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Which is more dangerous for girls: sports or cheerleading?

August 3, 2009 |  4:32 pm

While Title 9 has increased the participation of young women in high school and college sports, it has done nothing to address the most serious source of catastrophic injuries for young women -- cheerleading.

Laura Data from the Consumer Products Safety Commission show that the number of catastrophic injuries -- those involving death or disability caused by head or spine trauma -- have grown from fewer than 5,000 in 1980 to 26,000 to 28,000 per year in the last few years, according to Dr. Amy Miller Bohn, a family medicine specialist at the University of Michigan Health System in Ann Arbor. According to the National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injury Research, cheerleading accidents account for 65% to 66% of all female catastrophic sports injuries in high school and college.

The problem, Bohn said, is that cheerleading has become a competitive sport, with girls being tossed high into the air, jumping off pyramids and trying other risky stunts, often without adequate supervision.

Laura Jackson was a 14-year-old trying for a spot on the varsity squad when she attempted a back flip without a trained spotter on hand. She landed on her head, fractured her neck and damaged her spinal cord. She is now paralyzed and breathes with the help of a ventilator. Jackson's experience is repeated every day around the country, Bohn said today.

She noted that many cheerleading teams practice in back yards or on hard gym floors, with no supportive surfaces to shield them from falls. Many teams also lack effective supervision, with parents or untrained teachers overseeing practices. Bohn called for uniformity of training for coaches and increased use of spring-loaded floors and mats to protect participants.

-- Thomas H. Maugh II

Photo: Laura Jackson was paralyzed in a cheerleading accident.

Credit: University of Michigan

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Comments (14)

Cheerleading is supposed to be "leading cheers" and is not a sport in any sense. Spectators at games who don't need prompting still wonder why there are cheerleaders at all. Seems basically a way for promoters to have "dancing girls" showing off lots of skin working male fans into a lather at games with male athletes. Now we see girls who should be doing athletics as themselves, trying to stuff tumbling and gymnastics into cheerleading; it can't hold them. These girls should all leave cheerleading and do some athletic pursuit as the athlete, not a cheerleader. People will still play and watch team sports whether there are cheerleaders or not.

Cheerleading as it has developed is every bit as dangerous as gymnastics or sport acro - should be trained for with similar coaching and safeguards.

Why do you need cheerleaders at all i think it is sexes

Competitive cheerleading is a sport and training safeguards should be in place. Limits should be placed on the stunts that are allowed. I don't think most people know the dangers involved in this high risk activity. I would much prefer my daughter play soccer, field hockey softball or basketball for team sports. Swimming, Track and gymnastics are safer individual sports.

I agree at the time our daugher was 15 she was the tallest girl on the squad and not at all the smallest. She was told she must stunt in order to be placed on the squad. She was dropped during the stunt and fractured her L1 and L2, we live in a small town they there was not the correct supervision and/or staff training. This is something that should be addressed....

Moooom, I told you not to chime in! Now get back in that bunker and let me sh-sh-shake it!

Cheerleading is a mere meaningless practice that doesn't have any social recognition or at least at the level of men's sports. Given that "cheering" is dangerous as it is, they (girls) should be part of highly and professional trained teams so that they get the admiration and respect they deserve instead of playing an insignifiant "sidekick" role in sports.

Cheerleading is a fantastic way to keep children active. Like ALL sports it is not the SPORT that is a problem it is the COACH or the parents who are often trying to live the dreams they never achieved through their kids. It is all of us as parents that need to stay involved and make sure that the coaches for our children are being safe.

Let's also consider the ratio. In EVERY sport there are injuries. I would like to see some comparisons of participants to serious injuries in cheerleading versus football. I am so sorry for any family who has to endure the horrible experience of an injured child but it is a risk in participating in life.


As someone has already pointed out, cheerleading is sexist and teaches girls that they are somehow inferior to boys. I don't see why any sane parent would send their girls to cheerleading. It should be banned forthwith.


Cheer leading has been for years, and will always be about girls, getting attention and being part of a particular social group.

The only true exception these days are all male squads...

It is simply insane that it has turned into an even more negtive past-time by becoming very dangerous.

If you daughter wants to spring and jump - send her to gymnastics.
If she wants to be center-stage in front of a group have her sign up for speech and rhetoric class to learn those skills.- she can get as big an audience as she wants once she's mastered those.
If she wants to strut around and have attention as a piece of female "beauty" - sign her up for the local pagent. No debilitating physical danger there, except high heels.
If she wants a team sport - there are plenty to choose from.

Ok you guys are ridiculous. You guys are believing the stupid stereotype that cheerleaders think they are better than everyone else. Sure some school squads do but alot of competetive cheerleaders don't even like to let people know that they cheer, because they get judged.

And saying cheerleading should be banned b.c it's 'sexist' is like saying football should be banned because the players feel like their hotshots and can get any girl.

And I've been a competitive cheerleader for 6 years, I don't think I'm better than everyone else. ITS A FREAKIN HOBBY THAT ALOT OF PEOPLE LIKE!

GET OVER IT!!!!!!!!!!!

And another thing. Cheerleading is fun. And if you guys think that competetive cheerleaders don't have limits, think again.

Competitive cheerleading has 6 levels. And each level has restrictions. Cheerleading is a fun and lovable sport. I bet alot of you guys have never seen good competitive gyms like Top Gun, Cheer Athletics, and Maryland Twisters. Go to youtube and watch them, audiences enjoy the competitions and so do the people on the team. It's kinda like gymnastics only we stunt, jump, cheer, and dance in a routine. I don't see you guys dishing like gymnastics or figure skating. Those are dangerous too. So why cheerleading?

It's not fair that you guys judge ALL cheerleaders around the world based on a couple of freakin Bring It On movies. That is TOTALLY not how cheerleading is in the real world. It's just a fun sport, and if we thought it was tooo dangerous to do THEN WE WOULDN'T DO CHEERLEADING!

I have coached for 32 years, I have been to many seminars, trainings and safety clinic's. I have girls trip moving from one place to another and breaking their leg. Accidents happen, however, we as coaches, parents and grandparents try very hard to make sure those accidents don't happen. To stereo-type a sport, because someone was not paying attention to their squad is unfair and irresponsible. Our cheerleaders learn respect for each other and other squads, meet new people as we travel around the country. We don't tolerate disresepect and we certainly do not encourage our team from not performing to the best of their ability.


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