It takes a lot of courage and poise to stand before those huge football crowds and keep cheering for an inevitably disappointing team, doesn’t it, cheerleaders?
But now, maybe it’s time for some of that cheering, the call to fight-fight-fight and win, to focus on you.
Because the way that the NFL treats cheerleaders, uses them, profits off them, controls them, underpays them and — it’s been reported this week — pimps them out isn’t something of this era or this world.
The latest outrage is beyond the insulting $75-a-game salary these women make. It goes past the hundreds of appearances — including scantily-clad carwashes and private yacht parties — the cheerleaders are expected to attend without getting paid. It’s even more insulting than the $50-a-piece autographed calendar for which they are all required to pose without earning a dime.
Thanks to a New York Times story this week that is part of a series on the NFL cheerleaders, we’re told that when the Redskins’ cheer squad was flown to Costa Rica for a calendar photo shoot in 2013, their passports were collected by a staff member as soon as they arrived, then they were required to pose topless on a beach for a photo shoot, even though the calendars show no nudity.
A gaggle of big-money men — team sponsors and stadium box-holders — was invited to the resort to watch, the paper reported. Then the oglers reportedly handpicked cheerleaders to escort them to a nightclub.
Some of the women said they cried. Some left the squad after that. Most said they just went along for fear of being kicked off if they didn’t go along with the show.
The longtime director and choreographer for the Redskins’ cheerleaders disputed the account presented in the article.
That the NFL would be accused of mistreating cheerleaders is no secret. Cheerleaders from the 49ers, Saints, Jets, Bills, Bengals and Buccaneers — and others — have filed lawsuits alleging mistreatment, wage inequities and discrimination.
Some of those inequities were highlighted this year when New Orleans Saints cheerleader Bailey Davis filed a gender discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission after she was fired in January.
The complaint showed the suffocating edicts of the cheerleader rule book. She was not allowed to publicly identify herself as an NFL cheerleader on social media or in any other way. She couldn’t put it on her résumé, even when she worked as a dance instructor. She wasn’t allowed to wear any Saints gear on her days off.
You think the players have the same rule book?
The cheerleaders were told they can’t socialize with players. If players contacted them on social media, the women were told to block them. If a cheerleader came to a restaurant, party or bar where a Saints player already was, it was on her to get out. They are treated as body parts, not people.
In 2014, Oakland Raiders cheerleaders spoke about wage theft in a class-action lawsuit claiming they’d been paid less than $5 an hour. They won $1.25 million in a settlement.
Cheerleaders for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers also sued, estimating their pay at $2 an hour. The Bucs settled for $825,000.
Most cheerleaders earn little more than $1,000 a season. Some just get game tickets and parking.
Minimum pay for an NFL player: $465,000 for a first-year player, according to Forbes.
And yes, it’s easy to dismiss all of this because the women are grown-ups, not victims. They chose to take the job; they’re not hard-luck cases who have to dance to feed their kids.
But here’s the thing. They are role models.
The sport of cheerleading has undergone some major transitions in American culture. Remember those wholesome photos of cheerleader President George W. Bush with his Yale megaphone? Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan and Franklin Delano Roosevelt were also cheerleaders in the
co-ed days. So was former senator Trent Lott (R-Miss). And Samuel Jackson and Jimmy Stewart.
Then it became female-dominated, and sexualized. In most high schools, the female cheerleaders had to bake for the football players and decorate both their lockers and even their bedrooms on game days. Cheering for professional sports teams meant more glamour, fewer clothes.
But in many high schools, cheer has changed again. Cheerleading embraces the athleticism and craft of the sport, becoming more stand-alone tumbling and gymnastics than a lesson in home-ec servitude and short skirts.
If high schools can get it right, why can’t the NFL? The Redskins recruit girls from a very young age — their junior cheer program charges girls between 5 and 17 years old hundreds of dollars to take part in their clinics for a chance to cheer in front of a crowd.
Does the NFL really want to send the message to young girls — and their parents — that all their hard work will add up to being paid pennies and reportedly getting pimped out?
There are women in other professions that traditionally exploit them who have found a way to take control. Stormy Daniels is among the adult film female directors who have dominated an industry known for taking advantage of women. She’s a shrewd and powerful business executive who sets her own terms and contracts to make sure she is paid well.
Heck, even one of the first American women to be widely fetishized for her looks and actions — May Irwin, the star of Thomas Edison’s scandalous film “The Kiss” — used her power to negotiate lucrative theater contracts and a 30-year career.
From tire plant worker Lillie Ledbetter to union organizer Rev. Addie Wyatt, women have risked livelihoods and even lives for respect and equal pay.
Even the bunnies at the Playboy Club in Detroit fought for benefits and salaries in 1964.
Now it’s time for the cheerleaders to finally cheer — and fight — for themselves. And, eventually, that means they are also fighting for the young women who follow them.
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