Even before a federal judge court ruled this week that cheerleading is not a sport, UGA doctoral student Angelyne Collins sent me this op-ed contending that cheerleading is most definitely not a sport. She says it is an athletic endeavor, just not a sport.
She used the topic to inspire her middle school language arts students who were cheerleaders to defend their position. Ms. Collins also has a fun YouTube video where she tells girls that she would rather they pick basket weaving than cheerleading. It’s well done as her real goal is to teach kids to learn how to defend their stands. (Link t0 the video is in the piece.)
I think she does a good job defending her own position as well. (Quick confession: I was captain of the cheerleaders in 8th grade; I wish I have played tennis instead.)
Here is Ms. Collins’ piece:
As a middle school Language Arts teacher, I noticed on Fridays in the fall that my eighth grade female students would wear their cheerleading outfits to school in anticipation of the upcoming weekend’s football games. One particular Friday, I overheard some of them chattering endlessly about cheer practice, hair styles they would fashion at the game, and how cute they would look at the sports activities.
They seem to be so enthused about the weekend, but never once did I hear them say anything about how they would actually cheer on and support their fellow male classmates on the field. It wasn’t so much that I was disturbed by the vocal omission of unified and organized support, I was just disturbed that they did not realize how little their presence actually meant to their team winning the game.
I gleefully opined as we were walking to lunch that cheerleading was not a sport and that no one would even notice if they did not attend Saturday’s game. I actually wanted and waited for a quick retort from them. I love to see them impassioned about issues of importance to them.
My girls, my dear girls, were suddenly upset with me asking me what kind of teacher would say such hurtful words to them. I was supposed to be a protector, an advisor, and an avid supporter of all of their “positive” endeavors. But, I was just being honest – cheerleading is not a sport – never was, never will be. It is an athletic activity, but not a sport. Does the soccer team stand on the sidelines spouting noisily, “We got the fever! Yea, Yea!”, for the football team?” No other sport organizes a cheer squad for the sole purpose of revving up the crowd except cheerleading.
Additionally, the cheerleaders don’t even face the game; they face the crowd usually ignored by spectators who are interested in the score of the game. They are standing there looking and hoping to be noticed for their fine work on the sidelines, but they are merely detracting attention from the game. They have no impact on the game or the players. The crowd in the stands can do a better job pumping the players up than the squad can.
With short skirts and tight sweaters, our girls are encouraged to cheer and idolize the boys. Clearly, 19th century gender roles of women are being negatively perpetuated for our adolescent girls to fall naively for when they can be the star of their own sports. What fulfillment, other than some sort of social stratification, are the girls really attaining?
Cheerleading is social, and possibly purports a negative portrayal of women’s roles in society, but it is definitely not a sport.
Athleticism is a skill that is required of cheerleaders as they toss each other in the air, build human pyramids, and flip seamlessly for fifty feet. Crash collisions and broken body parts come to mind when I think this type of athletic agility. Why not use these physical efforts to engage in volleyball, basketball, or soccer?
At one time, cheering was the only way a girl could participate in a sport, but now that is not the case. We have the Williams sisters in tennis, Rebecca Lobo in basketball, and Mia Hamm in soccer, to name a few who have carved some sort of identity based on their prowess and skills in their individual sports.
If a girl is going to risk injury, why not engage in a real sport that has an authentic competitive component, unlike a “cheer-off”, which is absolutely pointless? Yes, pointless – cheerleading is just that. If cheerleading is a sport, then Carmelo Anthony is a ballerina. If the cheer squad members ever think the star basketball player scored that winning shot because they shouted, “Get that ball in!”, then they are sadly delusional.
No impact on the game, dangerous, and void of real value – yup, that sums it up! Well, not so my students voiced their concerns vigorously and angrily. My little informal statement on the way to lunch posed a problem – I had created quite uproar about this subject. Aha! Yes, I had gotten them enraged and passionate about an issue that I could clearly turn into a lesson.
While I stood by my stance of the non-sport status of cheerleading, I created an atmosphere ripe for persuasive writing. My pupils had to pass the obligatory 8th Grade Writing Assessment anyway, and I was eager to purpose their writing in creative environments to allow them to hone their writing skills. Each student seemed to have an opinion about the sport vs. non-sport topic, so I struck while the iron was hot.
We all, including myself, wrote in our journals that afternoon using persuasive arguments to plead our cases. Never before had I seen students so eager to write – I felt joyous as they didn’t even realize it was an assignment (until they had to turn it into a formal essay).
There truly is power in the spoken word and written text as my students indicated as we actively engaged in dialogue in the classroom about concerns of power of the spectators and the players, identity in sports and social settings, and images in society that shape our thoughts about sports. My students also submitted some the best writing they had done all school year that captured that “voice” that teachers are always looking for in students’ writings.
To illustrate my point further of the futile rank of cheerleading, I created a video to visually appeal my point of view, as well as aid students in their writing skills – utilizing an unexpected beginning, sprinkling in effective adjectives for vivid descriptions, interjecting humor and personality, and highlighting at least three points to discuss in a formal essay.
So, my students learned how to write about a subject they felt strongly about, how to enact effective oral communication strategies for classroom discourse, and how to navigate the impact of vastly differing opinions. I anticipated that this instructional unit lesson assisted them as they are embarked upon high school careers this year and hopefully beyond for many years to come.
I am certain they will always remember my opinion, however – cheerleading, while athletic, is not now, nor will it ever be, a sport.