Is Cheerleading A Sport?

By Antonia Čirjak on January 28 2020 in Society

Cheerleading developed in the United States and mostly remained tied to its American roots.
Cheerleading developed in the United States and mostly remained tied to its American roots.

The debate on whether cheerleading is a sport has been going on for a long time, and it may come as a surprise that there is no definitive answer. Despite that, certain facts need to be addressed to help clarify this question a bit more. After that, it really depends on to whom you are talking.

The easiest way to define cheerleading is as an activity that includes a group of people (cheerleaders) that encourage their teams during sports games. They do that with a combination of physical activity and chanting. It started mostly being used as a means to motivate the teams or amuse the audience, but over time cheerleading competitions were, and still are, being held all over the world.

Cheerleading As A Sport

When discussing cheerleading as a sport, there’s no correct answer. One major problem is that there is no official definition of what sport is, or should be. That’s why considering cheerleading a sport is entirely valid, and there is not a single reason why it shouldn’t be considered one. If by any chance, we get an official definition of sports one day, then a more meaningful discussion can be had. But for now, it’s safe to say that there’s nothing wrong with thinking that cheerleading is a sport.

When talking about sports, there are certain aspects that all of them share. They are physical activities, there is a competitive aspect to it, there are rules that govern the contest, and the primary goal of those contests is the comparison of skills that the participants possess. We can see that cheerleading fulfills all of those qualifications, so it should be considered a sport. The only argument against the inclusion of cheerleading on the list of sports is that it is primarily focused on supporting sports teams, and then on competing. But still, the competitive aspect is there.

Origins And History Of Cheerleading

Cheerleading developed in the United States and mostly remained tied to its American roots, although it’s present in other parts of the world. Before being organized, cheerleading originated during the student riots in the late 18th century. In response to the teachers’ harsh treatment, students began to organize their extracurricular projects by themselves. This lead to some of the first intercollegiate sports games, which in effect gave birth to other students chanting in unison. This can be considered as an early start to what we consider cheerleading today.

A group of cheerleaders
A group of cheerleaders.

At first, organized cheerleading started as an activity practiced by male fans of the sports team. In 2877, students of Princeton University had their own “Princeton Cheer.” The birth of organized cheerleading we know today, however, happened on November 2, 1898. The University of Minnesota would designate a team of students to go and cheer for their team on football games. Five years later was another milestone, when the first fraternity dedicated to cheerleading was founded. It was called Gamma Sigma.

The Start Of Female Participation in Cheerleading

The first time women were permitted to be a part of the cheerleading groups was in 1923, also at the University Of Minnesota. However, it took a while before women were widely accepted as equal participants on the sidelines of sports events. Things began to change during World War II when a lot of male college students got drafted. That was when the female fans took over for the first time. Female participation was growing all through the 1950s and 1960s, and by the time the seventies rolled in, the majority of the cheerleaders were female.

The first professional cheerleading team was organized in the 1950s. It was a squad for the Baltimore Colts in the National Football League (NFL). The team was mostly female, due to the fact that men were the targeted group of the marketing departments during the televised broadcast. The number of teams that had their own cheerleading squad continued to grow, and by the 1980s, seventeen NFL teams had one. With time, other sports like basketball also embraced cheerleading. 

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