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Should cheerleading be a sport?

 
 
Reply Mon 26 Jul, 2010 03:53 pm
[O]n Wednesday [July 21, 2010] a federal judge in Connecticut delivered a blow to universities, like Oregon, that classify competitive cheer as a varsity sport, ruling that Quinnipiac University’s team could not be counted toward compliance with Title IX, the federal law mandating gender equity in education.

“Competitive cheer may, some time in the future, qualify as a sport under Title IX,” Judge Stefan R. Underhill of the United States District Court in Bridgeport wrote in his decision. “Today, however, the activity is still too underdeveloped and disorganized to be treated as offering genuine varsity athletic participation opportunities for students.”

While the decision applies only to Quinnipiac, women’s sports advocates said the ruling could lead other universities to reconsider their decision to offer the sport, which has been criticized by those who say institutions view it as an easy fix when they need to pump up women’s participation numbers. Meanwhile, supporters of competitive cheer acknowledged that their sport was in its infancy, but they said the ruling was only a setback in what they see as an inevitable march toward acceptance.

Underhill’s decision was a victory for the five women’s volleyball players who, along with their coach, sued Quinnipiac in 2009 after the university announced it was cutting their team and adding competitive cheerleading.

In Quinnipiac’s case, the judge noted that the university created the new team by hiring the woman who formerly coached the traditional sideline cheerleading squad. She elevated 16 cheerleaders from the sideline team and recruited the rest from the student body.

Quinnipiac released a statement Thursday expressing disappointment with the decision, and said it intended to add women’s rugby as a varsity sport in 2011-12.

Beyond Quinnipiac, Underhill noted that competitive cheer is not recognized by either the National Collegiate Athletic Association or the federal Department of Education, and intercollegiate teams lacked a playoff system. Although the six universities that recognize it have set up an organization to oversee the sport at the college level, Underhill said the group, the National Competitive Stunt and Tumbling Association, was a “loosely defined, unincorporated association” without a board of directors, a voting system for members or “other hallmarks of a governing national athletics organization.”

Read more

Court's opinion in Biediger v. Quinnipiac University

It seems clear that, in the Quinnipiac case, the university was seeking to cut a women's sport (volleyball) without running afoul of the law or cutting a men's sport. But because of Title IX, the university had to replace it with another women's sport or else cut another men's sport. So it decided to make cheerleading a sport. In the court's opinion, that was all pretty transparent (along with some other dodges like, for instance, triple-counting some women athletes). All that aside, however, should cheerleading be considered a sport?
 
sozobe
 
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Reply Mon 26 Jul, 2010 03:59 pm
@joefromchicago,
Hmmm...

I think there is a cheerleading continuum with clear non-sport cheering on one side (shaking pompoms and other things while yelling and smiling brightly, but not doing anything that requires any particular athletic prowess) and clear sport cheering on the other (a bunch of leaps and climbs and kicks and flips etc.)

It seems akin to gymnastics in that way. The cheesy costumes and cheesy grins are part of the whole thing -- but there clearly can be serious athleticism involved.

Finding some spot on the continuum to be the dividing line (this is a sport, that isn't) would be the trick, I think, and I'm not sure how to do that.
dlowan
 
  3  
Reply Mon 26 Jul, 2010 04:32 pm
@joefromchicago,
I cannot deny Sozobe's comment re there being athletics and skill involved in some forms, but I am unable to get past my view that it is a horror and an abomination in the sight of any thinking deity and human (like synchronised swimming and decorated poodles and such) sufficiently to seriously embrace a reasoned debate about it.
sozobe
 
  1  
Reply Mon 26 Jul, 2010 05:36 pm
@dlowan,
A friend's comment has stuck with me. His kids are pretty athletic and he encourages that -- he supports them but doesn't push them, a pretty laid-back guy in general. Cheerleading came up and he said with some heat, "Cheerleading is for people who watch."
farmerman
 
  1  
Reply Mon 26 Jul, 2010 05:41 pm
@sozobe,
If cheerleading is to be a sport, so should hackey sack
0 Replies
 
dlowan
 
  1  
Reply Mon 26 Jul, 2010 05:44 pm
@sozobe,
And girls watching boys.

No matter how skilled and athletic they are, it's just a sideline, right?
dyslexia
 
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Reply Mon 26 Jul, 2010 05:48 pm
to be a sport would require judging/rating/scoring===competition.
sozobe
 
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Reply Mon 26 Jul, 2010 05:49 pm
@dlowan,
At the college level there are a lot of boys too (thinking OSU cheerleaders here, seems almost half and half).

Check 'em out:

http://image.cdnl3.xosnetwork.com/pics31/640/UB/UBMKFUAFVHHRQQT.20100427143407.jpg

But yeah, sideline.

(Not sure if they cheer for women's sports? There must be cheerleaders for the OSU women's b-ball team...)
0 Replies
 
sozobe
 
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Reply Mon 26 Jul, 2010 05:50 pm
@dyslexia,
There definitely are cheerleading competitions... I got that picture from a site trumpeting that "Buckeyes Place Fifth at 2010 UCA College Cheerleading National Championship"

http://www.ohiostatebuckeyes.com/SportSelect.dbml?DB_OEM_ID=17300&SPID=10642&SPSID=89177

edit: meanwhile I looked around and they do in fact cheer for women's basketball games. seems like the same squad does all home and away football and basketball games (men's and women's b-ball), so that means it's men cheering for women too.
joefromchicago
 
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Reply Mon 26 Jul, 2010 06:23 pm
@sozobe,
sozobe wrote:
Finding some spot on the continuum to be the dividing line (this is a sport, that isn't) would be the trick, I think, and I'm not sure how to do that.

Well, of course it's always the borderline cases that are the most interesting, as well as the ones that help us better understand the clear-cut cases on both sides of the border.

In this instance, I was all set to side with the judge, especially after seeing how Quinnipiac fudged the numbers in other respects to meet its Title IX goals. But then I re-read what the judge had to say about cheerleading as a sport: "Today, however, the activity is still too underdeveloped and disorganized to be treated as offering genuine varsity athletic participation opportunities for students." That got me asking myself: what exactly is a genuine varsity athletic participation opportunity, and why is it so important?

There are, to be sure, the real reasons for having intercollegiate athletics -- for starters, the big sports (football and basketball) they can generate tons of cash for Division 1 programs, they publicize the university even to non-athletes, and they allow faded alums the chance to relive vicariously their salad days at dear old Alma Mater. I'm sure, however, that the judge wasn't talking about those reasons for college athletics.

Instead, I figure he was talking about the justifications that colleges routinely use in order to avoid talking about those real reasons -- i.e. the chance for students to develop team and leadership skills while engaging in physical activity. But then doesn't cheerleading provide that as well? It seems clear that it does. So what's missing?

My guess is that the tiebreaker for the judge is that there's no organized competition in cheerleading. In other words, there's no recognized national rule-making body for the sport, no intercollegiate conferences, no national championship. Well, that may or may not be true -- it looks like somebody thinks there's a national cheerleading championship -- but again, why is that important?

I suppose that, in order for something to be a sport, there has to be some sort of competition, but is that really crucial to the "genuine varsity athletic participation opportunity" experience? If we want our student athletes to develop leadership skills and be physically active, does it matter whether or not those students also get a chance to defeat some other student athletes on the other side of the field who are also developing their leadership skills while being physically active?

Of course, if you take away the competition aspect, then everyone might as well be doing jumping jacks, and there's not much fun in that. But that seems to be taking the viewpoint of the spectator, not the participant. Competition, in other words, is more important for the fan than for the athlete (the athlete might enjoy the competition just as much, but the athlete is also getting all of the physical and mental benefits of participation), yet there's not even a pretense about expanding or protecting the "genuine varsity athletic viewership opportunities" for spectators.

In short, the crux of the judge's decision is that it's unfair for Quinnipiac to deprive its female students of the opportunity to beat some other university's female students in athletic competition. I'm just not convinced that's the right approach to this issue.
Thomas
 
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Reply Mon 26 Jul, 2010 06:32 pm
@joefromchicago,
joefromchicago wrote:
All that aside, however, should cheerleading be considered a sport?

My local PBS station recently ran a feature on this question. As I understood it, the main consequence for the participants of having their activity labelled as a sport is that all kinds of security regulations kick in. There has to be a specified number of first-aid kits on location. The instructor has to be certified as a giver of first aid. The accomodations where the athletes train have to meet certain security standards, and so forth.

The feature went on to describe how security in gymnastics, which is labelled as a sport, is far superior to security in cheerleading which is not but does comparable things. It also described the political lobbying, linguistic trickery, and general weasel tactics through which the main cheerleading organization---"Varsity <something>"---tries to dodge the cost of that extra security by preventing politicians from labelling cheerleading as a sport.

My take, based mostly on this PBS feature and on my own subjective gut feeling: It makes sense to declare cheerleading a sport. Cheerleaders do much of the same things gymnasts do, and gymnastics is undoubtedly a sport. The cost of the extra security is well worth the cheerleaders' physical security. I don't see how classifying it as a sport does any harm. So let's just call cheerleaders athletes.
engineer
 
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Reply Mon 26 Jul, 2010 06:43 pm
@Thomas,
Not necessarily disagreeing that cheerleading is a sport, but there is definitely significant harm in calling cheerleading a sport if it is not. That is why there was a lawsuit in the first place. Turning a twenty person cheer squad into a "sports" team means that at least one and maybe as many as three other women's sports teams can be eliminated. That was clearly the goal behind the move by the university in the article.

Unrelated to the above, I also feel that if competitive cheer is to be considered a sport, the squad should immediately act like a sports team and stop performing as entertainment for men's sporting teams.
Thomas
 
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Reply Mon 26 Jul, 2010 06:59 pm
@engineer,
engineer wrote:

Not necessarily disagreeing that cheerleading is a sport, but there is definitely significant harm in calling cheerleading a sport if it is not. That is why there was a lawsuit in the first place. Turning a twenty person cheer squad into a "sports" team means that at least one and maybe as many as three other women's sports teams can be eliminated.

From Joe's description, I wouldn't count that as a cost of classifying cheerleading as a sport. I would classify it as an artifact of "Title IX", whatever that is. (It seems to be one of America's stupid gender-parity regulations.)
Thomas
 
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Reply Mon 26 Jul, 2010 09:38 pm
@joefromchicago,
joefromchicago wrote:
"Today, however, the activity is still too underdeveloped and disorganized to be treated as offering genuine varsity athletic participation opportunities for students." That got me asking myself: what exactly is a genuine varsity athletic participation opportunity, and why is it so important?

Indeed. When I started studying in Munich in 1989, snowboarding was little more than a fad, loosely organized through a social network of people who liked fad sports. Competition was frowned upon; snowboarders thought their sport was about self-expression, not beating people. When snowboarding became Olympic later in the 1990s, the process divided the snowboarding community into members who wanted to go mainstream with it and those who wanted to remain old school. But both camps would have frowned at any suggestion that what they were doing wasn't a sport.

I think the same applies for beach volleyball. Take the last paragraph, substitute "snowboarding" with "beach volleyball", and it will still be true.

But now that I'm writing this down, I notice that both the beach volleyballers and the snowboarders at the Ludwig Maximilians Universitaet would have never expected the university to organize them. Sure, Germany's universities don't have America's tradition of college sports. But even if they did have them, having your sport organized by The Man just would have flown in the face of everything beach volleyball and snowboarding stood for.

So maybe the answer to your question, Joe, is that organization and competition aren't important to being a sport. They're just important to a college's ability to compete in the activity with other colleges. As a test case for this theory, I suggest college debating teams. Debating is not a sport, but it's organized, competitive, and therefore organized in quite a similar way as college basketball and the like.
0 Replies
 
joefromchicago
 
  1  
Reply Tue 27 Jul, 2010 08:10 am
@Thomas,
Thomas wrote:
From Joe's description, I wouldn't count that as a cost of classifying cheerleading as a sport. I would classify it as an artifact of "Title IX", whatever that is. (It seems to be one of America's stupid gender-parity regulations.)

Indeed.
0 Replies
 
rosborne979
 
  1  
Reply Tue 27 Jul, 2010 08:35 am
@joefromchicago,
If Pole-Dancing is going into the Olympics, then Cheerleading should be a sport.
0 Replies
 
boomerang
 
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Reply Tue 27 Jul, 2010 09:26 am
I know absolutely nothing about cheerleading but I'd think that if they have to try out for the team, attend practices, be held to a certain code of conduct, and are required to attend games then it should count as a sport.

If just anybody can sign up then it should not be considered a sport.
0 Replies
 
Thomas
 
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Reply Tue 27 Jul, 2010 09:36 am
Having read Title IX, as well as the judge's full opinion, I actually think the judge's classification is apt. I'm getting a sense that from the veiwpoint of gender discrimination, college sports aren't really about physical exercise. Instead, they are about two other things: (1) access to a college education through athletic scholarships, and (2) representing ones college to the rest of the world.

Once you look at it from that angle, several points become much easier to see:
  • Title IX is much less stupid than I initially thought. If sports were just about physical excercise, and if the women in a particular college happened to exercise less than their male peers did, that would be their choice, and the government would have no business regulating it. But curbing discrimination in education, and in opportunities to represent ones institution, is very much the government's business. These points alone justify that there be a Title IX.

  • The judge was correct in using competition and organization as benchmarks by which he distinguished sports from non-sports. Neither criteria is necessary for physical excercise. But competition is what college donors sponsor athletic scholarships for, and organization is necessary for routing donor money to individual athletes.

  • There is no reason in principle why cheerleading shouldn't be recognied as a college sport. If a college thinks that cheerleaders would represent it well, and that some alumni might want to sponsor athletic scholarships in it, that should be good enough fom a Title-IX perspective. Once competitions and organization are in place, I don't see why it shouldn't become a college sport.

In short, I'm inclined to agree with the judge now.
Linkat
 
  1  
Reply Tue 27 Jul, 2010 09:48 am
@sozobe,
I look at it like you - to me it is a bit like gymnatics and with the cheesy grins/costumes - a bit like figure skating.

I think it really should be up to the university what they want as a sport rather than the courts.
0 Replies
 
Linkat
 
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Reply Tue 27 Jul, 2010 09:50 am
@sozobe,
Oh, yeah competitive cheerleader is huge (at least I know many people who have children involved in it) and it can be dangerous.

It is different than cheerleading for a football game.
0 Replies
 
 

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