Is Cheerleading A Sport?

Brittany Noffke, a ninth-grade student at Holmen High School, fell while practicing a three-person cheerleading stunt and suffered a severe head injury.  She sued Kevin Bakke, another cheerleader, for alleged negligence in failing to properly spot her during the stunt. Bakke defended on the ground he is immune from negligence liability under Wisconsin Stat. § 895.525(4m)(a).  This statute provides that a participant “in a recreational activity that includes physical contact between persons in a sport involving amateur teams” is liable only for causing injury to another participant by acting “recklessly or with intent to cause injury.”

In Noffke v. Bakke, 308 Wis.2d 410, 748 N.W.2d 195 (Wis. App. 2008), a Wisconsin appellate court held that cheerleading is not a “contact sport” for purposes of this statute.  The court initially assumed, without deciding, that cheerleading is an amateur team sport.  Finding that the statutory  meaning of “physical contact” is ambiguous, the court relied on the title of the statute (“Liability of contact sports participants”) and a dictionary definition of “contact sport” (“any sport that necessarily involves physical contact between opponents”) to define this term.  It concluded that, although “the risks and the athleticism involved in cheerleading are comparable to those in contact sports,” cheerleading is not a “contact sport” because “it does not involve physical contact between opponents.”  Therefore, Wisconsin Stat. § 895.525(4m)(a) does not bar Noffke’s negligence claim against Bakke.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court granted Bakke’s petition to appeal this ruling, and the case is awaiting decision after oral argument last fall.  

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Thoughts on Welda and Hate Crimes

I wanted to comment briefly on one of the cases recently accepted by the Wisconsin Supreme Court, as reported here by Jessica Slavin.

In State v. Welda, the court will consider the application of the hate crime penalty enhancer set forth in § 939.645(1) providing for increased penalties where the state can prove that a defendant “[i]ntentionally select[ed] the person against whom the crime . . . is committed . . . in whole or in part because of the actor’s belief or perception regarding the race . . . of that person . . . .”

Without getting into the distasteful detail, the defendants were convicted of disorderly conduct arising out of what seems to be an argument with some African-American passers-by who objected to the defendants’ repeated use of the n-word.

There are some not very interesting (and not particularly powerful) arguments that the comments were not directed to the African-American complainants.

But there are three things that I think merit comment.

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Wisconsin Supreme Court Accepts Three More Cases

Supreme Court sealThe Wisconsin Supreme Court recently voted to accept review in three more cases, one criminal case and two civil ones.

The criminal case is State v. Popke, 2008AP446-CR. From the court’s website, “A decision by the Supreme Court could clarify if a momentary crossing of the center line creates probable cause to believe that a motorist has failed to drive on the right side of the roadway, as required by Wis. Stat. § 346.05. Alternatively, the court may provide further guidance as to what driving conduct a police officer must observe in order to create a reasonable suspicion of an OWI violation. From Waupaca County.”

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