Cheerleading carries the highest rate of catastrophic injuries to girl athletes in sports. The risks of cheerleading were highlighted when Kristi Yamaoka, a cheerleader for Southern Illinois University, suffered a fractured vertebra when she hit her head after falling from a human pyramid. She also suffered from a concussion, and a bruised lung. The fall occurred when Yamaoka lost her balance during a basketball game between Southern Illinois University and Bradley University at the Savvis Center in St. Louis on March 5, 2006. The fall gained "national attention", because Yamaoka continued to perform from a stretcher as she was moved away from the game. Yamaoka has since made a full recovery.
The accident caused the Missouri Valley Conference to ban its member schools from allowing cheerleaders to be "launched or tossed and from taking part in formations higher than two levels" for one week during a women's basketball conference tournament, and also resulted in a recommendation by the NCAA that conferences and tournaments do not allow pyramids two and one half levels high or higher, and a stunt known as basket tosses, during the rest of the men's and women's basketball season. On July 11, 2006, the bans were made permanent by the AACCA rules committee:
Another major cheerleading accident was the death of Lauren Chang. Chang died on April 14, 2008 after competing in a competition where her teammate had kicked her so hard in the chest that her lungs collapsed.
Of the United States' 2.9 million female high school athletes, only 3% are cheerleaders, yet cheerleading accounts for nearly 65% of all catastrophic injuries in girls' high school athletics. The NCAA does not recognize cheerleading as a collegiate sport; there are no solid numbers on college cheerleading, yet when it comes to injuries, 67% of female athlete injuries at the college level are due to cheerleading mishaps. Another study found that between 1982 and 2007, there were 103 fatal, disabling, or serious injuries recorded among female high school athletes, with the vast majority (67) occurring in cheerleading.
In the early 2000s, cheerleading was considered[by whom?] one of the most dangerous school activities. The main source of injuries comes from stunting, also known as pyramids. These stunts are performed at games and pep rallies, as well as competitions. Sometimes competition routines are focused solely around the use of difficult and risky stunts. These stunts usually include a flyer (the person on top), along with one or two bases (the people on the bottom), and one or two spotters in the front and back on the bottom. The most common cheerleading related injury is a concussion. 96% of those concussions are stunt related. Others injuries are: sprained ankles, sprained wrists, back injuries, head injuries (sometimes concussions), broken arms, elbow injuries, knee injuries, broken noses, and broken collarbones. Sometimes, however, injuries can be as serious as whiplash, broken necks, broken vertebrae, and death.
The journal Pediatrics has reportedly said that the number of cheerleaders suffering from broken bones, concussions, and sprains has increased by over 100 percent between the years of 1990 and 2002, and that in 2001, there were 25,000 hospital visits reported for cheerleading injuries dealing with the shoulder, ankle, head, and neck. Meanwhile, in the US, cheerleading accounted for 65.1% of all major physical injuries to high school females, and to 66.7% of major injuries to college students due to physical activity from 1982 to 2007, with 22,900 minors being admitted to hospital with cheerleading-related injuries in 2002.
In October 2009, the American Association of Cheerleading Coaches and Advisors (AACCA), a subsidiary of Varsity Brands, released a study that analyzed the data from emergency room visits of all high school athletes. The study asserted that contrary to many perceptions, cheerleading injuries are in line with female sports.
Cheerleading (for both girls and boys) was one of the sports studied in the Pediatric Injury Prevention, Education and Research Program of the Colorado School of Public Health in 2009/10–2012/13. Data on cheerleading injuries is included in the report for 2012–13.
The revamped and provocative Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders of the 1970s—and the many imitators that followed—firmly established the cheerleader as an American icon of wholesome sex appeal. In response, a new subgenre of exploitation films suddenly sprang up with titles such as The Cheerleaders (1972), The Swinging Cheerleaders (1974), Revenge of the Cheerleaders (1975), The Pom Pom Girls (1976), Satan's Cheerleaders (1977), Cheerleaders Beach Party (1978), Cheerleaders's Wild Weekend (1979), and Gimme an 'F' (1984). In addition to R-rated sex comedies and horror films, cheerleaders became a staple of the adult film industry, starting with Debbie Does Dallas (1978) and its four sequels.
On television, the made-for-TV movie The Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders (which aired January 14, 1979) starring Jane Seymour was a highly rated success, spawning the 1980 sequel The Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders II.
The Dallas squad was in high demand during the late 1970s with frequent appearances on network specials, awards shows, variety programs, commercials, the game show Family Feud and TV series such as The Love Boat. The sci-fi sitcom Mork & Mindy also based a 1979 episode around the Denver Broncos cheerleaders with Mork (Robin Williams) trying out for the squad.
The Positively True Adventures of the Alleged Texas Cheerleader-Murdering Mom (1993) is a TV movie which dramatized the true story of Wanda Holloway, the Texas mother whose obsession with her daughter's cheerleading career made headline news. Another lurid TV movie based on a true story, Fab Five: The Texas Cheerleader Scandal was produced in 2008. In 1999's American Beauty, Lester Burnham's suburban midlife crisis begins when he becomes infatuated with his daughter Jane's vain cheerleader friend, Angela Hayes, after seeing her perform a half-time dance routine at a high school basketball game.
Cheerleading's increasing popularity in recent decades has made it a prominent feature in high-school themed movies and television shows. The 2000 film Bring It On, about a San Diego high school cheerleading squad called "The Toros", starred real-life former cheerleader Kirsten Dunst. Bring It On was a surprise hit and earned nearly $70 million domestically. It spawned five direct-to-video sequels: Bring It On Again (2004), Bring It On: All or Nothing (2006), Bring It On: In It to Win It (2007), Bring It On: Fight to the Finish (2009) and Bring It On: Worldwide Cheersmack (2017). The first Bring It On was followed by the cheerleader caper-comedy, Sugar & Spice (2001) and a string of campy horror/action films such as Cheerleader Ninjas (2002), Cheerleader Autopsy, Cheerleader Massacre (both 2003), Chainsaw Cheerleaders, and Ninja Cheerleaders (both 2008).
In 2006, Hayden Panettiere, star of Bring It On: All or Nothing, took another cheerleading role as Claire Bennet, the cheerleader with an accelerated healing factor on NBC's hit sci-fi TV series Heroes, launching cheerleading back into the limelight of pop culture. Claire was the main focus of the show's first story arc, featuring the popular catchphrase, "Save the cheerleader, save the world". Her prominent, protagonist role in Heroes was supported by a strong fan-base and provided a positive image for high school cheerleading. In the second season of the show, the mean head cheerleader character Debbie Marshall, played by Dianna Agron was introduced as a foil to Claire.
In 2009, Panettiere starred again as a cheerleader, this time as Beth Cooper in the film adaptation of the novel I Love You, Beth Cooper.
In 2006, the reality show Cheerleader Nation was featured on the Lifetime television channel. Cheerleader Nation is a 60-minute television series based on the Paul Laurence Dunbar High School cheerleading team's ups and downs on the way to nationals, of which they are the three-time champions. The show also believes that cheerleading is tough. The show takes place in Lexington, Kentucky.
The 2007 series Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders: Making the Team shows the process of getting on the pro squad of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders. Everything from initial tryouts to workout routines and the difficulties involved is shown.
Fired Up!, a teen comedy about cheerleading camp, was released by Screen Gems in 2009. In the supernatural horror-comedy Jennifer's Body (2009), Megan Fox plays a demonically possessed high school cheerleader. Also that year, Universal Pictures signed music video and film director Bille Woodruff (Barbershop, Honey) to direct the fifth film in the Bring It On series titled Bring It On: Fight to the Finish. The film stars Christina Milian (who previously played cheerleaders in Love Don't Cost a Thing and Man of the House) and Rachelle Brook Smith, and was released directly to DVD and Blu-ray on September 1, 2009.
The television series Glee (2009-2015) featured Dianna Agron in another cheerleading role as Quinn Fabray, the captain of her high school cheerleading squad, the Cheerios. Quinn becomes pregnant, leading to her expulsion from the squad, but two of the other Cheerios, Santana Lopez and Brittany Pierce also feature heavily in the show. In the episode "The Power of Madonna", Kurt Hummel joins the Cheerios along with Mercedes Jones.
The CW Television Network created the short-lived Hellcats series (2010–11). This drama was about the ups and downs of being a college cheerleader. It starred Aly Michalka as Marty (a former gymnast forced to become a cheerleader after her academic scholarship is canceled) and Ashley Tisdale from High School Musical.
In 2012, CMT produced a reality style series called Cheer that followed a senior team from the club gym, Central Jersey Allstars, on their road to the Cheerleading Worlds.
Beginning in 2013, the YouTube channel AwesomenessTV created a series streamed on the platform that followed the well known and well decorated senior coed team “Smoed” from the California Allstars program in San Marcos, California. The show has since gone on for eight seasons and documents the team’s yearly quest to win at the Cheerleading Worlds.
Cheer Squad is a Canadian reality television series that debuted on ABC Spark on July 6, 2016 and in the US on Freeform on August 22, 2016. It follows the Canadian club cheer team the Great White Sharks as they work together on the road to the Cheerleading Worlds. As of 2018 there is only one season, with no clear plans to renew the show.
In January 2020, Netflix released Cheer, a six-part docu-series following the Navarro College co-ed cheerleading team on their journey to NCA College Nationals in Daytona Beach, Florida.
Nintendo has released a pair of video games in Japan for the Nintendo DS, Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan and its sequel Moero! Nekketsu Rhythm Damashii that star teams of male cheer squads, or Ouendan that practice a form of cheerleading. Each of the games' most difficult modes replaces the male characters with female cheer squads that dress in western cheerleading uniforms. The games task the cheer squads with assisting people in desperate need of help by cheering them on and giving them the motivation to succeed. There are also an All Star Cheerleader and We Cheer for the Wii in which one does routines at competitions with the Wiimote & Nunchuck. All Star Cheerleader is also available for Nintendo DS.
Cheerleading in Canada is rising in popularity among the youth in co-curricular programs. Cheerleading has grown from the sidelines to a competitive activity throughout the world and in particular Canada. Cheerleading has a few streams in Canadian sports culture. It is available at the middle-school, high-school, collegiate, and best known for all-star. There are multiple regional, provincial, and national championship opportunities for all athletes participating in cheerleading. Canada does not have provincial teams, just a national program referred to as CCU or Team Canada. Their first year as a national team was in 2009 when they represented Canada at the International Cheer Union World Cheerleading Championships International Cheer Union (ICU).
There is no official governing body for Canadian cheerleading. The rules and guidelines for cheerleading used in Canada are the ones set out by the USASF. However, there are many organizations in Canada that put on competitions and have separate and individual rules and scoresheets for each competition. Cheer Evolution is the largest cheerleading and dance organization for Canada. They hold many competitions as well as provide a competition for bids to Worlds. There are other organizations such as the Ontario Cheerleading Federation (Ontario), Power Cheerleading Association (Ontario), Kicks Athletics (Quebec), and the International Cheer Alliance (Vancouver). There are over forty recognized competitive gym clubs with numerous teams that compete at competitions across Canada.
There are two world championship competitions that Canada participates in. The first is the ICU World Championships where the Canadian National Teams compete against other countries. The second is The Cheerleading Worlds where Canadian club teams, referred to as "all-star" teams, compete at the USASF Cheerleading Worlds. National team members who compete at the ICU Worlds can also compete with their "all-star club" teams. Although athletes can compete in both International Cheer Union (ICU) and USASF, crossovers between teams at each individual competition are not permitted. Teams compete against the other teams from their countries on the first day of competition and the top three teams from each country in each division continue to finals. At the end of finals, the top team scoring the highest for their country earns the "Nations Cup". Canada has multiple teams across their country that compete in the USASF Cheerleading Worlds Championship.
The International Cheer Union (ICU) is built of 103 countries that compete against each other in four divisions; Coed Premier, All-girl Premier, Coed Elite, and All-girl Elite. Canada has a national team ran by the Canadian Cheer Union (CCU). Their Coed Elite Level 5 Team and their All-girl Elite Level 5 team are 4-time world champions. The athletes on the teams are found from all over the country. In 2013, they added two more teams to their roster. A new division that will compete head-to-head with the United States: in both the All-girl and Coed Premier Level 6 divisions. Members tryout and are selected on the basis of their skills and potential to succeed. Canada's national program has grown to be one of the most successful programs.