On October 22, 2012, a group of American pediatricians suggested that cheerleading be finally designated an official sport. While this has many women across the country feeling vindicated, the reasons behind the recommendation are a little less pleasant.
The doctors believe marking cheerleading as an official sport will help prevent injuries that occur from cheerleading every year. Other recommendations included requiring pre-season physicals for the cheerleaders, increasing access to strength and conditioning coaches, and the removal of cheerleaders from competition and perfoming immediately after head injuries.
Dr. Cynthia LaBella, co-author of the recommendations, told Andrew M. Seaman from Reuters, “We felt that there needed to be some guidelines out there on how to make it safer for these girls.” Not to discount the men involved in the activity, however the statistics do show 96 percent of cheerleaders over the age of 6 in the U.S. are female.
While cheerleading results in less injuries than gymnastics and soccer for high school athletes, over 65 percent of all catastrophic injuries for high school female athletes result from cheerleading.
“In many states and at the college level, cheerleading isn’t officially recognized as a sport, and because of that there are quite a few safety concerns they miss out on,” said LaBella.
The executive director of the American Association of Cheerleading Coaches and Administrators (AACCA), Jim Lord agrees with the recommendation of LaBella and the other doctors from the American Academy of Pediatrics. “Most of this stuff we’ve recommended for quite a while.”
LaBelle knows there are many issues in getting these recommendations put in action, but she is hopeful. “”We realize there are some political issues that may not work in every state with these recommendations, but even if cheerleading is not recognized as a sport, there are ways that schools and state organizations can provide these safety mechanisms for them.”
While cheerleaders may not have a definitive answer in the age old schoolyard argument about whether or not cheerleading is a sport, I think it is clear they participate in athletics at the same level as most other high school and college athletes. It is a good sign to hear their safety finally becoming part of the conversation.