Wednesday, July 28, 2010

How Does Society Define "Sport?": Cheerleading

Over on NPR, Frank Deford asks if cheerleading is a sport. I must admit, in high school I absolutely despised cheerleading, precisely because so many cheerleaders considered themselves athletes. At least at my high school, the cheerleaders did not compete against other squads as is more common today.

I suppose we first have to ask what goes into being a "sport," and I'm not sure that there is a cut and dry answer. The two conditions I value the most are (1) a sport must involve formal competition; and (2) a sport must require competitors to utilize their bodies as the primary medium through which the competition takes place, in such a way that physical conditioning is central to the competition.

Although a courtroom legal battle is clearly competitive and relies on body parts to some degree, physical conditioning is not central to the competition. To me, horse racing and auto racing are not sports, and their participants are not athletes. I'm sure there is some heavy disagreement on that last statement, but the way I see it, the horse/car is doing the bulk of the work in those events, not the person (or athlete).

So what is the controversy surrounding cheerleading? In competitive cheerleading, the participants are engaged in highly physical training, and notably with regard to physical dangers, the risk of catastrophic injury is very high,
especially for females. And as the name indicates, in competitive cheerleading, there is formal competition against other teams.

Part of the controversy might be that unlike other N.C.A.A. sports, cheerleading teams do not compete very often. Where I teach, the cheerleading team has won
eight consecutive national championships, most recently at the Division II level. Unfortunately, the team only gets to compete once per year (technically, they get to compete a few times, but they only make one annual trip for competition). The rest of their activities involve practice for their national competition, and practice for their performances at university sporting events. And this is where I think the implicit controversy truly lies, though it will never be explicitly stated.

Cheerleading is traditionally gendered as a highly feminine performance-based activity that supports athletics. Under popular belief, femininized cheerleaders exist to support the "true," masculine athletes. Go to any high school, college, or pro basketball or football game, and what is the cheerleaders' primary function? To compete against the opposing team's cheerleaders? No, the cheerleaders' primary function is to support the athletes (male or female), who are considered more masculine and the central focus of the event, engaged in the central competition. The cheerleaders are peripheral.

Additionally, because cheerleading is based so heavily on being pretty, it is further marginalized from the so-called real, masculine sports. This is precisely why sports like synchronized swimming and ice skating are so often femininzed and ridiculed as sports even though those sports always involve competition (and from what I've heard, the training for synchronized swimming is among the most difficult in the sporting world).

All sports are spectacle. But the more a sport's performance-based attributes require looking pretty (e.g., smiling, wearing gaudy attire), the less it will be considered a sport by mainstream fans because being pretty is feminine, and sports are supposed to be tough masculine turf. Thus, cheerleading has key elements going against it when trying to be defined as a sport -- the competitions are few and far between (actually, many cheerleading teams never compete), and more importantly, society defines cheerleading as a highly feminine activity.

This shows us how sport is a microcosom of society. That which is peripheral, supportive, and pretty is deemed feminine. That which is central, served by others, and physically tough is deemed masculine.

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  1. in horse racing the jockey must be incredibly physically fit and actually does quite a bit of work. in dressage, jumping, eventing, and other equine sports the rider does a lot of work. the rider and horse work together, but the horse only does what it does because the rider is physically able to ask them to do so.

  2. I'd Be willing to argue cheerleading- the way the females dress is nothing but a design of what feminine beauty is... Honestly... The way cheerleaders compete is not serious or intelligently planned. It also doesn't explain the behavior of cheerleaders. Cheerleading would be a sport if it's purpose was to compete. But by definition it is "cheer" "leading" or "competitive" "cheering" that is what they do... When they compete they don't "cheer" on anything but themselves...

    It's a hobby. A wierd hobby that produces narcissus
    Of a strange kind. Cheerleaders are different from other athletes. Warped. You know what I'm talking about.

  3. Yeah. Women are suppose to be serving us, in sports. Women should play volleyball so we can vote which throat to suck the fuck up. Women are "peripheral". No need for optometry in support of what you said, whiny-did you not get circumsized. Do you not recognize that that essay is exactly how a "man's man" homosexual sounds. Just some help man. youre either 1) One of those kids who grew up in a southern church as a nerd who watched football players fuck cheerleaders and hated all of them for it, 2) Uncircumsized 3) one of those homosexual military guys, proud to fly with it in the ass for america.

  4. You guys not see, how did this guy publish this...the men I played with had masculinity and protected their shit. One guy throw a basketball at another guy for talking to his girl in the gym. I dont the fuck nobody comments on this, an inexperienced little shit commenting on football. He doesnt a stinking cunt about "microcosm", the "microcosm" of it, he doesnt know a droopy fuck over fuck, and this is a mens site and he is comparing that world to how "life" is? Really? Because what I saw was not near to how the world is. Is ANYONE a man. Or do you all are tit-envy. Why are ylu writing two pages on cheerleading? Like, don't you have something better to do, like think about shit you understand. Go fuck yourself. I know ex-NFL players, one owns his own gym, he would sledgehammer the Fuck out of any guy that did something to his wife, let alone anybody that goes to his gym, and, this man, "writer", come on. Come on.

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