Saturday, October 17, 2009

The cheerleading debate continues

I am a little bit tired of talking about cheerleading but I have acquired a critical mass of stories (i.e. three) about cheerleading so it seemed to indicate that a blog post was in order.
USA Today ran a point/counterpoint editorial on the merits of cheerleading. Or rather whether cheerleading is a sport. Karen Durkin of the Women's Sports Foundation said no--it's an activity and furthermore, it is being used irresponsibly to get schools out of complying with Title IX. She does not rule out the possibility that competitive cheer could be a sport, but that it frequently is not truly treated as a sport despite a school's designation of it as such.
On the other side was a Presswire reporter stating his thoughts about why cheerleading and dance should be recognized as a sport and count towards Title IX compliance and also receive the benefits of other sports. His version of the story centers around the fact that cheerleading is athletic, that they have tryouts and practice a lot. He derides some feminists, including Nancy Hogshead-Makar, for coming out against cheerleading as a sport. (Note also the Hogshead-Makar is not against cheerleading as a sport but rather the ways schools have called it a sport without actually treating it as such.) Actually he thinks we're trashing it. And cheers the feminists who have "come around" on the issue. Because counting cheerleading, he says, helps men and women. Men won't get their teams cut, he says, because a school can't find female athletes. (Now where did we put those women??) And cheerleaders will get recognition. First of all, cheerleading is not going to save men's sports--just like it doesn't save a team from losing when cheerleaders do back flips to entice the crowds. And of course it hurts women like the University of Maryland women's ice hockey players who were not elevated to varsity status when cheerleading was deemed an intercollegiate sport.
The writer also makes the mistake of comparing number of teams between the genders. Yes, the average number of men's teams per institution is smaller because there is one team in particular that carries a very large (unnecessarily so) roster. And Title IX does not measure equity in participation by number of teams--but by number of opportunities (i.e., roster spots).
A little fact I learned from this "debate." The NAIA as already designated cheerleading an emerging sport.
And deciding to just avoid this whole debate was University of Connecticut who, this year, abolished cheerleading in favor of spirit squads. Wait, I thought that's what cheerleaders were? Yep, going back to the roots of the activity, UConn is bringing together groups of students who are fans of the game and the team and are interested in sharing their enthusiasm and inspiring it in others.
But a Hartford Courant writer is none too happy about this saying that UConn is sending cheerleaders back to the days of ponytails and pom poms. So, I guess she means, well, yesterday. Oh no wait, it's Saturday which means it's college game day everywhere across the country so I guess she means today.
She states that cheerleading started moving away from the sidelines in the 80s as the activity got more rigorous and incorporated gymnastics moves. Except it never moved away completely from the sidelines because it's cheerleading and what do you cheer for when you are not on the sidelines? It's a tree in the woods situation. If you are leading a cheer for your school, and you are delivering that cheer at a venue (i.e. a cheerleading competition) at which there are no teams from your school competing in an athletic contest--who is being lead by and benefiting from that cheer?

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