Competitive cheerleading is a sport. There, I said it, all you knuckle-dragging men out there start your hate mail now.
The latest kerfuffle over pom-poms began after a federal district court judge in Connecticut, Stefan Underhill, refused to acknowledge that competitive cheerleading was a sport for purposes of Title IX, a federal statute that requires equalized athletic opportunities for men and women.
Underhill, ruling against Quinnipiac University's decision to add a competitive cheerleading team, held that cheerleading was "still too underdeveloped and disorganized to be treated as offering genuine varsity athletic participation opportunities for students."
What's the result of his ruling?
Quinnipiac University will add the highly popular sport of women's rugby instead.
What a joke.
By holding that competitive cheerleading was "underdeveloped and disorganized," Underhill provided a Bring It On-style smack down to generations of young Torrance Shipmans out there who spend hours and hours a day all year round perfecting their craft in well-developed and highly organized team activities that culminate in a victory or defeat at well-developed and highly organized national championship competitions.
Isn't that the definition of a sport?
First, a distinction, we're not talking about cheerleading alone, an activity that requires you merely attend the athletic event of another team, we're talking about competitive cheerleading, a sport that crowns a champion after intense head-to-head competitions. The difference between the two is seismic.
In his ruling Judge Underhill failed to make this distinction, rendering an antiquated decision rooted in his own era -- Underhill is 54 -- a time when merely standing on the sideline and clapping in tandem with your teammates was considered the extent of cheerleading. In those days, cheering was an ancillary activity that existed entirely to support an ongoing athletic event.
Those days are long since past.
Like every other sport, cheerleading has evolved. It's easy to embrace the tired stereotypes rooted in past experience to justify his misguided notions, but I'd challenge Judge Underhill to watch the cheerleading national tournaments, actually attend a team's training for a week, and then continue to argue that the sport isn't well-developed enough to qualify for Title IX purposes. In fact, I'd encourage anyone who doesn't believe that competitive cheerleading is a sport to do the same.
Then tell me why, to take two examples, bowling and golf are considered sports while competitive cheerleading isn't.
What's more, and I can't get away from this, Underhill's decision to rule out competitive cheerleading as a sport, a pursuit embraced by millions of women across the country, leads to women's rugby receiving varsity sport status at Quinnipiac, a pursuit embraced by literally dozens of women across the length and breadth of Connecticut.
Is it really the job of a judge to rule on what is and what isn't a sport when a university makes a determination of what sports it should offer based upon the interest level of its own student body? Shouldn't millions of people who choose to pursue competitive cheerleading as a sport, cancel out the old-fashioned views of one judge? Especially when one judge's logic is so transparently rooted in a fundamental misapprehension of the sport itself?
In fact, here are five additional reasons why Judge Underhill's decision is completely wrong.
1. If you think gymnastics is a sport, then you have to think competitive cheerleading is a sport.
The body control, precision, and athleticism required to execute a competitive cheer routine is, according to my wife who has done both sports at high levels and knows much better than me, "more difficult than what's required of a floor exercise routine in gymnastics. You have to be in better physical condition to do the competitive cheering."
Roundoffs, back handsprings, aerials, all of these moves are staples of any gymnastics routine.
Now imagine these same moves are done in sync with teammates in front of thousands of spectators and you're going up against dozens of other teams with only one victor.
Put simply, competitive cheerleading is a modern-day gymnastics -- it has to be a sport.
2. It's really hard to make these teams.
The sad fact is, many varsity teams at a women's collegiate level aren't that hard to make. How many people do you think will try out for the women's rugby team at Quinnipiac? In fact, the better question is: will the rugby team even have cuts?
Probably not. If you want to play rugby you'll be able to, it's women's sports as little league, all who wish can participate.
On the other hand, making a competitive cheerleading team at most universities is extremely challenging. Many women who want to be a member of the team are cut. Isn't how hard it is to make a good team pretty solid evidence that something is a sport?
I think so.
Put it this way, name me a team that is more difficult to make that isn't competing in a sport.
I'm still waiting.
3. Winning a championship is incredibly difficult.
Some of the women who win competitive cheerleading titles will have been training for decades. In fact, you can argue that if competitive cheerleading were simply called something else, say, Synchronized Team Competing, or STC, that it would be embraced as a sport.
It's the use of the term "cheerleading" that strips away much of the athleticism from the endeavor in the minds of those, like Judge Underhill, who haven't actually seen the work and effort required to excel. But if all that's required for a sport to be recognized is changing the name, that's a fault of those who are too lazy to understand the distinction between competitive cheerleading and cheerleading, isn't it?
Of course it is. Most people who don't believe that competitive cheerleading is a sport are making up their minds based almost entirely on the name of the sport and on their antiquated visions of 1950s cheerleaders.
4. Competitive cheerleading attracts the best athletes.
According to my wife, "Many of the kids growing up today who used to do gymnastics are now doing competitive cheerleading when they get to a high school age."
These girls bring the same skill set from gymnastics to their cheerleading teams.
Because it takes great athletes to win at competitive cheerleading. Put it this way, how many women are out of shape who compete on these teams? Hardly any. Compare the average physical condition of a competitive cheerleader with the average physical condition of a softball player. Which group is in better shape?
That's a rhetorical question.
In fact, competitive cheerleaders have a higher rate and severity of injury than football players. Let me repeat that, cheerleaders get hurt more often playing their sport than football players do.
5. What do women want to compete in?
Competitive cheerleading is popular with women.
Given the amount of effort, athleticism, and talent involved in competitive cheerleading, shouldn't women have the opportunity to define their own sports? Isn't it the height of sexism for a male judge who has never played or seen the sport in person to rule from on-high that the energy these girls pour into their sport isn't well developed or organized enough to receive university recognition for purposes of Title IX?
I think so.
Ironically enough, as far as women's sports have advanced, a man still gets to determine what sports women should play. In the midst of the 21st century, women's sports are still firmly rooted in the 1950s.
Freedom of sports choice, quite simply, still doesn't exist for women in America today.