National Girls and Women in Sports Day was celebrated across the country, but many collegiate dancers and cheerleaders felt neglected.
On Wednesday, National Girls and Women in Sports Day was honored across the country in celebration of female athletes in softball, soccer, and volleyball. However, as the day progressed, many collegiate dancers and cheerleaders, as well as alumni, felt that their sports were neglected on the day of recognition. It was clearly demonstrated at East Tennessee State University, where the athletics department failed to include the dance and cheer teams in their Instagram post. In response, several alumni expressed their discontent in the comments. Maci Giles, 21-year-old alumnae of the ETSU cheer program, described the exclusion as “shocking” to BuzzFeed News. Additionally, a member of the ETSU dance team wrote on social media that the exclusion of their team was not only “sad” but also “embarrassing.”
“It is extremely sad that we are not recognized as athletes here at ETSU even though we practice at least three times a week, attend every football and basketball game, compete at nationals and are ranked nationally, and are held to the same standard as every other athletic team,” an ETSU dancer wrote on her Instagram stories.
ETSU also didn’t recognize its dance and cheer team during a ceremony honoring athletes for achieving a 3.0 GPA or higher. However, a spokesperson for ETSU told BuzzFeed News that this happened because dance and cheer aren’t part of the NCAA. Instead, the school scheduled a standalone ceremony for February 22 “to accommodate the cheerleading and dance coach’s schedule.”
“The ceremony in question was to recognize students who qualified for the SoCon Academic Honor Roll, a recognition of outstanding student-athletes participating in a varsity sport at a member institution in the Southern Conference. Cheerleading and dance are not sports recognized by the Southern Conference or the NCAA. As such, these students are not included in the SoCon Honor Roll,” the statement read. Cheerleaders at St. John's University in New York voiced their discontentment after being excluded from an Instagram post celebrating the school's female athletes. To demonstrate their frustration, the cheerleaders refused to cheer during a men's basketball game and wore shirts proclaiming "We are women in sports".
The protest went viral, receiving nearly 1 million views and comments of support for the cheerleaders, recognizing the athleticism and dedication that is required for the sport. Comments on the TikTok video included statements such as "I'm glad they did this honestly bc cheerleading requires so much athleticism & it's tiring having to constantly fight to be recognized" and "I literally paid 20k to repair my 'non' athlete's MCL after 4 years of cheer".
The cheerleaders also took to their own Instagram accounts to voice their opinion. One cheerleader posted a reel in honor of National Women in Sports Day, writing, "Even through constant neglect, this team does not remain silent. I could not be more proud of this group of athletes for standing up for what we believe is right." This post and the protest itself showed the resilience and strength of the cheerleaders, who are determined to be recognized as athletes.
“Seeing this sport swept under the rug on a day where we should be honored is heartbreaking,” the caption reads. “This sport is so much more than what everyone thinks.”
At St. John's University, the Department of Athletics values the hard work and dedication of all students and is committed to honoring their accomplishments. Carolyn Renda, the head coach of the cheer squad, told BuzzFeed News that the athletics department had apologized for not including the cheer and dance teams. A spokesperson from the University said that representatives from the athletic department met with the cheer team to apologize before the basketball game Wednesday when the team demonstrated.
The marginalization of cheerleaders and dancers is an ongoing problem at all levels of sports. In the NFL, professional cheerleaders are pushing for higher wages. When these teams have spoken out against unfair pay or conditions, organizations often disband the squad instead of addressing the issues. The documentary series "Cheer," which followed the cheer team at Navarro College in Corsicana, Texas, was released on Netflix in 2020 and was met with great success. The series showcased the extreme physicality of cheerleading, much like "Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders: Making The Team."
Giles expressed her admiration for the cheer and dance teams standing up. “I have the utmost respect for the seniors on both teams for voicing their concerns and leading their teams through this," she remarked.