Friday, July 23, 2010

Is Cheerleading a Sport?

A Connecticut Federal Court judge ruled that cheerleading is not a sport, at least not as far as Title IX is concerned. Quinnipiac University pulled funding from its women's volleyball team to fund a competitive cheer team instead. The volleyball players complained. And won.

At first I thought, you go girls!--about the volleyball players that is. I admit that cheerleading has always seemed a bit second place to me--the women don't even get their own sport, they're decoration to boost the male ego while he plays his sport. But then I delved into the story a bit more, and, like so many things, the picture was murkier than I'd expected.

The cheerleading team at issue was not a sideline cheer team, but a "competitive cheer" team. Big difference. News to me. In fact, at U of Oregon they've changed the name of the activity ( I'll follow the court ruling and not call it a sport yet) to "Team Stunts and Gymnastics Program," in recognition of the athleticism of the endeavour, which resulted in an instant image improvement. Gone, in many cases, are the skimpy outfits, pompoms and cleavages, instead you'll find fit women performing quite amazing feats, which are inarguably athletic.

But does that make it a sport?

On the flip side, the NCAA does not, for example, recognize it as a sport, and, therefore, there is no formal inter-collegiate play. Nor is it an activity with a men's team, which has the unfortunate effect of making it seem a tiny bit sexist. Also, the school was apparently fiddling already with its sports rosters to make women's sports look bigger than they were and men's smaller. The roster machinations issue wasn't dealt with in the case (though I hope the school feels "on notice")--but it provides some interesting background to the volleyball teams frustration, I think.

In the end, I think the judge made the right decision. Not so much because competitive cheer isn't or shouldn't be a sport, but because, as Judge Stefan R. Underhill said, "Competitive cheer may, some time in the future, qualify as a sport under Title IX. Today, however, the activity is still too underdeveloped and disorganized to be treated as offering genuine varsity athletic participation opportunities for students.”

In response, Quinnipiac has said it will add a women's rugby team in 2011-2012. Fierce. Nice.

I don't like to think where we'd be without Title IX. More than 35 years since it passed into law, and still much needed.