A federal court has ended a debate that has raged for decades by declaring that cheerleading is not a sport.

In March 2009, Quinnipiac eliminated its women’s volleyball program and replaced it with a competitive cheer team, which they argued fulfilled their Title IX requirements. Well, actually, what they did was take their existing cheer squad and declare that they were going to start putting them in competitions, so yeah, there you go! New sport!

U.S. District Judge Stefan Underhill rightfully called shenanigans on that claim.

“Competitive cheer may, some time in the future, qualify as a sport under Title IX,” Underhill wrote. “Today, however, the activity is still too underdeveloped and disorganized to be treated as offering genuine varsity athletic participation opportunities for students.”

All cheap shots aside, this actually isn’t a definitive end to the argument so much as it is calling Quinnipiac out on its attempt to circumvent their obligations to women athletes.

It’s actually an important decision as well for those that want cheerleading to be taken seriously as an athletic endeavor. If they want to be accepted and taken seriously, it’s not going to be by being used by administrators as an excuse not to provide opportunities to women.

It was a really cynical and patronizing move, and one that enthusiasts and advocates for cheerleading should be equally offended by.


17 Responses to Federal Judge: Cheerleading is Not a Sport

  1. Now if we can just get Synchronized Swimming removed from the Olympics, we’ll be getting somewhere . . .

  2. Sharkles says:

    Most people who read this decision are probably not going to think anything of it, but those to have or continue to cheer competitively will know that it’s absolutely wrong. I cheered competitively from age 7-17, so this feels like a serious blow. I read that to qualify as a sport it must have set coaches, practices, and defined seasons and organizations — all of which competitive squads have. Granted, some school squads do not compete, but for those that do this is incredibly offensive.

    In my experience, cheering at football and basketball games was part of the job, but the real fun and reason for doing it was for competitions. The long practices and occasional injuries were all worth it for the feeling of stepping on to the competition mat and performing. Anyone who has taken part in these events knows that the athleticism can’t be denied — it is hard work. Unfortunately, it’s going to continue to go unseen by most other people.

    • Here’s the question, though: at what level and how is it organized? All hyperbole and exaggeration aside, the ruling was applicable to it as a collegiate sport specifically, and its relevance to the NCAA and other colleges.

      There’s nothing to say that it can’t happen eventually or that there isn’t a movement for it with legitimately organized independent organizations putting on competitive events. But to claim because they engage in competitions outside the realm of the NCAA that it fulfills Title IX is insincere on the part of Quinnipiac, as well as being factually incorrect.

  3. Sharkles says:

    @Kevin Good questions. I admit my first response was more emotional than factual.

    Cheerleading organizations on the collegiate level really differ depending on the school/location. I went to a SUNY school whose squad had facilities and funding, but wasn’t a major draw to the school itself. This is not true for other places — particularly in the South – where students can go to school on a cheerleading scholarship. See some of the schools that offer scholarships here: http://www.topcheers.com/cheerleadingscholarships

    I don’t know the intricate details of Title IX, but I thought this quote to from Elena Silva, “an expert on Title IX at Education Sector, a Washington policy research organization,” was interesting: “A lot of schools sponsor sports that do not have N.C.A.A. championships or which aren’t considered traditional sports — sand volleyball, badminton, etc… As long as these sports are treated as varsity (facilities, funding, coaching, etc.) then they can count these opportunities toward their gender equity efforts.” http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/15/us/15iht-letter.html

    While the judge in this case clearly doesn’t agree, Silva’s quote makes me think that it’s not the last we’re going to hear of this issue. I don’t know much about competitive cheerleading out of Connecticut, but I think we’ll see backlash from other states where cheerleading is a much bigger deal. It should be interesting to watch.

    I just have to say thanks for writing about this though. I haven’t cheered in years, but it’s still something I feel compelled to defend — enough so that it got me to comment on the TU for the first time!

  4. Well I’m certainly glad it got you to comment! A lot of interesting points raised.

    I get what Elena’s saying. Something to consider though: sports like sand volleyball and badminton, even if questionable in their admission, are still inherently competitive; i.e. their only function is as a competition. Cheerleading, on the other hand, isn’t. It’s athletic, yes, but it’s by nature a demonstration. It has to be MADE a competition, and as such there’s an argument that organizational structure is a legitimate means of determining whether or not it counts as a sport.

    Like you said, though, not the last we’ll hear of it, though somebody else will have to pick up the baton on this one. In terms of PR and logistics, it’d probably be in Quinnipiac’s best interests not to press the issue any further on their end.

    It’s certainly something I’ll have to try to keep tabs on in the future. Thanks again for your contribution!

  5. U2 says:

    I’ll agree with you in regards to Cheerleaders being “athletes”, yes, they are, however, when you bring in Title IX, you open up a whole Pandora’s box.

    I’ll offer Syracuse University as an example. SU had one of the top Men’s DI wrestling programs in the Country prior to “Title IX”. SU had to dump men’s wrestling after Title IX.

    Cutting that short, because I could get long winded,……should a Cheerleader get a free ride to University for cheering? Heck, if so, we’d all try out.

  6. Tony Barbaro says:

    maybe if they wore helmets?

  7. Chuck Miller says:

    I don’t count cheer and dance squads as “sport” until you start giving NCAA recognition to interpretive costumed mascot performances.

  8. phoneguy says:

    I don’t pay much attention to the cheerleaders at a high school or college sporting event and I don’t mean that to be disrespectful in any way. But, I will say, at the high school my daughters attend the same awards are given to the cheerleaders as they are to the other participants on the school teams (ie. MVP, most improved athlete). It’s nice that they recognize these kids because they definitely put a good deal of time into their sport. I have no idea if this is done at other local high schools. I’m sure it is.

  9. Em says:

    But beating up cheerleaders in the locker room is still a sport, right?

  10. Sarah Beth says:

    I was really mad about this when my mom brought it to my attention. I don’t think that a judge should state that something isn’t a sport based on organization. or what he thinks is unorganized. I know i may just be a kid but still. I have been cheering since i was 11 i happen to be 17 now. I will say that being a cheerleader I consider standing on the sidelines cheering for players that 95% of the time don’t like us being there to be a sport, or require the tiniest bit of athleticism. but I do know that since i was in 7th grade i have been in the ER at least once or twice a year because of cheerleading alone. Doing round-off back-handspring step-out, round off back handspring full. is not something a mediocre person can achieve. I would know. Now the title IX says this for Sports qualifications:
    (1) Whether the selection of sports and levels of competition effectively accommodate the interests and abilities of members of both sexes (2) The provision of equipment and supplies; (3) Scheduling of games and practice time; (4) Travel and per diem allowance; (5) Opportunity to receive coaching and academic tutoring on mathematics only; (6) Assignment and compensation of coaches and tutors; (7) Provision of locker rooms, practice and competitive facilities; (8) Provision of medical and training facilities and services; (9) Provision of housing and dining facilities and services; (10) Publicity. Unequal aggregate expenditures for members of each sex or unequal expenditures for male and female teams if a recipient operates or sponsors separate teams will not constitute noncompliance with this section, but the Assistant Secretary [of Education for Civil Rights] may consider the failure to provide necessary funds for teams for one sex in assessing equality of opportunity for members of each sex.

    oh well as for my high school, we have an authorized practice space. our season for competition starts the first week of may and ends in november. We have Co-Ed cheerleading and have won State 3 or 4 times as a Co-ed team. we have practice monday-thursday, and cheer at football games on fridays then go to competitions on saturdays starting in september. Our Coaches get paid for their time, i do agree that the amount of hours they put in doesn’t equal, the amount they get paid. but still all that alone covers over half that law.

    I think that one judge should not be able to silence a debate that has been going on for +30 years, If it was like 5 i think i would shut up and say these comments to myself but its not.

    • Hi Sarah,

      Thanks for your feedback! A lot of good information in your reply.

      I was being a bit facetious in the post title. As I noted in the blog post, the judge wasn’t saying it’s not a sport so much as it’s not a valid sport in relation to the NCAA and its Title IX requirements because of the lack of an organizational structure.

      It can and should fulfill the requirements you laid out. Here’s the tricky thing though – those requirements already pre-suppose that it’s a sport, and the judge was ruling on whether or not it even qualifies as a sport to begin with. That’s where Title IX is vague: it doesn’t qualify what IS a sport, just how a sport can count.

      Like I said before: I think cheerleading can be a sport. It certainly is in your case, but it’s not necessarily in the case of Quinnipiac and the college level.

      My take is that there are two kinds of sports:
      1. Inherently Competitive Sports Athletic competitions that automatically pit one person or team against another and therefore can’t exist without competition.
      2. Institutionally Competitive Sports These are athletic endeavors/exhibitions – like cheerleading – that become competitive only when something is organized to create the competition.

      Both are equally valid as sport; just the second one requires that extra step of organization.

  11. Donna H says:

    Seperate cheerleading from other sports games and make it a sport then talk. I took offense at first at your title because it seems to me a lot of athletic skill is needed for cheering.

    But upon reading the post, I’m glad the judge decided the way they did. In this instance anyway, the school was apparently only calling it a sport as an end-run around Title IX. Glad the judge didn’t let them pull that happy crappy. If they’re going to use cheerleading for a sport, separate it out from cheering the male football team on and make it a separate competitive sport like figure skating has become.

    As far as men’s sports having to be cut to meet Title IX, cry me a river. I’m sorry but am I supposed to give a damn about that when Title IX exists because women have been side-lined all along?

  12. Donna H says:

    Oh, and spend as much on cheerleading as they do football, damn it.

  13. Ed says:

    I’m late to the party here, but Quinnipiac has never had a football team. They’re more of a basketball and hockey school… and yes, they sponsor women’s ice hockey.

  14. Cheer Crazy says:

    First of all, Cheerleading has always been a sport in my book. I am a former cheerleader and I am a cheer coach now. If we spent as much time and money on our cheerleadng program than our terrible football teams out here we might actually get somewhere in life. This title was so offensive to me. I feel like for a judge to say cheerleading is not a sport than they have not been to a practice nor competiton. By the way, I bet anybody didn’t know that the judge over this case didn’ make the cheerleading squad at her high school……

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