So is cheerleading a sport? After a week of background research, an interview wherein I was surrounded by seven cheerleaders and a friendly conversation with the Dryden cheerleading coach, I’m inclined to say sure, why not. If ice skating is a sport (Team Tara Lipinski) and if gymnastics is a sport, why can’t competitive cheerleading, an activity also awarded a winner based on a judging rubric, be included in the arena?
There are so many reasons and arguments people use against cheerleading. (And I’ve used them, so I know. My English teachers could probably be references.) Dryden’s head coach, Alisha Scheffler, said she wonders if one of those main ones is because the girls wear skirts.
“I wonder if it’s because they’re not wearing pants or something,” Scheffler said. “I really feel like that might have a little bit to do with it. It’s not like a football player would wear a kilt to play football.
“I think the outfits have a little bit to do with it because they are so feminine. So it’s, ‘oh, how can you call that a sport if you’re wearing a dress?’”
When she asked me if that sounded crazy, I gave her an emphatic no. Cheerleading is an activity that is most closely aligned with looks: hair perfect, makeup flawless, bows at the right angles and a body-hugging uniform that usually sparkles. That doesn’t usually, if ever align, with what mass society considers “sport.” If anything it aligns with what we use to belittle females.
Women’s lacrosse and tennis players also wear skirts, but even then it’s not that dolled-up look that cheerleading is. It’s easy to see how we as a society differentiate athletic characteristics from female characteristics. We see players from the U.S. National Soccer team show up to the ESPYs or a banquet dinner and we still do a collective, “Oh dang girl, you clean up nice!” like it’s impossible they not wear cleats with dirt smudged on their jersey.
We don’t really see much of that with the men. Yeah, Matt Harvey looks good in a suit and his photo is plastered across men’s sites like Esquire. But how we approach that mound-to-model change is vastly different than, say, those USWNT players. With men it’s natural; with women it’s a jolt to society’s system.
So it’s easy to see how people attempt to keep cheerleaders — girls historically characterized by their looks and attractive attire — in their box rather than allowing them that switch to athlete. Would we view it differently were they to switch uniforms with the basketball team?
There are valid arguments that can be made against cheerleading as a sport, but the attire they have on shouldn’t be one of them. And if you want to make those arguments, I’m sure the girls at Dryden would be happy to show you what it takes to get to the top of the pyramid.
Around the Lake is a weekly column that runs in the Finger Lakes Community Newspapers. This is the first of two parts from the March 1 issue. Follow Cassandra Negley on Twitter, @casnegley.