The complicated history of cheerleading, Title IX and what it means to be a sport

When President Richard Nixon signed the Education Reform Act in 1972, Title IX of the new law guaranteed equal access to education as a civil right. Although the words “sports” or “athletics” were not mentioned in Title IX, they were instrumental in increasing women’s participation in sports. But it also started a complex conversation — one that’s inevitable in the world of sports, but also one that’s often left out of conversations surrounding athletes even today.

“It’s hard to ignore the fact that Title IX and cheerleading — their stories are intertwined,” Natalie Adams, a professor at the University of Alabama and co-author of the upcoming book “Cheer: An American Obsession,” told The 19th. “Title IX moved girls from the sidelines to the field and it was clear what they meant by that – it meant cheerleading. Cheerleading became an easy target for to be mocked.”

To comply with Title IX – which turns 50 this month – schools must ensure that an equal number of opportunities to participate in sports are available for students of all genders in terms of enrollment. But what was considered a game has been debated. As competitive cheerleading continues to evolve, a complex dynamic has emerged, with differing opinions on whether or not obtaining Title IX approval would be in the best interests of the sport. The debate over whether cheerleading should have that recognition, and legal status under the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), is not neatly divided, with all schools or all coaches or all cheerleaders on one side or the other. which.

However, most of it comes from traditional organizations established during the early days of Title IX. Cheerleading’s deep history as a marketing tool for college athletic departments continues to shape the public’s perception of the sport, as it has become a modern competition, relying heavily on choreography that strict consensus, elaborate ideas, and complex conflicts created by all-women and collective groups.

“Cheerleading presented a problem – how were women supposed to take the field when we had female spectators on the sidelines? Cheerleading could not be seen as an empowering sport for women, as the decades the years have gone by and the game has changed a lot,” said Ellen Staurowsky, a professor of sports media at Ithaca College and an expert on Title IX and college sports, said. The 19th.

What it means to be a sport

In 1975, the Department of Education’s Office of Human Rights (OCR) issued a memorandum stating that cheerleading should be defined as an extracurricular activity – which also stated that it could not used as part of the head count to calculate Title IX opportunities for women. athletes. As competitive cheerleading emerged in the 1990s and continued to evolve in the early 2000s, the team was increasingly questioned by college cheerleading coaches. To see also : Texas Toddler Joins Middle School Cheerleaders on Viral TikTok. Many wanted equal respect, equal funding and more opportunities to compete. But in 2010, a federal judge ruled that cheerleading does not “count” as sport under Title IX.

Most college scouts are on their school’s athletic departments but outside of the NCAA, the governing body of college sports. All Title IX sports are regulated by the NCAA, and the NCAA must comply with Title IX. But there is a kind of regulatory loophole for athletic programs not regulated by the NCAA.

The NCAA regulates how many hours per day eligible athletes can spend in practice and training (no more than four hours per day and 20 hours per week during the season and no more than eight hours per a week without a period). It also requires collegiate athletes to have one guaranteed day off per week during the season, and two days per week during the off-season. Beginning in 2014, the NCAA also requires their athletic programs to report all “catastrophic” injuries — those that result in death, permanent disability or other serious injury.

Research has found that cheerleading has the second highest rate of serious injuries in college and high school sports, regardless of which; Football only results in direct, severe injuries. For some high school cheerleading programs, not being seen to cut back on training and practice hours and reporting injuries is an advantage, not a hindrance. But many who feel like it’s time for the NCAA to approve for cheers feel like this is an important step to protect these athletes and their health.

“One of the main reasons for announcing cheerleading as a sport is that advocates say this is the best thing for the athletes themselves,” Adams said.

On the same subject :
FOXBOROUGH, MA – August 11: Patriots cheerleaders perform during an NFL preseason…

Double the responsibilities, half the recognition 

Daniel Nester, head coach of Georgia Tech’s cheerleading team, was instrumental in encouraging the NCAA to offer a state of intercollegiate competition through his work on the ACC’s head coaches’ board. See the article : Hometown fellowship presented by Cigna.

“Most of us are established, we have a team, we have a full-time coach, we have a coach — if it becomes NCAA play, it would be an easy transition,” Nester told The 19th. “Every time I talk to [my athletic director] and I talk to Clemson’s athletic director and Syracuse’s athletic director, I say, ‘It’s easy — we’re here, nothing changes. , it can help our numbers and it’s doing the right thing. It’s about empowering women in sports.'”

Nester, who is leaving her coaching position for a non-athletic role this summer, said cheerleaders are treated differently than other collegiate athletes — because without the NCAA and the Title IX appreciation, they are not. they are technically classified as student-athletes.

“We don’t ask the basketball team to play basketball one day and be student ambassadors the next,” Nester said. She thinks these “traditional” aspects of cheerleading are part of what’s holding the sport back.

“I don’t think people understand what training is really needed and what is part of sports and what is part of performance. If we were to move away from cheering football games, we “It should be called something different. But schools are still looking for cheerleaders who wave pom-poms at football games,” he said.

Irelyn Brady, who cheered for two years at Navarro College in Corsicana, Texas, and will join the collegiate track team at the University of Alabama this fall, said she wishes schools with cheer programs would competitors may create a separate game day. -programs only, allowing the competition watchers to focus on their training.

“Competition watchers should train for tournaments – hopefully, more than just one a year in the future. And for people who enjoy the game day stuff, they can have their own sports club,” said Brady.

But some of the schools — and some of the sponsors themselves — are not seeking NCAA recognition because it would limit the community’s representation.

At these schools, “those cheerleaders play a big role in traditional cheerleading—being ambassadors, raising money, going to alumni events, celebrating at ribbon-cutting ceremonies, participating in parades. And many of these traditional things are what cheerleaders say provide networking opportunities that translate into jobs and opportunities in the future. There’s not a lot of motivation for them to end that,” Adams said.

On the same subject :
Get a global perspective on the US and go beyond with curated…

When being ‘more than a sport’ limits how you compete

The idea of ​​cheerleading as an isolated entertainment that strengthens social morals even extends to the big organizations that support it. Currently, competitive teams participate each year in one of two annual national competitions, hosted by the National Cheerleading Association (NCA) or the Universal Cheerleading Association (UCA), both divisions of a company called Varsity. On the same subject : Commanders, owner Dan Snyder, the NFL and Roger Goodell face consumer protection lawsuit. The varsity states on its website that cheerleading is not a sport by IX standards because it is “more than a sport.” The lack of legal approval means that Varsity, an independent athletic apparel company, remains the only venue for cheerleading competitions.

Nester said it is not fair that these athletes are given only one chance a year to compete. The move to the NCAA will allow cheerleading teams to compete multiple times a year, following the same format as other collegiate sports with invitationals, conferences and national titles. Nester helped create the ACC’s conference cheer championship the past two years. In its first year, 12 of the 16 ACC schools competed. Last year, 11 sent teams. Georgia Tech has held first place for two years — but still doesn’t own the conference title. Although the tournament was open to all ACC schools, with the exception of the NCAA ranks, it is not an official ACC event.

Collegiate competitive cheer teams practice almost year-round. Brady told The 19th that he will begin training for next year starting in July. He will attend training for three hours a day from Monday to Friday, with double training on Tuesday and Thursday. All of this work leads up to one competition that takes place at the end of April. Even in the off-season, he has practices and camps that he must do as part of his training.

“We’re putting in almost a year’s worth of work for one tournament that’s not even recognized by the NCAA,” Brady said. “People don’t see us as athletes. They think we are some kind of group. ”

On the same subject :
Kelsey Walling/Tribune-HeraldThe Hilo cheer squad performs a routine at the BIIF preseason…

Fewer scholarships, smaller salaries

The lack of NCAA status also means that cheer coaches earn significantly less than their peers who coach sports covered under Title IX. As the head coach at Georgia Tech, Nester was the highest paid head coach in the ACC. He earned $51,000 last year and was the team’s only full-time coach, overseeing more than 100 athletes as Georgia Tech’s athletic coordinator, which put him on many cheerleading teams. , dance team and mascot. The next lowest paid coach at Georgia Tech earned $102,000 last year and only has seven athletes in their program. For a sport whose head coaching jobs are often filled by women and LGBTQ+ people, the lack of Title IX recognition has created a huge pay gap.

That comes down to the scholarship money available to cheerleaders, as non-IX and non-NCAA sports do not have the same access and ability to pay for scholarships for team members as peers. their with known standards do. Brady said that Navarro, a community college famous for “Cheer,” and the unsurpassed performer of the NCA competition, cheerleaders receive scholarships of $500 per semester if they live off campus and $1,000 semester if they live on campus.

“I think a lot of cheerleaders can’t go to college because they don’t have financial support,” Brady said. “If we had known this when we were young and started, maybe we would have switched to gymnastics or tried to choose another sport that would help us get into college. All the work we do seems worthless when we are given a few hundred dollars to go to a $25,000 a year school.”

It started on June 15-17, 2022

Our third annual 19th Represents conference focuses on the 50th anniversary of Title IX. We looked at the history and impact of this landmark legislation, celebrated its achievements and spoke to leaders across multiple sectors about future work on gender equality.

Title IX’s goals and a history of optics

“If you go back to the 1970s, cheerleading was considered a part of men’s sports,” Staurowsky said. “If you go back and look at some of the texts of the sports administration from that time for the things that are needed to run the game of football, under the advertising things it would be “team” and ” cheerleaders.” You don’t see that kind of discussion. and any other women’s sport.”

But some colleges wanted to count cheerleading as a sport – but many for questionable reasons. Linda Correia, a civil rights attorney who handles Title IX sports cases, said schools have tried to use their own cheerleading programs — including daily programs that don’t participate in UCA competitions or NCA – to help strengthen their Title IX. numbers. One such case ruled in 2010 that happiness is not a game.

Correia added that those opposed to cheerleading garnering NCAA and Title IX recognition believe that schools will use it to avoid investing in new opportunities for women in sports – cheer or otherwise.

“Some schools have good athletic programs for women and some don’t,” Correia said. a male with more money than it realizes a female athlete who wants better facilities, wants to be in a better program to come. to attract better recruits, wants a better field to play on, a have all the bells and whistles that men’s clubs have.”

She said that as Title IX grew, and institutions of higher education were increasingly criticized for their lack of investment in women’s sports, many people began advocating to bring cheer under The NCAA and eligibility for Title IX numbers, contact cheerleading advocates who want. to realize.

He said: “That’s when people started saying, ‘But happiness is athletic competition.’

Staurowsky recently completed a report for the Women’s Sports Foundation that found that a large number of colleges and universities still do not comply with Title IX when it comes to athletics.

“One of the things that I think has affected cheerleading is the focus on why schools want to go ahead as a varsity sport,” she said. He points to a 2010 ruling in a case involving Quinnipiac as an example. Because cheerleading requires very little in the way of equipment and supplies other than a floor and mats, schools can say they are investing in women’s sports by counting cheers in their Title IX numbers without providing actual dollars to the program that provides it. with fields for women. athletes.

Reinforcing the gender binary in sports

Staurowsky said that historically, starting with high school athletic programs, the biggest opportunities for women’s advancement in sports have been basketball – and then cheerleading. Although cheerleading was close to athletics in the 1970s, it was still “viewed as an accessory rather than a central part of the male-dominated sports system.” As a result, he said, this created a “division of labor” when it came to college sports at the time when Title IX came into effect: “Cheerleading was an institution that maintained the binary. : The men were playing in the field and the women were standing on the sidelines.”

“Honestly, I think the story has really affected sports in the last few decades, as [cheerleading] has changed and changed a lot,” Staurowsky continued. “I think that was part of the reason why some of the women’s sports community turned away over time.”

Correia adds that when it comes to Title IX, there is often a “false narrative” perpetuated by opponents of the law that there is tension between men’s and women’s sports within sports departments. university, the belief that the establishment of a new women’s sports program is necessary. the end of the men’s game. That is not true, however, he said.

“It’s really about resources and resource allocation. If a football team has 50 players, then you must have 50 opportunities for female athletes because it is possible that 50 women do not play football. This does not mean that men’s sports kex – it just means to create more opportunities for female athletes,” he said.

Rewriting the future

Nester also believes that happiness has a language problem. “We call them cheer competitions, but we should go to games and meets, just like any other sport.” This language problem extends to the deeply gendered nature of the game, too. Cheer teams are currently classified as “all girls” or “co-ed.”

“In the school world, we don’t call it all-girl basketball. We call it women’s basketball. So why do we say ‘all-girl’ so happily?” he said.

Nester said athletes want recognition. Brady, Navarro’s leader, agreed.

“It’s heartbreaking to know that a women’s volleyball player or a women’s soccer player is still being recognized and counted as an athlete under Title IX. But when I tell someone I’m a college champion, he says, ‘Yeah, that’s not a joke. Are you doing something?’ It’s humbling to know that a lot of the hard work we’ve put in over the years doesn’t mean anything in the end.”

“Most of the women in the cheerleading squad have been training since they were 5 years old. Many high schools consider cheerleading as a sport. It’s a rude awakening,” said Nester, when these longtime athletes are told they’re not professional athletes.

“It’s very frustrating for these kids because nothing has changed for them,” Nester said. “They’re training for the Varsity state championship, but they’re not in the NCAA so their university is saying to them, ‘No, we’re going to treat you differently.

Nester continued: “These athletes have trained all their lives and continue to train every day. What is the difference between a track and field athlete and a cheerleader? History and pom-poms – and that’s what stands in our way. ”

Before you go: Stories like this are only possible because of the support of our generous members. Join them today with a monthly donation of $5 or a gift of any amount. Your donation will help us reach our Fall Member Drive goal.

We are 45% of the way

What is Title IX and how does it fight discrimination?

to reach our goal of $40,000

Under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972: No person in the United States, on account of sex, shall be excluded from participation in, denied the benefits of, or discriminated against under any program of education or activity that receives federal funds. help

What sport has the fittest athletes?

What was Title IX, and how does it affect us today? Title IX law eliminates sex discrimination to ensure that all students “male and female” have equal access to education. It offers a wide variety of protections from athletics and domestic and sexual abuse.What is Title IX and what is its purpose? Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (Title IX) prohibits sex (including pregnancy, sexual orientation, and gender identity) from discrimination in any educational program or activity that receives federal financial aid.Status
SportsOverall Fitness Level (%)1
Water polo80.32
Rugby 7s79.63
American football79.34


  • 79.3
  • Which sport takes the most athleticism? Top 13 Sports With The Most Athleticism
  • #1 Basketball. First on our list is basketball. …
  • #3 Football Wide Receiver. Next on our list is the football wide receiver. …
  • #5 Tennis. …
  • #7 Rugby. …

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *