Is Cheerleading A Sport? Once And For All, The AMA Has Decided...
During its annual meeting Monday, the American Medical Association decided: Cheerleading is a sport. They're hoping to get people to take the high-flying acrobatic sport more seriously: Cheerleading has been found to be the number-one cause of catastrophic injury to female athletes, both by the AMA and a University of Michigan study from 2009. It's also the only sport in which risk of injury during practice exceeds risk of injury during live competition.
That last fact looms large in the AMA's decision, which was made in the hope that recognizing cheerleading as a sport will spur more serious training, an additional emphasis on and awareness of safety. It's possible that, as high schools around the country increasingly adopt the view that cheerleading is a sport — 35 U.S. states already do so, and the AMA's move will lean on the others to do the same — funding for essential practice gear like safety mats will be a higher priority.
These kinds of things generally aren't lacking when a team is attending a big competition, but in the privacy of their own high school gym, there's no guarantee how many mats might be available, nor how well they'll cushion a nasty fall.
But setting aside all the reasons it would be nice to say so, there is the matter of the truth, as well — is cheerleading actually a sport? At risk of being overly-literal, there's a pretty convenient way to find out. Let's see what our friends at Google think!
If it looks like a sport, and sounds like a sport... yup, looks like we have a sport on our hands. Dr. Samantha Rosman, a pediatrician in Massachusetts, urged the AMA to make the move prior to voting, according to the Associated Press:
These girls are flipping 10, 20 feet in the air. We need to stand up for what is right for our patients and demand they get the same protection as their football colleagues.
More credit goes to FiveThirtyEight's Walt Hickey, who using raw data from 1982 through 2011 produced a quick, easy reference table to sum up the extent of the problem. The numbers don't lie — while just as few high school girls have died cheerleading as have doing other sports, the cheerleading rates for other injuries, both serious and non-serious, well outpace those seen in other women's' sports.
Whether the AMA's move will pay off is yet to be seen, but it's reassuring to know this is being taken seriously. The discrepancy between how safety is viewed in "real sports" compared to "fake sports" is a familiar sight in America, after all. Granted the risks are profoundly different, but the rates of premature death in professional wrestling serve as another grim reflection of this — because everyone knows wrestling matches are staged, scripted events, the staggering number of wrestlers' premature deaths goes more or less overlooked.
As sports editor for The Nation Dave Zirin once observed: "If you had a death rate in the NFL like you have in World Wrestling Entertainment, there would be 24/7 congressional hearings."
Fortunately, the AMA are recognizing that reality, and heeding the call to do better.
Image: Google, Walt Hickey/FiveThirtyEight