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Commentary: Rah! Rah! Rah! Sis Boom Bah! Cheerleading is a sport? Ha!

Published February 19, 2006

First of all, let me begin by telling you my e-mail address is dmurphy@sptimes

I try to check it every hour on the hour, so that is probably the best means by which to ridicule my existence.

I'm also generally at my desk between 9:30 and 6. My number is (352) 848-1407. So it would be helpful if your death threats were phoned in during that time frame. Otherwise, I'll likely receive them by voice mail.

And nobody likes to be threatened over voice mail.

When writing or phoning, please keep in mind I generally consider myself to be a likeable person. I do not swerve out of my way to hit elderly ladies as they cross the street, I do not play one-on-one against children under 12, and I've only thrown a cat in a dryer once in my life. (Don't ask, I thought I was helping it).

And now that we have all of that out of the way, let me say this:

Cheerleading is not a sport.

In fact, cheerleading is the furthest thing from a sport. It is an activity based on a sport, like instrument playing, or popcorn selling, or banner holding, and much like any house divided, neither can cheerleading stand alone.

But we have a problem. The Florida High School Athletic Association is on the verge of declaring cheerleading a sport. When, exactly, it will do so isn't clear, but you'll know when it happens.

The sky will cloud over, the Earth will tremble, and Terrell Owens will do a sit-down interview in which he actually takes responsibility for something.

Yes, strange days are in store.

But before you completely whip yourself into a murderous frenzy, take a minute to listen to my rationale.

* * *

I understand the athleticism required to participate in competitive cheer. According to the Journal of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, the activity produces an average of two "catastrophic injuries" injuries each year, and if I ever tried to participate, I'd probably end up suffering one of them.

I can't touch my toes, much less do a front handspring, and the last time I was thrown and flipped in the air, I was not a willing participant.

But sheer athleticism is not the earmark of a sport.

Ever tried marching around a football field in perfect formation while attempting to play "In the jungle, the mighty jungle" on the sousaphone?

I haven't either. But it can't be easy.

I'm not arguing cheerleaders aren't athletic. Heck, I'm not even arguing they aren't athletes.

All I'm arguing is a cheerleading competition is not the same thing as a swim meet, or a weightlifting competition, or a basketball game, or a track meet.

And any contention otherwise only serves to cheapen those swim meets, or weightlifting competitions, or basketball games, or track meets.

Again, cheerleading isn't worthless. In fact, it is a great activity for a girl or a guy to be involved.

But I challenge anybody who considers cheerleading a sport to attempt to make your case to a collegiate swimmer who wakes up at 4:30 in the morning and does 100 laps before class, or a collegiate rower who ends his workout by spewing regurgitated cafeteria food into a metal trash can.

Again, cheerleading isn't easy. It isn't worthless. It isn't unathletic.

It just isn't a sport.

Neither is marching band, or ballroom dancing, or competitive trampolining, or any one of the zillions of other activities that have merit and require athleticism but don't do the word "sport" justice.

Maybe you think it is a moot point. Maybe you think "sport" is all in the eye of the beholder. Maybe you think in the end we'll all agree to disagree and then proceed to an issue that actually has some philosophical worth.

And, for the most part, you are probably right.

But keep this in mind: Girls who aren't already cheering aren't going to start just because a group of bureaucrats says it's a sport. Yet because schools will be able to boast of having a "cheerleading team" and thus count funding and participation figures toward gender equality requirements, they will never feel compelled to introduce activities such as lacrosse, or field hockey, or ice hockey, or even flag football - you know, actual sports - to their girls.

And that's a shame.

So e-mail if you like and call if you must.

Cheerleading is a fine activity. It is physically demanding. It is time-consuming. And, as my hamstrings will attest, it is worthy of respect.

It just isn't a sport.

[Last modified February 19, 2006, 01:08:19]

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