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)





9 Comments:

Tim,

I think the answer to your question is a financial one. If cheerleading is classified as a sport in a particular state or area, the schools in that area may be compelled or pressured to fund cheerleading in line with funding received by other sport programs, including coach(es)' salaries, travel costs, and so on. Currently, these expenses are not paid by the schools but rather by the participant cheerleaders at many schools. Given the financial strain in school systems, this is often the choice that is made, whether right or wrong.

-Chad

Blogger Chad McEvoy -- 1/19/2006 12:01 PM  


I agree with the suggestions in the post -- cheerleading is not only a dangerous sport at the competitive level, but also at the non-competitive colleges.

At Princeton, we had to pay for our own mats, were provided no coach for two of the four seasons I was there, and, since we were not classified as a varsity sport, were not covered by the University's medical insurance.

Our team had many injuries. While I was there, we had several fractured and broken bones. One woman received 10 stitches below her eye for an injury sustained at practice; another received 4 stitches on her brow bone 12 hours before we got on a plane to cheer on our basketball team at the NCAA tournament. The school did not cover treatment for these injuries, even those sustained while we were cheering on our football or basketball teams.

At the very least, cheerleading should be considered a sport for purposes of university-covered medical expenses. Even better, the school should provide safety equipment (mats, etc.) and trained coaches.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 1/19/2006 12:26 PM  


Just to add to the two excellent comments above, if cheerleading were recognized as a sport by athletic associations, would the NCAA then feel pressured to also recognize it as a sport, and, if so, how might such recognition affect the dispensing of athletic scholarships? Would it matter? I know some colleges already provide scholarships for cheerleading, but I don't know how those scholarships compare with athletic scholarships. I also wonder about the potential legal implications of the NCAA recognizing cheerleading as a sport, particularly in regards to injuries as detailed in Tim's excellent post. The subject in general would make for an interesting law review article/student note.

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