Blogging about sports isn’t something I often do. Yet, the lawsuits brought about by some National Football League (NFL) cheerleaders citing unlawfully low pay really caught my attention. With so much publicity about how much money players make, there appears to be a lot less on how little cheerleaders are paid.
The first such lawsuit was filed by an Oakland Raiders cheerleader this past January and since then, two more Raiders cheerleaders have filed lawsuits. Yet, this extends beyond just the Raiders. Cheerleaders from additional teams, such as the Buffalo Bills, New York Jets, Cincinatti Bengals, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers have filed similar lawsuits this year.
The lawsuits allege that when all the hours the cheerleaders are required to work are taken into account, their pay balances out to less than minimum wage. Though they get paid for games from what I’ve learned anywhere from $75-$150 per game depending on the team, they do not get paid for the hours of required practices they put in, for putting in overtime, nor do they get paid for all appearances or for calendar photos shoots. They also don’t get paid for teaching at cheerleading camps run by the teams to the best of my knowledge.
With such little pay and putting in so many hours on a regular basis they don’t get paid for, the cheerleaders still incur a lot of out of pocket expenses and the powers that be have a lot of control over them while paying them such little money. Thus includes controlling everything from how they look to what they post on Facebook pages, who they date (as most teams have policies against cheerleaders fraternizing with players), and even where the go. For example, I recall reading an interview with a New Orleans Saints cheerleader where she said that if a cheerleader were in a club and a player were to come in, then the cheerleader would have to leave.
Consultants or directors of the squad decide what type of a look the cheerleader must maintain for the season and with at least some teams, the cheerleader has to pay to maintain this look. This could include tanning, hair coloring, styling, or extensions; and manicures. There are also very strict weight requirements that extend beyond health. Cheerleaders are subject to weekly weigh-ins and could be benched for the next game or removed from the squad if they don’t maintain a certain weight.
In some cases, it extends beyond just weekly weigh-ins. For example, Buffalo Bills cheerleaders reported having to go through “jiggle tests” where they have to do jumping jacks while those in control watch and scrutinize their bodies. If any parts of their bodies jiggled, they could be benched and not allowed to perform the next game. Raiders cheerleaders also reported having body parts routinely scrutinized and Cincinatti Bengals cheerleaders described a “fat camp” in which cheerleaders deemed to not be thin enough had to stay thirty minutes after practice and do more exercise.
This leads to the topic of body image. Though NFL cheerleading squads promote the image that this is about health and fitness, this is really putting unhealthy pressure on women to be thinner than many women can be in healthy ways. Though I don’t get cable and haven’t turned on my TV in a few months, I used to rent a room in a home where cable was included–which is where I first saw a show on the Country Music Chanel called “Making the Team.” It’s a reality show focused on trying out for the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders, with much of the focus being on the director of the squad. This show is so disturbing largely because of body image issues that I could not stand to watch it anymore even if I did have cable and watch TV. However, for anybody who’s interested, episodes of this show are posted on hulu.com .
It was the same old clichés over and over again–treating women who didn’t have a really narrow body frame like they were too “fat” to wear the uniform. Even though the uniform is revealing, that’s not the point here. It’s more about very rigid, narrow beauty standards. Though many people seem to find wide hips sexy on women, the director and choreographer of the squad act like there’s something horribly wrong with this body-type.
Women don’t even need to have thicker body frames to be treated this way. The director of the squad reprimanded some cheerleaders who were very thin because their weight was not as low as it was the previous season. One of these very thin cheerleaders mentioned that the body-type they were pressured to maintain was not realistically maintainable. While women trying out for the cheerleading squad who are nicely toned and not medically overweight are being treated like they’re too “fat”, players over three hundred pounds can go out on the field and play in really tight pants with their guts hanging out over the top.
Amidst all I have written so far in this blog entry, I reflect on my experiences as an exotic dancer and make comparisons to what I write about here. Unlike with the NFL cheerleaders, I was never made to do weigh-in as an exotic dancer nor was I ever told that I needed to loose weight in order to dance. This is considering that though I am a healthy weight for my body type and get a lot of compliments on my body, I would still be thicker than all or almost all NFL cheerleaders and above the acceptable weight range.
I also never had to do any “jiggle test” as an exotic dancer, such as doing jumping jacks with my body parts being examined for any jiggling and then denied being able to work if I jiggle anywhere. None of the clubs I worked at ever asked me how much I weighed nor did anybody tell me I had to tan or how my hair had to look.
The pay was also a lot better as an exotic dancer. Though there wasn’t an hourly salary at most of the clubs where I’ve worked, I wasn’t expected to make appearances or do any required work for free. Even at the clubs where there were hourly wages, most of my income came from tips. Tipping was expected and common on stage, and customers were required to pay me for lap dances and VIP rooms. Some customers even tipped for sitting and chatting with them.
As an example of the lawsuits filed, here is one filed by two Oakand Raiders cheerleaders: http://www.scribd.com/doc/228300494/Raiders-Lawsuit-2 . The Raiders have since agreed to pay cheerleaders $9 per hour for all work they’re required to put in, consistent with California’s minimum wage law. On the other hand, the Buffalo Bills decided to suspend the cheerleading squad for the upcoming season after some cheerleaders filed a lawsuit alleging minimum wage law violations and demeaning treatment.
The lawsuit filed by a Cincinatti Bengals cheerleader cited the Seattle Seahawks as an exemplary system for cheerleader pay, in which cheerleaders are paid an hourly wage for the work they put in, including practices. Here is an online petition in support of NFL cheerleaders being paid more justly for their work: http://www.change.org/petitions/roger-goodell-nfl-commissioner-petition-to-provide-nfl-cheerleaders-with-a-livable-salary?utm_campaign=new_signature&utm_medium=email&utm_source=signature_receipt#share