The American Medical Association says cheerleading should be considered a sport, a move that would ultimately help make it safer.
In the past few decades, cheerleading has evolved from cheering on the sidelines for other teams to a competitive, year-round athletic pursuit that features flips and acrobatic stunts, but many high school leagues, including the Minnesota State High School League, don't consider it a sport.
The increase in physical demands on cheerleaders has also increased the risk for severe injuries, which is why the AMA, the nation's largest doctors' group, declared it a sport at the organization's annual meeting in Chicago Monday.
"These girls are flipping 10, 20 feet in the air," Dr. Samantha Rosman, a Boston-area pediatrician, told AMA delegates during floor debate before the vote, USA Today reports. “We need to stand up for what is right for our patients and demand they get the same protection as their football colleagues."
AMA members said cheerleading is as rigorous as many other activities that high schools and the NCAA consider sports. They say designating it as a sport will help make it safer by looping it under the oversight of high school athletic boards and college athletic associations, Med Page Today reports.
Cheerleading is the leading cause of catastrophic injury in female athletes at the high school and college level, Rosman said, the Washington Post reports. The blog FiveThirtyEight also highlighted the increase in cheerleading injuries in a recent post.
Currently, the NCAA also does not recognized cheerleading as a sport, and the Minnesota State High School League considers cheerleading a non-competitive support activity in the league's handbook.
However, 35 states and Washington, D.C., have declared cheerleading a sport at the high school level, Think Progress reports. The AMA's new policy would push the remaining states and sports bodies to adopt the same designation.
The debate on whether cheerleading should be considered a sport has often been discussed, and it has made headlines in recent years.
In 2010, a federal judge decided that competitive cheerleading was not an official sport that colleges could use to meet gender-equality requirements because it didn't have the organization, post-season structure or standardized rules required, and in 2012, an appeals court affirmed that ruling.