Though football tends to get more attention in terms of concussion dangers, a new sport appears to be gaining attention: cheerleading. Officials in Texas have said they will now require that all state cheerleading programs be brought into compliance with a section of state law that deals with concussion prevention and treatment.
Previously, only full-contact football programs were required to comply with stringent concussion prevention rules, including a 90-minute per week limit on full-contact practice. Now that cheerleading programs will be brought into the fold, schools will have to create cheerleading oversight teams that are tasked with ensuring that cheerleading programs follow state protocol for removing participants from practice or competition if it is believed they suffered a concussion.
Schools are also now required to have cheerleaders’ parents sign a concussion acknowledgment form saying that they understand the risks their children face in the event they suffer serious head injuries. Coaches and sponsors at schools across the state will have to undergo specific training for how to identify and handle concussion injuries.
Though much attention has been paid to the dangers of football, some researchers have begun to study the impact of cheerleading injuries. One survey by the National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research found that between 1982 and 2011 cheerleading was responsible for 65 percent of all catastrophic injuries to female high school athletes. At the college level the number rises even further, to 70.6 percent. Experts say that the intense jostling involved in cheering as well as the risk of falling can lead to serious danger. This is especially true given that cheerleaders, unlike other athletes, frequently wear no protective gear.
Given all the new attention focused on the dangers of cheerleading, there has been a corresponding rise in concussion litigation directed at cheerleading programs. Parents across the country have begun filing suit against high schools claiming that the school systems could have done more to prevent their child’s injuries. Recent suits in Maine, Michigan and California have put schools on notice that they may be found liable for athletes’ concussion damage. The parents claims that the near complete lack of safety regulations for the sport are proof that not enough has been done to protect female athletes from serious danger.