the future, qualify as a sport under Title IX,” but that the activity is still too “underdeveloped and disorganized” to be treated as a genuine varsity sport.
After reading numerous articles, blogs, and speaking with various agents and athletes on the subject, I am now in a mental stalemate as to what I believe. Quite frankly, I think there are better arguments for it being a sport (skills needed, physical prowess, risk of injury), than for it not (lack of organization or development, playoff system is voluntary). Are we to believe that this “activity” in which you are being thrown into the air, sometimes with other “flyers” parallel to you, with the hopes that a pack of undersized girls will both catch and safely place you back on your feet only to do it again 30 seconds later, is not a sport? That’s a tough argument to sell Your Honor.
While the arguments will continue to build with this ongoing debate, I think this situation raises a larger issue in the world of athletics: What exactly constitutes a sport? One definition defines sport as, “an athletic activity requiring skill or physical prowess and often of a competitive nature, as racing, baseball, tennis, golf, bowling, wrestling, boxing, hunting, fishing, etc” (interesting that it doesn’t list football as an example, but does list hunting and fishing). With this definition, Cheerleading would have to be considered a sport due to the skills it requires to master, as well as the competitive nature it can require from local and national competitions in which most teams compete. The problem I have with this definition is that it is far too broad. Technically, if I raced a friend in a can opening contest, we would be engaging in a sport based on this definition. We are both using our physical strength (using the can opener) to compete against one another as to who can open their can faster. While this is an extreme example, where do we draw the lines, and how?
One of the fastest growing sports in the early part of this decade was poker. Poker hit its peak when in 2006, a record 8,773 people entered the $10,000 World Series of Poker Main event, up from 631 participants just four years earlier. Are we to believe that a game in which you sit in a chair sometimes for days, where you can have a cigar in mouth and a lucky rabbit’s foot in hand is a sport, but Cheerleading isn’t? One of ESPN’s most unique programs of the summer is the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest, as now such names as Joey Chestnut and Takeru Kobayashi are actually put into the same sentence as other repeat champions like Jimmie Johnson, Kobe Bryant and Derek Jeter. Is stuffing your face with 68 hotdogs in 15 minutes a sport? On July 4th, some might actually say yes.
My challenge to the readers is to suggest some sort of guideline to determine how we can define sport. And if you’re sitting by your laptop curling weights or racing your friend to post first, you might just be engaging in a sport…