Is it a Sport? an Analysis of Cheerleading as a Discourse Community

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Updated: Aug 18, 2023
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The subject of cheerleading being a sport is a very sensitive one, containing a myriad of elements and arguments. Many people state it is considered a sport due to the effort involved and the fact that it meets all the required criteria. However, there are also those who believe that cheerleading should remain a form of pompom and megaphone entertainment. If cheerleading meets all the requirements of a sport, why is it still dismissed as “simple, girly, and not serious”?

Cheerleading originated in the 1800s, starting at Princeton University as a means of encouraging their football team.

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Shortly after that, cheerleading expanded far beyond what its founder, Johnny Campbell, could have ever imagined. Johnny is celebrated for “leading the team to victory after picking up a megaphone and chanting cheers through it to energize the crowd and the football team” (Lecauchaire, 2009). Initially, cheerleading was simply a form of sideline support for the football, basketball, and other sports teams. It was not until the 2000s that competitive gyms with subsequent competitions emerged. As these developments took place, some people continued to dismiss this as an activity requiring hard work.

The average cheerleader, even today, continues to face stereotypical remarks and judgments stating they are “not the smartest people, most of them are blondes” (Bermea, 5). This, however, is far from the truth. Cheerleading necessitates maintaining good grades while also keeping up with an average of 8-10 hours of practice a week. In an interview, Payton Mabry, a successful competitive cheerleader, reflected on her experience. When asked if it was worth it, she responded, “It’s not if it’s worth it or not, because I don’t cheer to get gratification from others. I don’t care what people say about my ‘activity’. To me, it doesn’t matter. I cheer for myself. I derive self-gratification. I cheer because it’s what I love to do. If you’re asking if those two minutes and thirty seconds are worth the struggle of defending my sport and the stereotypes of cheerleaders, then yes, absolutely.”

Fear is a considerable factor in sports-related activities, even more so in cheerleading. This fear is always present, whether in practice, performance, or games. The athletes are always in danger. When people understand the challenges cheerleaders face and try to walk in their shoes, they would likely gain a new perspective on the intricacies and risks of the sport. “Cheerleading is very dangerous compared to all existing sports due to the high emergency room visit rates. The injury rate for college cheerleaders in our nation is 70.5% and still rising” (Bermea, 8).

“Try it for one day. Honestly, there is no way,” said Mollie Vehling, UCLA’s spirit squad advisor, a fancy name for cheerleading coach. “That shocks me. You can’t just go out there and act stupid. It’s a dangerous activity. And there is absolutely no way that if you did it for one day you wouldn’t come back and say it’s a sport.” The goal that most cheerleaders are reaching for is to be leaders of tomorrow, provide community spirit, and support athletic programs. Yet, it’s a hard thing to do while being criticized. Proving cheerleading a sport would solve many problems, destroy self-esteem issues, and help fund an important department of schools.

You may be wondering, why isn’t it considered a sport? For an activity to be classified as a sport, it must involve physical exertion, propelling a mass through space or overcoming the resistance of mass (stunting). “Contesting” must be in play; competing against or with an opponent is necessary (cheer competitions). It must be governed by rules that explicitly define the time, space, and purpose of the contest and the conditions under which a winner is declared (time limit, mat size, score sheet, placements). Acknowledgement that the primary purpose of the competition is a comparison of the relative skills of the participants should be present (those cheer competitions on ESPN? Those are national championships). This is where the argument ends. Not because of any physical definition-as you can see, cheerleading meets all the athletic requirements. However, because cheerleading’s primary purpose is to support high school athletic teams and competition comes second, it is considered an “activity” rather than a “sport”. Go around and ask most college cheerleaders today, and they’ll admit that standing on sidelines, screaming through megaphones, and pumping their fists through the air is nowhere near a sport. But the yearly competitions, they’ll say, are as challenging as any other sport they’ve played (Drehs, 3).

Cheerleading is always evolving; new cheers and techniques are constantly being developed. This topic is especially intriguing for me, and that’s why I chose it. It’s my hobby, and I enjoy informing others about how cheerleaders feel about what they do and the recognition they sometimes receive — or most often, lack. The community continues to strive for acceptance because I promise you this, cheerleaders won’t stop cheering!

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Is It a Sport? An Analysis of Cheerleading as a discourse community. (2022, Nov 19). Retrieved from