Shut up and shake your pom poms
When two Oakland Raiders Raiderettes cheerleaders filed suit against the Raiders over low wages, I thought they’d delivered a thunderous kick to the NFL’s footballs. I thought it was going to be a new blockbuster battle for the NFL, on the heels of the concussion/CTE controversy. I thought when the masses heard that Raiderettes earned $125 per exhibition and regular season game (a whopping $1,250 a season) and their travel expenses must come out of their own pockets, that there would be outrage.
I was wrong.
Counting rehearsals, charity events and the annual calendar photo shoot, Raiderettes make less than $5 an hour. That’s less than minimum wage for those not counting. Some NFL squads pay less. The vaunted Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders, the most prestigious squad in the NFL, earn a whopping $150 per game.
A recent exposé by a former Baltimore Ravens cheerleader revealed that cheerleaders must meet strict weight requirements and are subject to be weighed at any time. If they gain weight during the season, they can be benched and/or dismissed. Cheerleaders are barred from fraternizing with players. And if they participate in any online social media, they’re required to ‘friend’ their director. For charity events, the team charges between $175-$300 per cheerleader and the individual cheerleader gets to keep $50. Cheerleaders are also required to buy 100 copies of their annual calendar that they can sell and earn money.
While this exposé pertains to the Ravens Cheerleaders, most squads have similar rules.
And now, three NFL teams have announced they will start offering fans the ability to have cheerleaders visit them in their seats. I haven’t read any accounts of what these visits will entail, but unfortunately it conjures up images of fan lapdances. There’s also been no word on what the cheerleaders will be paid to make these visits.
Why do the women put up with the hours of practice, eight-hour game days and paying their way to various charity events for little pay? For some, it’s the prestige. Others want to parlay the experience into modeling or acting jobs. And if someone quits, there are literally hundreds of women behind her vying for her spot.
Now, I’m not going to do the popular thing and bash professional football players as being overpaid. With a league generating $10 billion a year I think it’s only fair that the players, who put their bodies on the line and often shorten their lifespans playing this violent game, earn what they earn. This isn’t the fault of the players but the owners.
This year the Raiders had the most money available this season to spend on free agent players at over 63 million dollars. In this sea of money, Raiders owner Mark Davis couldn’t find anything extra for the women who go out and promote the Raiders every season?
Now, six of the 32 NFL teams don’t have cheerleading squads. But the ones that do generate revenue from pimping the squads out for charity and other promotions, as well as make money from calendars, posters and other revenue streams. Not to mention the goodwill cheerleaders engender for the NFL’s image. When’s the last time you read about a cheerleader being arrested for a DUI, getting into a bar fight or being arrested for a serious crime?
Last week, the U.S. Labor Department closed its investigation of the Raiderettes’ wages due to the fact that as a “seasonal business,” the Oakland Raiders and presumably other teams are exempt from federal minimum wage laws. There is no such exemption under California law however. But if the Raiderettes succeed and get paid minimum wage and travel expenses, it’s still going to be somewhat of a hollow victory. With the income they help generate for a club, minimum wage is laughable.
The lack of women’s groups rallying to their cause and lack of fan outrage means this is an issue that will go away quietly. With all of the recent talk of a “war on women” with predominantly women’s issues like contraception, abortion rights and equal pay in the news, one would think women (only the Baltimore Ravens have male cheerleaders) being denied minimum wage would be a big issue. I think professional cheerleaders are largely seen as not that different from strippers. Traditionally, women who make money using their bodies just aren’t going to get the same support as a teachers union.
On top of that, while fans may enjoy watching the cheerleaders, it’s obviously not seen as an essential part of the NFL experience. – at least not enough for fans to rally behind better pay for the squads. It’s not enough for fans to boycott the games and merchandise – and some teams would probably pull the plug on their squads rather than pay more.
It’s unfortunate, because there’s a big enough NFL pie for them to offer cheerleaders a healthy slice.
Maybe it’s not that important an issue. Most fans would still watch a cheerleaderless NFL. But that’s not the point. The point is there’s a lot of talk about raising the minimum wage to a living wage. Here are people who aren’t even making minimum wage and, for whatever reason, they’re not worthy of our attention.