This is a cheerleading video. However, these are words for all people, not just cheerleaders. Please persevere.
This is California Allstars ‘Aces’ cheerleading routine at a competition a few weeks ago. If you watch this video very closely, you can see a number of serious injuries take place. If you do not wish to do so, this is what happens, with and without jargon:
In the opening tumble (beginning gymnastics), a girl on the right pops her knee out of place doing a round-off full (a twisting back flip). She then marks (mocks without actually doing) her next tumble before crawling offstage on the right. It is later revealed that she tore her ACL.
It is believed that because of this, another girl got confused and accidentally stood in the wrong place on the mat. Because she starts her tumble in the wrong place, she then collides with another cheerleader. Later, one of the pair walks offstage at the back, where she is met by a coach, upon whom she then collapses. It is later revealed that she cracked her skull open.
The other girl, who is the point flyer (middle person in the air), miraculously continues the routine. However, because she is bleeding heavily from her head, one of her bases (people lifting) gets covered in blood. In the running tumble, this base has the opening pass (she is the first person to tumble across the floor). While not visible on the video, she tumbles blind as her eyes are filled with her flyer’s blood. She visibly does, however, rub her face multiple times. The flyer is later revealed to also have a cracked skull.
Somewhere between the second stunts and the baskets, another base cracks her ribs.
This video has elicited a wide variety of debate. Predominantly, people have questioned why the routine was not stopped after the first injury, which arguably caused the others. Much of the blame has centred on the coaches and the people in control of the music, for a routine does not stop until the music does. Other criticism has focused on the cheerleading mentality that we ‘do not stop no matter what.’ One only has to look at Tayler, the point flyer who cracked her skull open and had blood pouring from her head, but did all of her stunts anyway, to see how true this really is.
For me, these are all very valid issues. However, there is something I believe to be far greater, and it is this that struck the deepest nerve of all. This is the issue of medics at cheerleading competitions.
In this video, no medics visibly rush to the aid of the injured girls or attempt to stop the routine. Why, people have asked, was no support apparent? It is from this that the following facts have been brought to light:
1. In the USA, medics must be present at every sporting event by law.
2. Cheerleading is not recognised as a sport in the USA.
For this reason, medics do not legally have to be at cheerleading competitions.
In the case of Aces, it has been understood that this competition luckily did have medics who did attend to the girls outside the timeframe of the video. But while this routine gives me chills for many reasons, what is most chilling is the question of ‘what if.’ What if there had not been medics present to help those girls?
What if there hadn’t been any? What if the two girls who were bleeding heavily from their heads had not been met with bandages and ambulances? Head injuries - which are not uncommon in cheerleading - are extremely serious. If that bleeding had not been stopped, it could have led to serious blood loss. Serious blood loss can cause death. If medics had not been present, the lives of those girls could have been in jeopardy. What if there had been no one there?
Up until today, the argument that cheerleading is not a sport has never seriously bothered me. I have never been offended by people who don’t think it is; I have been content to write their opinion off as irrelevant because it is so ignorant. I don’t know how you can watch a routine like this (or any other allstar routine) and not consider it athletic, or how you can think our competitions as unreal when they are scored just as gymnastics or diving or equestrian competitions are.
But today, I have realised just how serious this misconception actually is. It is because of this close-mindedness that the safety of all cheerleaders is at risk. I feel I must repeat myself: what if no one had been there? Yes, cheerleading is dangerous, but in refusing to recognise it as a sport we have rendered it more so than it has to be.
And for me, the denial of medics to cheerleaders when they are readily available by law for other athletes is a question of basic equality. It is a question of equality and a question of safety. Why is our sport treated as second-class when it is clearly as athletic, competitive and dangerous as other sports? Perhaps sideline cheering can still be considered just an activity by some, but allstar cheerleading is far from it. The misconception that competitive cheerleading is not a sport needs to change. This is why.
It disgusts me to think what could have happened if there were no medics there for Aces. It is even more disgusting to know that there have likely been cases worldwide were medics were unavailable for injured cheerleaders. To those who do not believe our sport should be treated as such - all I ask is that you consider, for a moment, the danger our athletes have been put in because of this widespread opinion. I feel we are deprived of the basic rights other athletes are given unquestioningly. And in the twenty-first century in the first world, this is not okay. It is backward and it is wrong, but most of all, it is not okay.
Because, after all, what if?