Why The American Medical Association Wants Cheerleading Designated As A Sport

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The American Medical Association adopted a policy declaring cheerleading a sport at its annual meetings Monday, weighing in on a long-lasting debate with a solid reason in mind: giving cheerleading “sport” status at high schools across the country would make it safer by increasing training and safety measures to protect its participants.

Cheerleading, according to the AMA and other independent researchers, is the leader in catastrophic injuries in female athletes, and considering it a sport would help increase training and awareness among coaches, parents, and cheerleaders themselves, the AMA said.

“These girls are flipping 10, 20 feet in the air,” Dr. Samantha Rosman said at the meeting, according to the Associated Press. “We need to stand up for what is right for our patients and demand they get the same protection as their football colleagues.”

Just as in football, spinal cord injuries and concussions are both issues in cheerleading, though the number of concussions suffered in cheerleading is actually relatively low compared to other sports. But as FiveThirtyEight’s Walt Hickey noted last month, cheerleading is unique among other high school sports in a major way:

But when we factor in concussions accumulated in practice, we see something interesting. In every sport except cheerleading, the rate drops steeply — concussions in practice happen about one-sixth as often as concussions in competition. Cheerleading was the only sport of the 20 surveyed that had a higher risk of concussion in practice (14 per 100,000) than in competition (12 per 100,000).

One reason that may be: as competitive cheer (rather than merely cheering on the sidelines) becomes more prominent, cheerleading teams often lack resources for practice that aren’t lacking at competitions, like safety mats. Official designation as a sport, advocates for that classification say, could help reduce injury rates and increase training and education programs for coaches and participants similar to those many states have crafted for other sports.

The American Academy of Pediatrics designated cheerleading a sport two years ago, and 35 states and Washington D.C. have declared it a sport at the high school level. The AMA policy means that it will push remaining states and sports bodies to adopt the designation.