A Bronx cheer for cheerleading

Federal judge says it's not a sport — but what makes something a sport?

August 02, 2010|Susan Reimer

Competitive cheerleading — which, like figure-skating and diving, is decided by judges — has been judged not a sport by a judge in Connecticut.

U.S. District Judge Stefan Underhill ruled that Quinnipiac College could not eliminate its women's volleyball team and replace it with the 36-member cheerleading squad to both save money and pump up its Title IX women's numbers.

The judge ruled that cheerleading might someday be considered a sport, but it is not one now.

"Today, the activity is still too underdeveloped and disorganized to be treated as offering genuine varsity athletic participation opportunities for students," the judge ruled. So the volleyball players and their coach, who went to court, will be back on the court this fall.

My husband, who covers a range of sports for USA Today including pro football, bull-riding, figure skating and Olympic wrestling, says that an activity can be considered a sport if you have to wear different shoes to participate — or no shoes at all.

Thus, beach volleyball, figure skating and synchronized swimming would be considered sports — and are for the purposes of the Olympics. But poker, chess or darts would not technically be considered sports, even if there is a World Series of Poker and sportswriters like my husband cover it.

My own opinion is that if your mother had to write checks and drive you all over Kingdom Come to do it, it is a sport.

There are about 3.7 million young people participating in cheering nationwide, according to Varsity, which provides the uniforms and products. And it can cost $2,000 to $3,000 a year to belong to a cheerleading gym, not to mention the cost of camps, competition travel and uniforms.

I know cheerleading moms, and they can be just as over-involved and bedraggled as figure-skating moms.

Personally, I think if the activity is really expensive, it should be considered a sport. Therefore, the Olympics and the NCAA should make a place for ballet dancers, just as they have for equestrians.

(Speaking of which, can something be a sport when an animal does at least half of the work? There is a reason why the Olympics haven't sanctioned dog-sledding, even though it has been included as a demonstration sport.)

But because cheerleading in college doesn't have what you would call a regular season or a schedule, it doesn't qualify as an NCAA sport, even if the participants lift weights and run in the off-season and even if the practices are really, really hard.

I can understand that it is difficult to consider revving up the crowd and creating a home-court advantage a sport, even if you are in danger of breaking your neck doing it.

But the official definition of "sport" gets kind of cloudy when the Olympics add curling and eliminate baseball and softball, and when driving a car — OK, driving a car really fast — is considered a sport.

Do those NASCAR drivers wear special shoes?

Susan Reimer's column appears Mondays. Her e-mail is susan.reimer@baltsun.com. Twitter.com/susanreimer.

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