Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Judge's ruling on cheerleading raises key issues

Is cheerleading a sport?

According to a federal judge, the answer is no for Title IX purposes. Quinnipiac University tried to argue that it could swap its women’s volleyball team for a competitive cheerleading squad.

Mary Jo Kane, who is the director of the Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport, smartly explained the situation to “How would people react if the school cut a men’s sport like baseball or lacrosse and used those funds for a male cheerleading squad?”

Quinnipiac tried to save tens of thousands of dollars by replacing women’s volleyball with cheerleading, ABCNews.comreported. Interestingly, more people would be able to participate on a cheerleading squad than on a volleyball team.

Let’s examine this further. If Quinnipiac’s argument is that more people can participate in cheerleading for a lower cost, then every sport the university offers should be held to the same standard, i.e., are we having the most people play for the lowest price?

And many colleges should be thinking about overhauling their sports programs. An NCAA report said that only 22 athletic departments in 120 Football Bowl Subdivision schools turned a profitin 2010.

If programs want to fix their athletic ledgers, changes must come from both male and female sports, equally.

I would be negligent if I did not speak in support of cheerleading, as well. The athletic merits of cheerleading go unquestioned. Watching some of the competitions on ESPN, it is clear that these young people are athletes.

With that in mind, I have to take an issue with this Kane comment to “No one wants to denigrate cheerleading, but should it be considered sport at the expense of legitimate women’s competitive team sports?”

I asked a friend who did cheerleading in high school about this and she took an issue with that statement, in particular the use of the word “legitimate.” She explained to me her team trained at five every morning, “just like swimmers do.” The workouts included weightlifting and mandatory gymnastics. Team members had to attend training camps in the summer, too.

She did tell me that while there are national and international competitions, there are inconsistencies in the evaluation of cheerleading programs – comments that support the judge’s ruling.

But I posit this: Gymnastics, boxing and figure skating routinely have scoring controversies.

This post is not taking a position on cheerleading’s merit as a sport. It is saying that a discussion needs to be had on deciding a definition for sports before we can say what is and more importantly what is not a sport.

-- Steve Bien-Aime

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