*The Supreme Court recently decided that Title IX, the amendment to the 1964 Civil Rights Act that deals with the equality of opportunity in federally subsidized education, does not apply to the activity of cheerleading.
This significant because Title IX generally mandates that schools receiving federal funding maintain gender equality in their athletic programs. The Supreme Court’s decision proved that there is a fundamental misunderstanding about sport in this country.
Essentially the Supreme Court decided that cheerleading is not a sport. That is probably true. But if so, then neither is figure skating or gymnastics. Cheerleading, like gymnastics and figure skating is an activity that showcase the athleticism (speed, strength, and agility) of the participants. And also like figure skating and gymnastics, the outcome of a cheerleading contest is determined by non-participants; judges subjectively conclude who completed the most demanding sequence of jumps, throws, and tumbles the best. The fact that cheerleading competitions involve groups of people, while gymnastics competitions involve individuals, and figure skating involves one or two people (and is on ice) are really the only substantial differences between the performances in these activities.
Every four years we celebrate figure skating as a sport at the Winter Olympics, and colleges and universities field gymnastics teams with the aid of federal funding. If our society values figure skating and gymnastics as sports, then we should grant the same recognition to cheerleading. Whether or not these activities are truly sports is beside the point. And consequently the Supreme Court should have held that cheerleading be a protected sport under Title IX.
Title IX was passed in 1972. Within a decade the NCAA began its women’s championship basketball tournament which produces millions of revenue annually; within two generations American women won the World Cup of soccer; in the last month on ESPN, the leading broadcast venue for sporting events, I have seen women’s softball, lacrosse, basketball, track and field, soccer, and bowling. All of these progressions in women’s athletics were made possible in part because Title IX forced educational institutions to give women an opportunity to participate in the athletic activities we call sports. If cheerleading is the activity that some women, and men, choose to engage in then we should drop the historical bias against activities normally done by women and support their decision. And fund their decision.
Trevor Brookins is a free lance writer in Rockland County, New York. He is currently working on a book about American culture during the Cold War. You can reach him at [email protected].