Florida vs. Jacksonville State: Why the Gators' cheerleaders are grounded, and why they should fly

Scott Cunningham

Florida grounded its cheerleaders after an illegal move got a member of the Orlando Magic's stunt team seriously hurt. That's a misguided, short-sighted decision, and it should be reversed.

Florida's got a very good cheerleading squad, and a prominent one: Senior captain Tarin Moses is dating starting quarterback Jeff Driskel, fellow senior Morgan Palmer did work for Scout, and the Twitter presence of the team as a whole is not insignificant. So when, on late Friday, they broke the news that the University Athletic Association's marketing department had banned stunts and tumbling from their cheering, it made headlines.

It also made no sense.

Florida is ostensibly reacting to the ugly fall Orlando Magic Stunt Team member Jamie Woode took earlier this week, one that showed the very real peril of cheerleading. The recency and physical proximity of that incident likely played a role in the decision, with the decision-makers concluding that the risk of injury outweighed the benefit of doing stunts.

My question: Did someone just now realize that cheerleading is dangerous?

Florida's cheerleaders understand the risk of stunting and tumbling, and they were certainly aware of the dangers associated with it before this week; they've been aware of it for most of their lives, probably, as the majority of them have likely had a decade or more of experience in cheerleading.

It's always dangerous to be raised into the air, regardless of the surface the stunt is taking place on, and that's why cheer teams practice as often as they do, and have spotters all over the place in case something awful should happen. Florida's cheer teams, the Blue first team and the Orange second team, are also larger and more practiced than the Magic Stunt Team, which is a group contracted for performances, and they don't do particularly dangerous stunts on hardwood, while an illegal one was what ended tragically for Woode.

But cheerleaders who remain in the sport accept those risks willingly, and always have. They're bold, maybe fearless in some respects, but they're not stupid, and to take away a thing they have practiced to do for years because of one freak accident is thoroughly unjust.

Other Florida athletes weighed in with their own opinions, too.

On its face, this looks like a short-sighted decision — but it looks even more rotten the deeper it goes. The easy way to explain a decision like this is to cite safety concerns, but it's probably got more to do with Florida cheerleaders lacking the same sort of insurance the university provides for scholarship athletes, making the financial risk the UAA is taking an unbearable one.

That makes this decision more understandable (though the long-term solution is buying insurance policies for cheerleading, not grounding them), if not acceptable. But the way in which it was sprung on the cheerleaders is well beneath the standard for behavior of the UAA: I was told on Friday night that there was no full team meeting called to inform the cheerleaders of this ban, just a transmission of information to the Orange team (and any Blue team members that could make it) that this policy was going into effect.

And given Moses' and Palmer's backgrounds in telecom, I would trust that "one in a million" and "generates revenue" are direct quotes; if so, they suggest that this is a decision that places economic well-being over physical well-being, and the bottom line over school spirit.

Worst of all, this is happening before Senior Day, the last time Moses, Palmer, and a slew of other cheerleaders will suit up and rev up the crowd in The Swamp, and they were given less than 24 hours' notice. This stinks of a rushed decision made by middle management before a full review could be done, and I doubt highly that there is any chance of it being reversed before the game by anyone other than Jeremy Foley himself.

I trust that Foley, who understands virtually everything about college athletics very, very well, understands that this is a bad look for Florida; somehow, the school has managed to look both paternalistic (protecting cheerleaders in this case means protecting stunters, which means protecting women, but there's virtually no chance this decision was made by a woman, and so it's a dude thinking he knows what's best for women) and heartless (the day before Senior Day, really?) at the same time. And this could well anger Bull Gators that pour money into the program, too: Cheerleaders are an vital part of the Florida football experience for some people with a lot of money.

And so I suspect that providing insurance to cheerleaders, something that should always have been done, will happen before long, allowing for the reinstatement of stunting and tumbling. I don't think the decision-maker(s) realized that this decision inadvertently gave Florida's cheerleaders a bigger megaphone than the ones they use at games, and will likely lead to better long-term outcomes for Florida cheerleaders. That doesn't make it any less wrong in the short term.

Woode, thank goodness, is expected to make a full recovery. So should Florida cheerleading.

#UngroundUFCheer and let 'em fly.

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