Monday, April 21, 2008

Cheerleading. Do you want your daughter to perform in a circus?

april 21 2008

I was shocked to hear a cheerleader, Lauren Chang, died last week after a performance. She had collapsed lungs after a kick to the chest.

But when I wanted to research the subject I found even more deaths.
Ashley Burns, for instance, who died one and a half hour after she was rushed to hospital in august 2005. She was thrown in the air and didn't make the full moves she should have made.
And Shauna Stuewe who died after a similar stunt in 2006. She suffered a cardiac arrest.

Cheerleading had become from what the name says, leading the cheering crowds, to a highly athletic sport.
Young girls and women are pushed to perform circusacts in highly competitive situations.

A couple of years ago parents were warned for the dangers of cheerleading.
The article of Yvette J. Brown is cited often at the moment.
Yvette Brown wrote it after an interview with Dr. Sally Harris, a sports medicine and pediatric specialist.

In 2006 Brenda Shields studied high school cheerleaders and warned for the dangers.

Often reactions to articles about the risks get comments like: "We're aware of the risks, it's part of the game." and "We know what we are doing. There is always a qualified person available."

The glamour of cheerleading is considered more important than the risks.
That's not only the option of 14 year olds, but also of their parents.
One way or another the dangers of cheerleading are considered acceptable risks.

Jag Davies had a quick look at statistics and compared these "acceptable" risks with the risks of something all parents warn their children for: ecstacy.
It turned out that ecstacy requiers far less medical costs (that means: less ER visits, less care needed).
Or put to a less economical level: in 2001, one out of every 152 organized cheerleading participants needed ER treatment, while only one of out of every 585 past-year ecstasy users needed ER treatment.

Ofcourse his little investigation can't be considered scientific at all, but he has a point.

People balance the dangers with other elements, like prestige and glamour.

It's interesting that many people hide behind arguments like:
- the figures should be compaired to figures of other sports,
- cheerleading is a year round acitivity, so you can't compare figures with sports that are seasonal,
- the figures only show attendance of the ER, not the amount of treatments,
- the figures used are going back to 1982 and cover a period when cheerleading was the only sport for females. (Get a life! The americans participated in female sports at the olympics, or not?),
- you can't understand because you're not a cheerleader,
- etc.

The facts are that cheerleading needs a lot of practice, under pressure.
And even very experienced cheerleaders suffer injuries like:
- broken bones
- cuts
- sprains & strains
- spinal injuries
- head injuries
and even dehydration, because not all practicehalls are equiped well enough to meet requirements.

Whenever a sport carries a substantial risk for spinal and head injuries an alarmbell goes in my mind.

Not all girls who become paralysed or get damaged for life in another way reach out to the media.
Maybe they should.

The acts these young people perform are circusacts.
In my country we have serious rules and regulations to prevent injuries.
These precautions are not used in cheerleading.
Yet, a circusact is perceived as more dangerous.

See how the mind plays games with you?

As a parent I have only one question for all the mothers of cheerleaders:
Do you want your girl to perform in a circus?



  1. I've always had concerns about cheerleading from one vantage point or the other. Meanness seems to run rampant, over zelous parents, injuries and deaths, etc. Over all it has never sounded that great to me.

  2. PS
    Thanks for stopping by my blog!

  3. Laane Hi. New to your blog. This was a well written post. I had no idea of the statistics but they do not surprise me any. On those rare occasions when I channel surf and happen upon one of those cheerleading competitions, while fascinated at the acrobatics, at the back of my head I've always thought about the extreme aspect of something that used to look so simple and relatively stress free. Those girls and boys smile so falsely while they are engaging in their acrobatics that it is as if they had an eternal rictus. When did cheerleading take on this intense and die hard coloring? Either way, for me, it has about the same risk factor as gymnastics. I would not allow a child of mine (don't have a daughter yet) to go for either one of these sports. We cannot prevent the odd injury from happening to a child who becomes involved in some sport activity but we can (as parents) set limits to the expanded risks of intense athletic endeavors. I live down the street from Mary Lou Retton, the gymnast. She is close to my age and has had all sorts of medical problems not to mention surgeries for the damage occasioned to her muscles and bones due to all she went through in order to get the Olympic medal. She is someone to be admired for her achievements but what a price to pay for them...


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