Levels of Safety
There are three levels of safety/injury in the sport of cheerleading in the two different cheerleading sports. Cheerleading ranks as the most dangerous women’s sport in all safety areas. The first level of safety involves catastrophic injury in which involves permanent paralysis or death. The second level of safety involves injuries for which the athlete must receive hospital care. The third level of safety involves injuries which require missing or altering an athlete’s practice or competition schedule.
Height and Motion
There are logistical reasons why cheerleading is dangerous. Any activity involving height and motion involves the risk of injury. Cheerleading utilizes tumbling (motion) and basket tosses and pyramids (height and motion) and thus is inherently dangerous to some extent. Choosing to participate exposes cheerleaders to an increased risk of injury, including the risk of catastrophic injury.
Cheerleaders, except in competitions, perform on surfaces designed for an entirely different sport. Basketball floors and football fields were not designed with cheerleaders in mind to even a minor degree. Even the layout of most basketball and football (and other sports) facilities are not planned with a specific cheerleading area designated, so cheerleaders are stuck performing around the edges of anther sports playing area.
Failure to Warn
One of the legal liabilities of any sport and certainly any sports injury lawsuit involves the failure to warn the participants in the activity of the dangers of their participation. There seems to be little doubt that cheerleaders, especially young cheerleaders, and their parents are not sufficiently aware of the dangers they are being exposed to by participation in the sport of cheerleading. While we are not in favor of the sometimes recommended scare tactic methods of warning athletes of dangers (don’t create self-fulfilling prophecy psychology), there is no doubt that cheerleaders would be safer if they understood that safety practices are never to be bypassed.
Cheerleading has split into two distinct sports, although some programs perform and compete in both. Cheerleading used to be an athletic activity designed to act as a support system for other sports. There was more interest in boosting school and team spirit than in increasing skill difficulty. Cheer competitions changed all that as difficulty was introduced as an important factor in judging cheer competitions.
There has been a proliferation of cheerleading associations, matching the rise of the popularity of cheerleading competitions. Often, the primary motivation for the start-up, operation and management of cheerleading associations is financial. Coaching and safety considerations, other than at their own competitions, camps and clinics can often fall by the wayside when the primary association activities are financial.