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Cheerleading safety: misinformation in the media
By Alyssa Roenigk Correspondent

Mar 18, 2004 -

Cheerleading is receiving more attention than ever. It was the subject of a blockbuster film. It’s popping up in music videos, TV shows and magazine articles. It’s more popular than ever before and more athletes are fleeing other sports for the chance to jump, stunt and tumble their way to a national championship.

But as the sport (activity, if you prefer) increases in popularity, so does the scrutiny of it by the national media. And, unfortunately, most of the information printed about cheerleading does little to boost its image.

Stories about an increase in injuries and a decrease in safety are abundant lately. But if the people writing these stories were to do a little more research into the sport they are covering, they would realize, as you should, that cheerleading is as safe, fun and meaningful as any sport played in high schools across the country.

Many news stories surfaced after the University of Nebraska athletic department decided to ban their cheerleaders from stunting and tumbling and sent a press release announcing their decision to universities and media outlets around the country. Much of the information included in that press release was outdated and factually incorrect, but many articles including the information on that release were written without much further research.

The press release frightened many cheerleaders, parents and coaches when they read that, “cheerleading injuries accounted for 15,600 visits to hospital emergency rooms nationwide.” But what the stories didn’t tell you was that when compared with the number of cheerleaders in the U.S., that number accounts for 7.02 cheerleaders per 1,000 who made emergency room visits. Compare that with 75.38 per 1,000 in football and 15.14 per 1,000 basketball players. That number doesn’t sound so scary now, does it?

Many articles, broadcast reports and website stories include a piece of data from that release that says, “cheerleading is responsible for 57 percent of the catastrophic injuries to female college and high school athletes.” What you aren’t told-this data is from a research study published in 1982—20 years ago, before college and high school programs set specific safety guidelines. In a 2000 report by the National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research, the center found that there were 126 catastrophic injuries and 25 deaths reported for football between 1995-2000 and only eight catastrophic injuries and zero deaths for cheerleading.

Lots of articles also talk about the fact that cheerleaders miss more days due to injuries than any other athletes. But if the writers of those stories read further into the study that discovered this information, they would have seen the explanation given by Mark R. Hutchinson, MD, the author of this study.

“The sport requires that all extremities be completely functional for stunts and tumbling runs,” he says. “Football players can play in hand casts, and throwing and racket sport athletes can still perform if their non-dominant arm is mildly injured. Cheerleaders, however, must often lift a partner, perform a tumbling run, do a dance routine and balance atop a pyramid—all within the span of a few minutes.”

Too bad no one ever reads about this vital piece of information.

So the next time you pick up a newspaper or magazine and an article you read is trying to convince you that the sport you love is unsafe and hazardous to your health, read a little further, do your own research—and judge for yourself.

Compare The Numbers: Cheerleading Is Safe

Check out this info, from a story in American Cheerleader, August 2002.

Comparing The Risks

*Football injuries associated with the brain occur at a rate of one in every 3.5 games.

*Football is responsible for more than 250,000 head injuries in the United States.

*In any given season, 10% of college and 20% of high school players sustain brain injuries.

*The head is involved in more baseball injuries than any other body part. (The ankle is involved in more cheer injuries than any other body part.)

*Approximately 5% of soccer players sustain brain injury as a result of head-to-head contact, falls or being struck on the head by the ball.

Source: Brain Injury Association, Alexandria, Va.

High School Catastrophic Injuries 1995-2000

Total Catastrophic Injuries/Deaths

Football – 126/25
Basketball – 7/2
Cheerleading – 8/0

Source: National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research Eighteenth Annual Report

For even more on this topic, check out the August 2002 issue of American Cheerleader magazine.

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