The ruling triggered a wholly predictable—but admirably spunky—outcry from
the nation's cheer community. Cheerleading's leading cheerleaders noted
how very strong the competitors must be, how hard they train, and how
often they are injured. All true, but totally irrelevant.
Just as predictably, the "Is Cheerleading a Sport" bargument spread to other sports,
inciting debates over NASCAR, golf, bowling, curling, ping-pong,
bull-riding, bass-fishing, et cetera, ad nauseum. These discussions
almost invariably turn circular and seem to last forever—like a
sports version of Sartre's existentialist hell in "No Exit."
But debating whether cheering or any other activity is a sport isn't a
bargument at all, because defining a sport isn't the least bit
subjective—or at least it shouldn't be. Horseracing to hot dog-eating,
every single sport on earth shares three fundamental characteristics:
people compete at it, computers can't do it, and aesthetics don't
count. Absent any one of these criteria, and it is no sport—no
matter what the NCAA and IOC try to sell you.
for instance. Obviously, people compete at it. Obviously, artistic
merit doesn't count—no panel of judges scores players on how prettily
they move the pieces. But chess is a game, not a sport because it
doesn't require anything physical. You don't even need to be human.
Computers play it—better than we do.
Now look at ballroom
dance contests, a la Dancing with the Stars. It's a competition,
sure. You need a body—a good one. The physical demands are huge;
strength, grace, endurance. And shoe companies tell
us it's a sport. But aesthetics count. A lot. DWTS is won by the most
visually pleasing dancers, not necessarily the best athletes. It's a
competitive theatrical performance—like a Battle of the Bands, or
one of those singing contests the Glee kids are always running off to.
Like it or not, there are loads of obscure, semi-sedentary activities
like horseshoes and croquet that are unquestionably sports. Conversely,
loads of mainstream events demanding world-class athletic
skills—including those showcased at the Olympics or offered by
universities—aren't actually sports at all. Figure-skating, for
instance, is essentially ballroom dancing on ice. Sporty? Sure. Not a
sport. Not when panache and flair go into the judging. The same is true
of gymnastics, diving, and the deservedly much-maligned synchronized
swimming—an event in which competitors are rewarded for their
ability to imitate Harpo Marx.
Which brings us, very reluctantly, to cheerleading. People compete at
it. Machines can't. The physical demands are harrowing, even at the
high school level. But is it a sport*? Let's have a beer and bargue
1. Valentine's Day, no question. The
risk/reward ratio is terrible. The best you can hope for is a nice
dinner. The worst, and far more common scenario, is some sort of
2. New York City. LA is much too spread out to defend.
3. Fly, of course. Never trust anyone who says they want to be invisible. That's just creepy.