As cheerleading continues to launch itself as a serious sport, various groups are studying sports injuries and related cheerleading statistics. However, remember that whenever you're reading statistics, those numbers always tell just one part of the story. Nonetheless, there is an inherent risk in participation in any sport, and cheerleading is no exception.
Cheerleading Statistics on Injuries and Safety
The bulk of research that is out there discusses whether or not cheerleading is safe as well as how many injuries occur per year. This is important to consider since cheerleading has gone from leading "yells" at games to a performance sport that often includes tumbling and stunts. This is by far the most talked about and perhaps most important area of cheerleading statistics today.
Death by Cheerleading
To date, there are no exact figures on how many cheerleaders have died while cheerleading. That's because statistics are instead categorized by "serious injuries" that lead to death or life altering complications. However, there have been more than a few highlighted in the news. When Lauren Chang died during an April competition in 2008, her family was spurred to activism working with legislators to make safety rules for cheerleading.
Although there is an inherent risk in all sports, no one expects to die as a direct result of cheerleading. Such deaths tend to draw attention to all of those girls flying through the air doing stunts.
Catastrophic Head, Neck and Spine Injuries
According to the National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injuries, female cheerleaders make up a whopping 50% of the catastrophic head, neck and spine injuries that are suffered specifically by female athletes. Undoubtedly, this highlights the need for better and more thorough safety standards. Common safety procedures should include:
- Using mats during stunts and pyramids
- Limiting pyramids to no more than two high
- Adding extra spotters
- Requiring coaches to be safety trained
Many cheerleaders point out that they don't have time to drag mats during the half time of a game, and so the requirement for mats on the floor limits what the squad can perform. However, if they knew what could lay ahead for them, they might think again about performing those types of stunts without proper safety precautions.
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.