Is Cheerleading More Dangerous than Football?

How dangerous is cheerleading compared to football? Most people would have a knee-jerk response such as “Of course not! Don’t be silly!” but the question is actually more complicated. Cheerleaders practice their craft not only with their bodies but also with their voices almost every day. 

Cheerleaders are required to perform a combination of weightlifting (using each other as weights) and gymnastic tumbling stunts. Due to the fact that many of the stunts are performed from heights at least twice as tall as the flyer, extreme flexibility, balance, strength, and focus are required.

In contrast to football players or other sports that thrill fans with how hard they make it look, all of this physical effort has to be easy as well. If a cheerleader grimaces when her ankle comes down wrong from a liberty, everyone will notice and it will break the spell of motivation and encouragement. 

No one will blame a linebacker if he doesn’t smile as he runs across the endzone.

Depends on What “Dangerous” Means

According to a recent study, cheerleading is certainly more dangerous than football, if by “danger” you mean injury risk. A recent study by Columbus Children’s Hospital in Ohio found that 22,900 cheerleading-related injuries were treated in emergency rooms in 2002. More than twice as many as in 1990 and almost six times as many as in 1980. 

It is important to keep in mind that this only considers injuries that resulted in an emergency room visit; in most sports, players will try to hide injuries and “walk them off” so as not to seem weak.

In the period from 1982 to 2005, there were 104 catastrophic injuries involving high school and college female athletes (“catastrophic” usually means head or spinal trauma, sometimes resulting in death). 

The majority of those injuries were caused by cheerleading activities. A study conducted by the National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injury Research found that cheerleading is the most dangerous women’s sport, more dangerous than all the other women’s sports combined.

Even though that injury rate by percentage suggests that cheerleading is more dangerous than football, the statistics show that football players are more likely to die from sports-related injuries than cheerleaders. 

In addition, cheerleading doesn’t even rank among the seven most dangerous sports in terms of injuries per participant.

Don’t Ask “Is Cheerleading More Dangerous Than Football” – Ask “Why?”

The question of comparing cheerleading to football is dependent on perception, but it can’t be denied that cheerleading is dangerous, and getting more dangerous. Rather than asking “why,” we should ask “what can we do about it?”

There are several factors that have contributed to the dramatic increase in injuries, according to researchers.

  • A number of talented gymnasts have transitioned from youth competition into cheerleading, and with their advanced skills have taken the sport far beyond mere pom-shaking.
  • Most cheerleading squad coaches have little or no training in safety and stunts beyond what they’ve learned from experience. Cheer squads that attempt dangerous stunts are sometimes coached by other cheerleaders.
  • Many cheerleaders perform on cement and gravel surfaces, as well as at more and more events.
  • Cheerleaders are encouraged to be ultra-competitive, which leads them to perform higher and more dangerous stunts.

Several high schools and colleges have eliminated flying from their cheerleading squads, both for the sake of protecting the cheerleaders and to reduce liability insurance costs. Some coaches have been trained more, and they have also required that more complex stunts be performed on mats to ensure safety.

Many states refuse to classify cheerleading as a sport, which impedes increased safety. It would be subject to much more oversight and regulation if it were classified as such. Rather, it is considered an “activity” like chess club. 

There may be some reluctance on the part of the state governments because they aren’t aware of how much cheerleading needs more comprehensive safety measures.

However, it is up to the squads themselves, coaches and cheerleaders alike, to keep their stunts as safe as possible.

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