Should cheerleading be a sport? The question has vexed universities, sports enthusiasts and feminists for decades, but now two groups have submitted competing proposals to the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) to recognize cheerleading as an emerging sport for women. Opponents have traditionally said it sends the wrong message to women, that it literally and figuratively puts them on the sidelines of male-dominated sports and offers universities an easy path to skirt Title IX obligations to provide equal athletic opportunities to male and female students. But competitive cheerleaders say that’s an image from the past; today’s cheering is much more sophisticated and deeply rooted in stunts and gymnastics. To the casual observer, the competing proposals differ only in details—how the competition should be scored, how to structure the season and whether the sport will ultimately look more like stunts or gymnastics. But both aim to make it an NCAA-recognized sport that would ban cheerleaders from cheering for other athletic games. What could that mean for athletic scholarships and even the iconic image of cheerleaders on the sidelines?
Nancy Hogshead-Makar, professor of Law at Florida Coastal School of Law and the senior director of advocacy at the Women’s Sports Foundation