A high school cheerleader from Marshall High in Los Angeles sustained catastrophic injury while performing a stunt at a football game two years ago. She was thrust into the air and when she came back down, she was limp. Her heart had stopped beating. By the time paramedics arrived and they were able to get her heart start beating again, her brain had been deprived of oxygen for too long and she was in a coma.
Unfortunately, this is not the first of this sort of cheerleading personal injury. Even more experienced cheerleaders have been badly hurt, as in the case of a Sacramento City College cheerleader who broken her neck when she fell headfirst 15 feet while doing a stunt in 2006.
Statistics gathered by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission showed that cheerleading-related visits to the emergency room have increased six-fold since 1980, reaching a number close to 30,000 in 2008. The number of disabilities or deaths caused by head and spinal trauma from cheerleading injures is more than the number for female players of all other sports combined.
Some argue that the percentage of serious cheerleading injuries is low when the number of participants is considered — a number estimated to be about 3 million nationwide and more than 400,000 at the high school level. Still, the NCAA insurance program reported in 2005 that they spent 25% on student cheerleading injuries. This percentage is compared to the 57% spent on football-related injuries, and football has nearly 10 times as many participants.
The numbers are surprising to say the least, and it’s becoming clear that much of modern day cheerleading is. The father of the cheerleader who fell into a coma two years ago said he thought cheerleaders “carried pompoms and kicked their feet in the air.” His daughter, now 19, resides in a nursing home and is only able to communicate by blinking her eyes. She is unable to speak or eat.
The family sued the Los Angeles Unified School District, claiming that there was a lack of proper medical equipment and immediate care which contributed to their daughter’s cheerleader personal injury. Though insurance has covered most of the medical costs, the father says they are still struggling.
Current dangers of cheerleading seem to stem from the continuing pressures and expectations to be more daring in stunts and routines. Perhaps cheerleading has preceded itself, as the corresponding safety precautions and training are not in place to ensure that the activity is appropriate for kids as young as 5 or for high schools across America.
Experts and personal injury lawyers urge those involved with the activity to consider the roles that inadequate safety measures, improper training and competitiveness might play in these accidents.