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California Governor Signs Bill Making Cheerleading A Sport

A bill co-authored by a San Diego assemblywoman to make competition cheerleading a high school sport was signed into law Wednesday by Gov. Jerry Brown.

Assembly Bill 949 requires the state Department of Education to develop guidelines, procedures, and safety standards with the California Interscholastic Federation for high school cheerleading no later than July 1, 2017.

Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, said high school cheerleading has not enjoyed its own competition system like other high school sports. "Cheer athletes" and their teams are forced to rely on private businesses to run competitions, which can be prohibitively expensive for the athletes and their families, she said.

"For two decades, I have been baffled that young women and men cheerleaders in our high schools are denied the right to officially participate in their chosen sport," said Gonzalez, who was a cheerleader in high school and at Stanford University.

"Today, the governor has ensured these athletes will earn the respect and have the safety standards they deserve," Gonzalez said. "Equity comes in many forms and today it came in recognition that a traditional female activity can also be a sport."

Cheerleading is the cause of nearly two-thirds of all catastrophic sports-related injuries involving female high school athletes, according to the legislator. She said the Consumer Product Safety Commission records almost 37,000 emergency room visits a year due to cheerleading injuries, an increase of almost 400 percent since 1980.

Michigan, New York, Maine, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, New Mexico, South Dakota, Alaska and Virginia recognize cheerleading as an official sport, Gonzalez said. In July, the governor signed another bill by Gonzalez that provides NFL cheerleaders with basic employee rights.

Citing news reports and lawsuits, she said cheerleaders for pro teams were subjected to sub-minimum wage pay, were forced to pay thousands of dollars of unreimbursed travel costs and work unpaid overtime.

Several NFL cheerleaders sued their teams in the last couple of years over their working conditions. The Oakland Raiders and Tampa Bay Buccaneers settled lawsuits, and the Raiders agreed to pay $9 an hour and back wages.

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