It’s a sport and they are athletes – get over it

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By Hardy Jackson

This happened a few years ago, but I remember it like it was yesterday.
The lead sentence in the article caught my attention.
“The University of Alabama cheerleaders have found themselves in an unfamiliar position.”
Oh, the temptation.
But the Tuscaloosa News (where the headline appeared) is a family newspaper, so I got my mind out of the gutter and read on.
It seemed that the cheerleading squad of the University of Alabama (my alma mater, ’66) went out and won the Universal Cheerleaders Association College National Championship in a head-to-head contest that has more credibility for choosing a champion than the twisted-and-tortured football system.
They beat Kentucky, which had won 18 times until then.
So when the cheerleaders got back to campus, they expected to be honored with a championship ring.
But no.
According to the UA associate athletic director for media relations, since cheerleading was not an NCAA-sanctioned sport, it was the university’s longstanding policy not to award rings.
Now, it is nice to blame someone else for your own dumb decision, but the fact that the NCAA does not sanction cheerleading as a sport did not deter Kentucky. The UK squads received rings for every championship.
Then, to add insult to injury, when the Alabama cheerleaders tried to buy their own rings, they were told they could not use the school’s script ‘A’ logo because it was trademarked.
Try to blame the NCAA for that.
All of which is to say that this is a pretty crappy way to treat a bunch of student athletes who have reached the top in their chosen field.
Yes, student athletes.
Now I know that there is a lot of controversy over adding cheerleading to the list of NCAA sanctioned competitive sports. There are those who want to protect the handful of women’s sports that have gained a foothold on high school and college campuses thanks to Title IX and fear that adding cheerleading might allow athletic administrators to drop a more expensive women’s sport. And there are those who want to bring cheerleading into the fold because it will give them a women’s sport to fill out their program.
Both points of view conveniently forget the athletes involved.
(Let’s not even get into whether cheerleading is a women’s sport. On many college campuses, there are as many men as women on the squad – which reminds me of a T-shirt worn by a petite cheerleader (girl) that read “Any man can hold my hand, but it takes a real man to hold my feet.”)
Now I will admit a certain prejudice here. I have cousins who cheered all through high school, took part in competitions, and one cheered for Mississippi State. Today, I have a daughter who was and is a cheerleader. Her high school squad was Florida State Champions her senior year, and now she cheers at Samford University. All these girls work hard, practice, take “cheernastics” lessons to learn to do jumps, twists and turns. The work is strenuous, demanding and like any sport, has its dangers – last year, I noticed at one game there were more cheerleaders than football players wearing knee braces. I hold my breath when I watch them – especially when mine is in the mix.
Anyone who thinks cheerleading is not a sport needs to pay more attention.
And it is competitive, as the University of Alabama squad proved.
But when they brought home a national championship, they couldn’t even get a ring.
It just ain’t right.
Folks, this is not about the NCAA or Title IX or even the “this is the way it has always been done” excuse that school administrators like to hide behind. Cheerleading is a sport. Some schools even award cheerleaders letter sweaters, just like the other “athletes.”
And maybe, if competitive cheerleading was recognized as such, more guys would go out for the squads and all this controversy over it being a “women’s sport” would fade away.
When I was in high school a zillion years ago, only one guy ever went out for cheerleader. He made the squad. And to this day, I am convinced that he enjoyed football season more than any of the guys in helmets and pads.
A few years ago, my cheerleading cousin brought her cheerleading boyfriend down to the beach to spend the Fourth of July with the family. He was built like a Buick. One day, some of us older guys were trying to get a boat and motor off the beach. The boat was no trouble, but the motor was big and bulky and heavy. We were sure it would take two or more of us to get it up the stairs and to the house.
The cheerleader-boyfriend walked over to the motor and with one smooth motion had it on his shoulder. Then he walked it home.
We nicknamed him “forklift.”
Don’t tell me he’s not an athlete.
Harvey H. (Hardy) Jackson is Professor Emeritus of History at Jacksonville State University. He can be reached at hjackson@cableone.net.

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