The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus


Pacemaker sidelines SMU cheerleader

Photo by Casey Lee. Jamie Burns waits to hear back from SMU.

Photo by Casey Lee. Jamie Burns waits to hear back from SMU.

Jamie Burns, the cheerleader who was sidelined last week because she wears a pacemaker, said she is still waiting to hear if she will be fully reinstated.

Burns says her pacemaker will not affect her performance with the team, but SMU officials think otherwise.

Burns said the school has agreed to seek a second opinion from a cardiologist, but will not do so until at least next week when there is another home football game. SMU did talk to Burns’ primary doctor yesterday, who told the university she could return to the team.

“For them to kick me off so quickly, I think they saw it as just cheerleading,” Burns said. “They didn’t see it as anything big, but they don’t realize that to some people it is.”

Burns was sidelined last week when SMU officials said the university’s insurance policy would not cover her medical device.

Burns used to have a heart condition known as Long QT Syndrome, but after receiving a pacemaker five years ago her condition disappeared, clearing her of all limitations to fully participate in her favorite sport.

Vice President of Student Affairs Lori White, was unavailable for comment to The Daily Campus. But she told The Dallas Morning News earlier this week, “it’s not only the liability of this individual student. For example, if she’s at the base of a pyramid and if something were to happen to her and she collapses, then she may also injure other students.”

“My cardiologist told [SMU] they could contact him and they never did,” Burns said. “He contacted them yesterday. They never contacted me or my parents before making a decision.”

While Burns’ scholarship is still applicable, she is allowed to do no more than clap her hands and yell while remaining completely grounded on the sidelines.

“[SMU head coach Zac Brannon] brought up that they may have an issue with my pacemaker but I never thought that much about it because it would be discrimination.

The reason for taking me off isn’t justified, and they need to get their facts straight before they made the decision,” said Burns.

“The only abnormal thing about Burns is that she has an incredible and rare talent along with a persistence that is unbreakable,” said Sara Bedford, a senior member of the SMU cheerleading team. “It’s not fair that Jamie is not able to cheer. Her pacemaker has never hindered her ability to be an amazing athlete, much less participate in cheer.”

Burns explained the university was incorrect about her diagnosis, saying, “They based their decision off an article that was in a cardiology magazine that talks about people with Long QT Syndrome who haven’t been treated yet. So therefore, it doesn’t apply to me. I guess they’re going to try to find another opinion.”

“Obviously, athletics insurance at any college level doesn’t come cheap,” said Bedford. “There are countless injuries in every sport, and the high level of inherent liability in cheerleading is actually pretty surprising. However, the risk that everyone takes to participate in any sport should be rewarded, not punished.”

While cheerleading used to be a group of students yelling chants at football and basketball games, collegiate cheerleading has evolved into a much more competitive sport.

Last year, the SMU spirit program took second place at the National Cheerleaders Association College Cheerleading Championship – the highest the team has finished in the program’s history. It would be a dream come true for any competitive cheerleader to earn a spot as one of the 30 members of this elite squad.

Burns said her decision to cheer at SMU was strongly impacted by her desire to cheer at a nationally ranked Division I school.

Complete with letters and release statements from her cardiologist saying she was free to perform without any medical restrictions, Burns tried out for the spirit squad in April under the pretense her medical condition would be of no concern.

The athlete also signed a university waiver saying she would not sue the university in the case of something happening.

“I tried out in April, and we had to write down our medical histories, and I listed my pacemaker,” explained Burns. “I’ve never even failed a physical. I went from practicing every day and going to camp to being kicked off the squad.”

While one release did say Burns should avoid contact sports, cheerleading is still considered an appropriate activity to participate and compete in.

“I wish they would have had all the information and talked to my doctors, and my cardiologist in particular because he’s been treating me for seven years,” said Burns.

“If he’s telling me I can do cheerleading with no restrictions I don’t see the problem because he’s not going to let me go out there and hurt myself and other people.”

SMU states they would allow Burns to continue participating in the program so long as she does not move her feet along the ground, kick her legs, or execute any pyramids or tumbling skills.

So how does Burns feel about being given a scholarship and a spot on the team, but not free reign to compete to the best of her ability?

“[The team is] probably just as mad, if not more upset,” said Burns.

“I’m a positive influence on the team, a hard worker; I’m not a bump in the log. They are part of the reason why I’m doing everything I can do get back to where I was on the team. It just gave me a goal and something to work hard towards. I’ve been taking it really well, along with everyone else.”

Until then, Burns says she plans to sit on the sidelines at practice, and cheer her team on from the benches.

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