Very little aggravates me more than someone creating rules, making judgments, or defining something when they are lacking in the expertise and credentials to do so. Such is the case with the recent ruling in Connecticut, Is cheerleading a sport? (Omaha World-Herald article), where a federal court judge ruled that cheerleading is not a sport.
Now I am well aware of the debate, even at the school where I teach, between athletes, coaches, and people in general regarding whether cheerleading falls under the category of a "sport" or not. I am also well aware of the fact that the judge in this case is using a definition created by the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights (just the title of the department gives added weight to the definition) to make his determination.
Lastly, I know that the ruling was made in order to settle a Title IX dispute where equal opportunity for all is a requirement, and when you cut a girls program (in this case volleyball) you had better make sure Title IX guidelines are still being fulfilled.
However, the basic question posed in the article is never really answered, or at least not really answered objectively - that is, is cheerleading a sport?
The comment section at the end of the piece does little to help. It is riddled with subjective opinions, inferences and statements suggesting that an activity is a sport based on how hard someone works, that band must be a sport because they sweat and work hard, that cheerleading only exists because of other sports so it is not a sport, or that activities using a subjective scoring system are not sports, etc., etc.
To me, all the reasoning above holds little water since they fail to get at the root of what makes a sport, well..., a sport.
I think the real flaw centers on the definition (article's interpretation) Judge Stefan Underhill is using to make his ruling:
"To be a sport, an activity must exist primarily for athletic competition against other teams, and not for the purpose of supporting or promoting other athletes. Among other requirements: It should have a defined season and national regulations overseen by a national governing body."
I do believe the first part of the definition- "To be a sport, an activity must exist primarily for athletic competition against other teams...," even though not complete (it is missing a key objective component), it is something one can build on. I mean, the sheer nature of sport is to compete, right?
And guess what, competitive cheerleading (something many schools in my area have moved to) does satisfy the concept of "athletic competition."
However, the rest of the definition leaves a lot to be desired and only confuses the real issue - "is cheerleading a sport?" I am just not sure how the relationship of "supporting or promoting other athletes" or having "a defined season and national regulations overseen by a national governing body" is relevant.
So if those last two pieces of the definition are not applicable to use as criteria, then what is?
Don't miss Part II of Connecticut Federal Court Rules Cheerleading Not A Sport - WHAT??? (next Thursday, August 12th) to find out a more objective way to look at what makes a sport, a sport.