Sports Law Blog
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Thursday, January 19, 2006
From Poms to Pain
As cheerleading squads have moved from a focus on simple support for the team that they are representing into teams separate from the sport that they are cheering on, the moves and routines utilized by cheerleaders have become less stationary pom-pom to difficult and dangerous gymnastic-type moves. As a result, injuries to cheerleaders have greatly increased. Two recent studies in Pediatrics highlight these dangers.
The first study, published in April 2005, found that the high-impact physical activity found in cheerleading and gymnastics led to independently greater odds of stress fractures among girls than basketball or soccer. “It is biologically plausible that these activities are most strongly associated with stress fractures, because the load applied to bone can equal 2 to 5 times body weight for jogging or running and up to 12 times body weight for jumping and landing, which are repetitive maneuvers in cheerleading and gymnastics.”
A second study, published earlier this month found that 208,800 children from the ages of five to eighteen were treated in U.S. emergency rooms for cheerleading-related injuries from 1990-2002. During this period, there was a 110% increase in these injuries from 1990 to 2002. As this study only involved reporting in emergency rooms, this number is surely greater, not taking into account treatment by trainers, specialists, or family physicians.
As a solution, the study suggests that a uniform set of rules be implemented and enforced nationally. Further, the doctors recommend the formation of a national database to document cheerleading-related injuries to further development injury prevention. Finally, the study calls for mandatory safety training and certification for cheerleading coaches.
The problem is that some state athletic associations do not consider cheerleading to be a sport that the respective associations would govern. As such, schools lack proper equipment, facilities, and training. “Some cheerleaders practice in hallways and practice on hard surfaces instead of mats, so when they fall of a pyramid or from the air and they land on hard surfaces, the chances for injury are drastically increased.”
While parents often sign-off on waivers for their students to participate in athletics with the understanding of possible injuries related to the sport and courts making favorable decisions to schools, teams, and coaches, when dangerous conditions are created and the proper safety measures are not taken by schools and teams, liability may arise.
Why would athletic associations not rush to define cheerleading as a sport to bring proper safety and training before lawsuits begin piling up?
Hat tip: Anna Johnson (Chicago Tribune)