STRIKE. Strike NOW.
…and before you start, NO, I’m not here to judge these women for doing what they do. Is the sexualization of the only women on the court/field aside from journalists or the occasional lady handing out water or towels problematic? Yes, yes it is, but that’s not their fault. I totally understand why they sign up for the job (although not to the point that it makes sense to stay working with things the way they are) but I do get it. Some of them simply love football, and this is one of the few ways they can get close to the pro field, aside from one or two sideline reporter positions or the rare female grounds person/team staff member. I’m sure most hope to use ‘the exposure’ (their main form of ‘payment’, as their salaries are rarely much above minimum wage) to build a career in the entertainment or modeling fields. There is also the reality that this is the only available end goal for women who have spent their high school and college years working nonstop to be the best, spending huge amounts of time and energy dedicated to this sport only to graduate and have the choice to leave it all behind, coach younger cheerleaders, or try out for an NFL/NBA squad. Every other sport has a professional ‘end goal’, from leagues to the Olympics except for cheerleaders. So because there are no other options in the field they love (Male cheerleaders are even more shit outta luck), they cheer for their team’s football or basketball team. Let me reiterate here that there is no shame in this conversation, no ‘how could you disrespect yourself with those outfits or those routines’. You do YOU girl, and if I ever had a back handspring into a back tuck I might have tried out to be a Cavs dancer too! My issue here is the disparity between what these talented athletes actually gain from these jobs versus what they give up to attempt to reap the few and far between benefits.
The cheerleaders are held to extremely high standards both physically and in their everyday lives, from weigh-ins and grooming costs that come out of their pocket (blowouts, tanning, makeup, gym memberships, the list goes on and on) that make their take from being on the squad go into the negative, to strict rules about their actions away from the team including their social media activity. The teams say that these professional dancers are independent contractors and so they agree to the payment offered, and the team is not required to meet state or federal income requirements since they are independent contractors. If that truly is the case, then why do these franchises get to own these women 24/7, on and off the clock? Why did one woman get fired for an ‘inappropriate’ personal social media post in a bodysuit when that woman’s job is to work in a employer-chosen revealing uniform? How are they getting told they can’t wear sweatpants or any other casual clothing in public at any time while working for their teams? Why is their time demanded of them for practices, appearances, games, and more like a full time job when they are being paid like indentured servants, and why oh why hasn’t anyone thought to remedy this disparity? The pay, as I’ve already mentioned, is hilariously low, especially when compared to the players feet away from them on the field or the court. You could claim that the men work more often and in a more potentially physically damaging way, that their fame makes them worth more, that the whole shebang is about the players and the game, and I would agree with that to some degree. What I would not say is that players’ worth at that game is (fairly judged in most situations, in my opinion) to be $1.9-$5.15 million dollars on average, while a cheerleader makes around $1,250 A YEAR. Are these women worth 1,520-4,120% LESS than the players? With all of the appearances, calendars, cheering at games, and more, they are CERTAINLY bringing in millions of dollars for their franchises. Admittedly, they’re probably not bringing in as much as the players do, but it CANNOT be 4,000% less! Hell, the waterfolx make $53,000 a year, and mascots earn an average of $60,000 and they don’t even have to keep flawless manicures and spray tans at all times! So come on – WHAT IS HAPPENING HERE?!
“But we would do this for free!” some cheerleaders say, and too them I reply BUT WHY WOULD YOU?! WHY IS THAT EVEN WITHIN THE REALM OF CONVERSATION? You are a professional, in amazing shape at the top of your game, bringing in major money for a huge, profitable company. Is there any situation that better lays bare the tendency of women to allow themselves to be underpaid and undervalued more than this? Is there anything more indicative of the existence of the patriarchy within sports than the teams paying the talented male athletes MILLIONS of dollars to do what they do best, yet demanding perfect specimens of female athletes to shake and shimmy for the enjoyment of their customer base FOR FREE?!
Some of these women have stood up to the NFL by attempting to form unions, talking to the press, and filing class action lawsuits. The reaction? At best, some teams have reluctantly agreed to raise the pay of their cheerleaders to MINIMUM WAGE, or have been forced to pay settlements to the squads. At worst? Working operations within the cheerleaders’ ranks become even more rigid and intolerable, suspended operations of the squads entirely for a period of time, and nasty backlash from their fellow dancers’ ranks aimed at those that spoke out, saying they betrayed the “sisterhood”.
These sports are a boys’ club, in which these women serve as little more than indentured servants. As a musician and a writer, I won’t work “for exposure” (read: for free), and I don’t think anyone else should either – least of all these badass specimens who deal with the leering of often-drunk sports fans on a weekly basis. This all needs to CHANGE, and in my opinion these women need to walk the hell out until they are getting PAID. After all, as a wise woman once said, “Ain’t no shame, ladies, do your thing, just make sure you’re ahead of the game” – and in this case, the game is way ahead of these women. Of all women.
Your move, ladies. Let the NBA and NFL know.