Should the NCAA recognize cheer as a sport

The thrill of the Netflix documentary, “Cheer”, has stuck with me for a long time since I finished the last episode and has prompted this column. It has long been deliberated, by commonality and college athletic departments, whether cheer should not, or should be recognized as a sport. Whichever side of the argument you fall on, watching “Cheer” may prompt you to lean towards the latter.

Cheerleading encompasses a wide range of activities from waving pom-poms in the air on the sideline, to the bases of a stunt group who throw their flyer soaring into the air and catch her seamlessly, to the tumbling and pyramids. Cheerleaders possess a distinct set of skills, strength, and stamina. The risk involved in participating, the idea of being a team member, the physical exertion, athleticism, and skill set make it impossible for me to not recognize cheer as a sport.

The NCAA defines a sport as “(1) An institutional activity involving physical exertion with the purpose of competition within a collegiate competition structure; (2) at least five regularly scheduled competitions within a season; and (3) standardized rules with official rating/scoring systems.” On one hand, the lack of competitive structure that exists within NCAA guidelines would make it easy to argue against cheer being considered a sport by this very definition. However, the physical exertion of elite cheerleaders cannot be overlooked. Cheerleaders are required to be conditioned to throw a teammate over their shoulders six feet in the air, or flip and tumble over mats. The ability to do so doesn’t fall down from the sky, it comes with grueling 5-6 hours practices, similar to the way a Power 5 football school would prepare for gameday.

In the docuseries, the cheerleaders are nothing short of skilled, hardworking athletes. They are subject to punishments like running laps or pushups and by the end of practice are exhausted. Additionally, the coordination it takes to “hit” a routine on the mark is just like remembering a play book. The feats these cheerleaders make look easy is a talent that very few of even the best conditioned athletes could accomplish.

Once again, I do understand the point that not even USA Cheer recognizes cheerleading in its entirety until its main focus is on competition, and the only type of cheerleading that has a chance of becoming a sport is STUNT: an all women’s cheerleading team with unique scoring systems. Still, the risk of participating is second just to the risk of CTE that plague football. The American Medical Association thinks that because of participation level and the dangers of cheer, it should be considered a sport. For the sake of safety, the NCAA should name cheer a sport because the result would be increased safety measures for cheerleaders and scholarships to cheerleaders who work hard and deserve the same treatment as other athletes.

More to my point, cheerleaders are team members and that is, in my humble opinion, the best part of sports. Cheer team members know that their individual actions affect the entire team. Sports have taught me that when you are a member of a team, you succeed with one another, and you fail with one another. Win together, lose together.  Having your team members back is a major aspect to producing successful results. If one person doesn’t hit their timing in their routine, it can, and most probably will, mess everyone else up.

Cheer is multidimensional, involves mental and physical strength, and has high participation rates in both female and male, which is something that many sports cannot say.

As a college athlete who plays a game that’s never been in question about it being a sport, I urge you to watch the docuseries “Cheer” because you may be as stunned as I was to find out that these tremendous athletes do not get the credit they deserve.