Texas—despite being America’s Cheer Capital—is one of thirty or so states that don’t recognize cheerleading as an official sport (other non-recognizers include the NCAA and the National Federation of State High School Associations, both of whom also decline to classify cheerleading as a sport). The lack of official recognition created a regulation vacuum of sorts, with no single regulatory agency responsible for cheerleading safety. A for-profit Memphis-based company called Varsity Brands saw opportunity in the regulatory void and created an empire. In a recent feature for the Houston Press, Leif Reigstad investigated Varsity Brands’s near total control of cheerleading:
Varsity runs all the major cheer competitions and camps. It publishes a cheerleading magazine and has its own online television network. It is the largest corporate sponsor of the National Federation of State High School Associations, which writes the rules for high school sports. It provides insurance for private competitive gyms and for college cheerleading teams in the NCAA. It controls cheerleading’s self-proclaimed governing bodies for safety and rules and international competition — seemingly independent nonprofits that lack transparency, do not enforce their own written safety rules and are financially bound to Varsity. And it is expanding worldwide.