Title IX’s revenge: is cheerleading a sport?

Back in the dark ages, young boys could play football and basketball and baseball and run track. Women, too slow for things like science club and too fragile and prone to hysterics for things like sports were permitted to dress in floor length gowns and tight sweaters in the only activity they were often permitted to do: cheerleading. Boys and men got sweaty and beat each other senseless, girls and women wore tight sweaters and increasingly went from yelling to jumping up and down … earning the right to date the boys who survived the gladiatorial contests. This was the 1950s, and everyone excepted enlightened folks were happy.

Finally, the 1970s rolled in, and federal Title IX was put in action: if you have sports for boys, an equal number of opportunities for girls must be allowed. It started with volleyball (girls in tight shorts, jumping around … kind of like cheerleading while spiking a ball at 300 miles an hour) and bowling (not too strenuous) and track (the girls were running and jumping so it was like cheerleading) and of course soccer (because to football and basketball players, that was about as girly a sport as there was). To this day, Title IX allows girls to wrestle on boys high school teams if there is no equivalent activity …. every so often a girl will show up playing baseball or football in the absence of the same team for them. Back in the 70’s, there was a brief period of time when it was reciprocal: boys were allowed to participate on a girls team if there was no equivalent: one of the first teams to win the Illinois High School State Bowling championship for girls only had one female member of the team (the rest being boys). The state board very quickly banned boys from playing for girls teams at all no matter the circumstance.

Of course, equality can be reached by adding girls sports, but also by cutting boys sports. At high schools and colleges across the country sports like cross country and wrestling and swimming and diving were cut for boys and men. This was an outrage that men were having to pay a price for the centuries of mistreatment of women.

Lawsuits entailed, Title IX was upheld. Eventually a new medium was reached …. sometimes there were more sports for women, sometimes more for boys, but if push came to shove, Title IX could push things back toward equality.

And then the day came that Title IX came back to bite the hand of those it protected …

Enter Quinnipiac University in Connecticut. In dark economic times, the school had to cut some sports teams … it cut two mens teams and one womens team: volleyball. The problem: the school opted to keep its cheerleading team.

The volleyballers charged that while cheerleading is physically demanding and requires skills, it is simply not a sport, and that the athletic department is violating Title IX in choosing to eliminate a womens sports team while keeping a squad that is not a sports team. The school of course countered by saying that cheerleading is in fact a sport, and they weren’t violating anything. The ACLU is siding with the volleyball team and is pressing the lawsuit. It will be in the hands of a judge to now answer what has been a question for a long time: is cheerleading a sport?. If it is, there could be a repeat of what happened in the 1970s to mens programs, with more expensive womens sports programs being cut to make way for cheaper cheerleading programs. If it doesn’t, could this mean the end for cheerleading in its common form at some schools as it is dropped to make room for womens sports.


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