A US judge in Connecticut says no, cheerleading is not a sport, at least under Title IX. As a consequence, he’s ruled Quinnipiac University can’t drop its girls volleyball team because the competitive cheer team doesn’t count as an alternative.
It’s worth noting the ruling seems to be more on the organization of cheerleading than the team or the activity. An activity can be considered a sport under Title IX if it meets specific criteria. It must have coaches, practices, competitions during a defined season and a governing organization. The activity also must have competition as its primary goal. In this case, it seems the lack of a governing organization and a defined season schedule were mostly to blame.
Still, cheerleading is left in an odd position. No sane person could argue that today’s cheerleaders are not athletes and do not train hard. The physical exertion, the injuries, the demanding coaches, and the long hours in the gym are on par with any other sport. Further, anyone who’s ever been to a cheer competition, could not remotely claim this is not a competitive activity. And if you think the kids are motivated, you should see how rabid the fans are.
I personally believe that the biggest detriment to cheerleading being accepted as a sport is its legacy. It was historically a sideline activity for another sport. And vestiges of that remain today. School cheer teams are often required to still adorn the sidelines of games. And in many cases, the cheerleaders consider this a nuisance that distracts them from their real focus and their real passion, the competitions. It seems that cheerleading would be way better off if it renamed itself to something like Synchronized Gymnastics and left all the sideline activities and the school spirit behind.
Competition cheerleading is part dance and part choreographed aerobics all blended with a healthy dose of tumbling. Yes, it’s a judged sport, but so is gymnastics. And like gymnastics, there are standards and required moves. Yes, there’s a ridiculous amount of attention on hair and makeup, but synchronized swimming and ice skating have similar aesthetic requirements.
There is only one truly unique aspect to cheerleaders. Something I don’t think any name change or official recognition will ever make different. It’s something I call autophotoassemblage. If you are in the vicinity of a group of cheerleaders and give any indication you are inclined to take a picture of them, they will magically self-arrange into a group pose and turn on a smile. Even just removing the lens cap from your camera is often enough. You never have to pose them. Sometimes they’ll fuss with a few positions before the shot settles, but you just need to wait with your camera until everyone is still. Click. It’s a great picture. In fact, I don’t think it’s even possible to take a bad picture of cheerleaders.
While I don’t think autophotoassemblage should in any way inhibit cheerleading from being recognized as a sport, it remains one of the great mysteries of the universe.