I see them everywhere. Little girls playing soccer, running, doing gymnastics, playing baseball. In short, little girls doing sports. When I was a girl, the only reason I had for being behind homeplate was to catch the practice pitches my little brother threw. I wasn’t the only girl watching from the sidelines while the boys participated in sports. In fact, most of us were on the bench . . . in the bleachers.
This month marks the 40th anniversary of legislation that changed the face of American athletics.Title IX made it illegal for educational programs and activities to discriminate against anyone based on their gender. One of the most significant results of Title IX was the explosive growth in athletic programs for girls and women at the high school and college level. According to one study, the number of women in college sports programs increased by 450 percent between 1972 and 2006. In 2008, the U.S. Olympic team was nearly half women.
Some claim that increasing opportunities for women has meant cutting back on programs for men. The research just doesn’t bear that out. Sure, schools are cutting programs in this economy, but not for the big football programs. Rather than shift money from football or basketball, schools are cutting what they consider minor men’s sports and blaming it on Title IX.
While I applaud creativity, some schools and organizations, like Quinnipiac University in Connecticut, even tried to include cheerleading as a sport they offer men and women. It’s really a neat argument. Cheerleading is already in the budget. Cheerleaders are enviably fit and athletic. Why not count them toward Title IX qualifications and kill two birds with one stone?
As athletic as cheerleaders are, no one’s turning on the Friday night lights for just them. Yes, there are competitions for cheerleaders. There are even movies about competitions for cheerleaders; I’ve watched and enjoyed some. But there are competitions for marching bands, too, and no one is trying to put the color guard in the same category as the point guards.
If we’re going to start counting cheerleaders as athletes, then let’s dress them appropriately. Cheerleading is the number one cause of serious sport-related injury to women. Let’s get them helmets, kneepads and shin guards. Heck, I’d like to see helmets on the gymnasts and ice skaters, too, and they don’t have near as far to fall.
Quinnipiac lost its case and was forced to reinstate the women’s volleyball team. The University subsequently joined seven other schools to form the National Competitive Stunts and Tumbling Association. Their goal is to develop competitive cheer into a collegiate sport. I’m all for the cheerleaders moving from the sidelines to the spotlight and getting a sport of their own. Until then, though, colleges will have to find other ways of meeting Title IX compliance.