Pediatrics Association Requests Safer Facilities for Cheerleaders

ELK GROVE, Ill. — A new report by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) argues that cheerleaders need to be treated like other athletes, not just as a matter of respect, but for their safety. If groups like the National College Athletic Association (NCAA) are convinced to recognize the activity as a sport, it could lead to an increase in spending on facilities and equipment. A similar boom in athletic facilities occurred when Title Nine was instituted on a national level, forcing schools to fund women’s athletics at a closer level to men’s sports.

The report, published in the journal, Pediatrics, purported that cheerleaders need to have the same level of coaching, facilities and equipment as other athletes. The AAP argued that cheerleaders are injured at a higher rate than many athletes and the report attributed this to unequal treatment in a sport that often involves complex and dangerous gymnastics moves. Part of the problem is that cheerleading isn’t considered a sport at collegiate levels, something the report recommended should be changed, “so that it is subject to rules and regulations set forth by sports governing bodies,” like the NCAA.

Although some organizations are attempting to convince the NCAA to recognize cheerleading as a sport, the organization is acting slowly, telling the Wall Street Journal petitions on the topic will be reviewed for three years. Even if the NCAA approves this request, it would only apply to cheerleaders when preparing for and attending competitions. Sideline cheerleading wouldn’t count, even though participants often perform dangerous stunts there as well. Part of the problem appears to be that the NCAA only accepts sports that have a competitive element, even though there are cheerleaders putting themselves at risk of energy at nearly every major NCAA basketball and football game in the country. The NCAA’s emphasis on safety for football players has led it to take steps like making players skip a play if their helmet comes off on the field, meanwhile safety measures for cheerleaders appear to remain unchanged by comparison.

The AAP concluded that cheerleaders should undergo a yearly physical before being allowed to participate on a team, just like in every other athletic activity, and should have coaches with training related to the gymnastic stunts each group performs.

The report added that stunts shouldn’t be practices and performed on hard surfaces and suggested cheerleaders should have the same level of facilities and medical support dedicated to their activities as any other team sports.

Some schools are already ahead of the curve in terms of giving cheerleaders equal resources. The cheerleading team at Wallace State Community College in Hanceville, Ala. has its own practice space with mirrored walls to allow members to study their own movements. They also have a regulation competition floor, allowing them to train in the same environment they compete in. When not being used by cheerleaders, the facilities are available for aerobics classes.