Cheerleading continues to gain recognition as a serious sport and various groups are studying sports injuries as well as statistics related to cheerleading as it continues to grow in popularity.
When you read statistics, however, it’s always important to keep in mind that the numbers only tell part of the story whenever you read them. No matter what sport you participate in, there will always be an inherent risk associated with it, and cheerleading is no different.
Cheerleading Statistics on Injuries and Safety
Most of the research that is out there discusses whether or not cheerleading is a safe sport to participate in, as well as how many injuries occur each year as a result of cheerleading. It is important to take this into consideration since cheerleading has evolved from simply leading “yells” at games to become a performance sport that often includes tumbling and stunts in addition to the traditional cheers.
By far, this is the most talked about and perhaps the most important area of cheerleading statistics at the moment.
Death by Cheerleading
The exact number of cheerleaders who have died because of their involvement in cheerleading has never been calculated to date. The reason for this is that statistics are mostly categorized by “serious injuries” that result in death or life altering complications rather than a list of “disabling injuries”.
As a matter of fact, there have been more than a few cases highlighted in the news recently. It was the death of Lauren Chang in an April 2008 cheerleading competition that spurred her family to become activists working with legislators to make safety rules for cheerleaders.
While there is an inherent risk in every sport, no one expects that they will die from cheerleading as a direct result of doing the sport. As a result of such deaths, all of those girls who fly through the air performing stunts tend to draw attention to themselves.
Catastrophic Head, Neck and Spine Injuries
According to the National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injuries, female cheerleaders account for a staggering 50% of the catastrophic head, neck and spine injuries that are specifically sustained by female athletes in sports, including cheerleading.
There is no doubt that this highlights the need for better and more thorough safety standards. The following are some common safety procedures that should be followed:
- Stunts and pyramids can be performed with mats if they are used properly
- A maximum of two pyramids should be built at a time
- The addition of additional spotters would be beneficial
- Coaches are required to undergo safety training as a condition of their employment
During half time of a game, many cheerleaders point out that they do not have time to drag mats on the ground, so they cannot perform as much as they would like due to the requirement for mats on the floor during half time.
If they were aware of what could lie ahead for them, however, they might think twice about performing such stunts without taking proper safety precautions if they knew what could happen to them.
Cheerleading is More Dangerous Than Football
While there is no doubt that cheerleading carries an inherent risk, as do all sports, you also need to be careful when reading cheerleading statistics. As any statistician will tell you, it is easy to make numbers tell a small part of the story by giving only a piece of the information.
When you’re reading statistics on cheerleading, it’s important to have the complete picture. There are several statements about the safety of cheerleading that have been made recently.
Headlines rang with the shocking story that cheerleading is more dangerous than football citing the statistic that some 28,000 cheerleaders made trips to the emergency room in 2005. (Which is, by the way, a 600% increase over 1998.) To compound the serious injury factor, there were at least four serious incidents in the news relatively recently:
- Lauren Chang, a college student on an all star squad, died of a collapsed lung when she was accidentally kicked in the chest during a cheerleading competition.
- Patty Phommanyvong, a high school cheerleader, was tossed into the air and went limp when she was caught. She is now a comatose quadriplegic.
- Kristi Yamaoka garnered national attention when she fell from a two-and-a-half high pyramid. As she was carried off the floor, she began performing the motions to her school’s fight song as the band played. She suffered a bruised lung, broken neck and concussion, but she has now made a full recovery.
- Jessica Smith, who was also practicing a stunt where she was thrown up into the air, broke her neck and two verterbrae in her back.
- Rechelle Sneath is now paralyzed after being dropped when she was practicing a stunt and her teammates didn’t catch her. However, she’s thankful to be alive. She told the media that she had asked her coach for an additional spotter, but the coach told her she didn’t need one.
While these injuries and others certainly warrant a look at safety standards in cheerleading, to say that cheerleading is more dangerous than football is not quite accurate. Cheerleading is generally a year round sport, while football is just one season.
So, to accurately compare the two, you’d have to compare on how many serious injuries there are on average over the length of a football season.
Approximately 5,300 cheerleaders visit the emergency room during an average football season. Compare that with the 2.5 million football players that visit the emergency room each year during football season. Finally, consider that 98% of all emergency room visits are classified as either “treated and released” or “examined/no treatment necessary”.
Cheerleading Statistics and Responsibility
Cheerleading carries participation risks just like any other sport. Cheerleaders suffer injuries similar to gymnasts. To truly help the sport keep up with its own rapid evolution, governing sports organizations need to insist that coaches are safety certified (just like in gymnastics) and that proper safety precautions are followed.
However, sensationalizing cheerleading statistics does not help ensure the safety of young women who participate in the sport. An honest look at how safety can be improved and how squads can prepare for the unthinkable will help cheerleading continue to grow in the future.