The question comes at a time when cheerleading accidents has seen a major increase in the number of disabling injuries since the 1980s. “Right now, cheerleading is out of control,” says the director of the National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injury Research at the University of North Carolina, and the available statistics do show that the occurrence of disabilities and deaths from cheerleading incidents is higher than all the other female-player sports combined.
The lack of training for coaches and cheerleaders, the lack of regulations consistently overseeing each team within each state or school district, and the continuous competition are causing this once cheerful pastime to be a huge personal injury risk.
For some families, serious intentions to ameliorate the dangers of cheerleading have come too late. A cheerleader from Marshall High School in Los Angeles sustained catastrophic injury from performing in a flying stunt and can no longer eat or talk. Another cheerleader from Sacramento City College broke her neck after falling 15 feet. Yet another cheerleader from San Jose State has been paralyzed from the waist down from doing a stunt in practice.
Changes in cheerleading have been leaning toward gymnastic-style daredevil stunts, but considering the circumstances under which cheerleading and gymnastics events are held — the former on a football field or in a gym, the latter in a specific gymnastics gym with mats — it seems unbelievable that the two groups would be performing similar stunts.
Some health and industry experts say they think spring-loaded surfaces, mats and other safety equipment would be appropriate and should be mandatory for practices, game performances, and competitions. The issue with requiring equipment is that courts might view mandates for safety equipment an “acknowledgement of danger” at high school levels and may even invite products liability claims.
The director of the National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injury Research said this is part of the reason why there are so many football lawsuits and that, “advice to the cheer industry was not to get involved with safety equipment, because with that comes liability.” Coaches too say they don’t want their cheerleaders practicing on mats, because there “aren’t mats at games.”
It’s possible, still, that even with equipment requirements, high schools will not be able to afford the regulations and would not be able to fund the cheerleading team anymore.
Though a tough case, between a consistency of rules, training, and safety some balance needs to be struck in order to keep these young athletes safe and out of the harm of cheerleading personal injury.