Addressing the issue of cheerleading as sport, Inside Higher Ed this week published an article on the controversy entitled “But I’m an Athlete.”
It’s a good piece but I giggled a little when I read the title and wondered how many Inside Higher Ed readers picked up on what–I’m assuming–is the play on that cheerleading/gay rehab satirical film But I’m a Cheerleader. If you haven’t seen it–do. It’s not really about cheerleading but about a camp to reform young homosexuals. The lead character gets sent there after an intervention during which her family and friends accuse her of being a lesbian. Her defense? “But I’m a cheerleader.”
The implication being that a cheerleader cannot be gay. And the suggestion/question of the IHE article: an athlete cannot be a cheerleader. There are probably a lot of things going on here. But this is what I take from it. Despite the athleticism involved in cheerleading these days, its status as a sport and its participants as athletes remains controversial. What is interesting is that part of the unconferred status stems from the view that cheerleading is a feminine endeavor. In the beginning only men were cheerleaders but that changed so dramatically that few people even remember those days of yore. And women as cheerleaders jibes with the notion of women in support roles. So that makes it seem more feminine. Plus there are the costumes, the attractiveness factor, the music, etc. In some ways the legitimacy issue is the same one faced by figure skating–which has been deemed a sport but is often seen as a lesser sport.
So the cheerleading as sport issue remains unresolved even as more and more schools are elevating cheerleading to varsity sport status. (More on this controversy at the Title IX Blog.)