Being an NFL Cheerleader Really Sucks


By now, it’s been established several times over that NFL cheerleaders are treated terribly: on Monday, a former cheerleader from the Tampa Buccaneers filed a sued the team, claiming that she was paid less than two dollars an hour. This makes the Buccaneers the fifth NFL team to face a similar suit this year. Hooray for organized sports!

In the past year, cheerleaders for the Oakland Raiders, the Cincinnati Bengals, the New York Jets, the Buffalo Bills and, now, the Buccaneers have sued over their shitty, shitty wages. (The Raiderettes allege they were paid $5/hr; the Ben-Gals $2.85/hr; and the Flight Crew $3.77/hr. If I were them, I would demand extra for the emotional damage incurred by forced association with those terrible “feminized” team names.)

But, of course, mere wage theft isn’t the extent of their mistreatment: according to lawsuits and leaked files obtained by Mother Jones, the cheerleaders were also held up to demeaning and objectifying standards and forced to abide by ridiculous, sexist “etiquette guides.”

Some highlights: the suits allege that professional cheerleaders are not paid for practice time, although they’re expected to practice between 6 and 15 hours per week. They’re also expected to make public appearances at charity events for free — “between practice, games, and unpaid events, Jills allege that they work about 20 hours a week for free,” according to the Mother Jones report. The other teams being sued have similar set-ups.

Venturing away from all the unpaid labor to other, equally if not more horrifying, territory, we get to the “demeaning and degrading treatment.” According to the Jills lawsuit, there were several instances in which unpaid their unpaid appearances were hideously sexist. Here’s their description of the Jills Annual Golf Tournament:

Select Jills were required to wear a bikini, and then go into a dunk tank, where they were dunked in water by the golf tournament participants. Jills cheerleaders are also “auctioned off” like prizes at the event… While serving as a “bought person” they were subjected to additional demeaning treatment, including degrading sexual comments and inappropriate touching. Oftentimes, the Jills were forced to sit on participants’ laps because there [were] not enough seats in the golf carts.

A reminder: they were not paid anything for this. They were literally auctioned to men, some of whom sexually harassed them, and treated like objects. The suit outlines two other instances — both of which took place in casinos — in which Jills cheerleaders were made to wear bathing suits and “paraded around for the gratification of the predominantly male crowd.” At one such party, “many of the participating Jills were groped or touched inappropriately by audience members.”

The Jills also had to pass a “jiggle test,” which consists of “doing jumping jacks while their stomachs, arms, legs, hips, and butts were scrutinized.” They have to abide by an intensive, demanding 12-page “glamour manual” that instructs them on literally every aspect of grooming — including how to brush one’s teeth and how to use a tampon (“When menstruating, use a product that right [sic] for your menstrual flow. A tampon too big can irritate and develop fungus.”).

Furthermore, even though cheerleaders are expected to fastidiously and zealously take care of their physical appearances, they’re not compensated at all for expensive beauty procedures. According to one former Ravens cheerleader, the mandated hair and makeup upkeep can cost over $1,000 per season, which is especially ridiculous considering the fact that they’re paid ABOUT $3 AN HOUR.

And let’s not forget the Raiderettes etiquette guide that explained to cheerleaders what a handshake is (“an American custom that should be extended immediately upon introduction,” in case you were wondering!) and scoldingly warned them to not get date raped, lest it reflect poorly on the team:

[W]e have [had] situations where, quite frankly, the Raider organization and the Raiderettes narrowly escaped ruined reputations.
One such example concerns a player who gave Halloween parties every year and many of the Raiderettes attended. This same player was suspended from the team for drug use but also arrested for date rape. For you on the squad who have attended those parties, just think how narrowly you missed having your photo in all the local papers and/or being assaulted.

Good to see that they care enough about sexual assault to include it as an afterthought! Surely, being raped by an NFL football player isn’t a consequence as serious as a “ruined reputation” or “having your photo in all the local papers.”

The highest-paid player on the Buffalo Bills gets $16 million per year; the highest-paid Bengal has an annual salary of $11,175,000, and several New York Jets are paid several million dollars a year. I strongly doubt any of their employee manuals have a clause about avoiding date rape.

Images via Getty.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Share Tweet Submit Pin