Just pay the freakin cheerleaders

When I Googled “NFL cheerleaders” for this article, the first two hits that show up:
“The 15 best cheerleading squads in the NFL” from the Washington Times
and “The 10 Hottest NFL Cheerleaders This Season” from Men’s Fitness.

Now, because I’m committed to serious journalism, I was going to read both of the articles to see if either mentioned the conditions NFL cheerleaders work under and what they happen to be paid. I clicked the Washington Post article, only to find that “best” doesn’t mean the one with the most fit girls (I was hoping for a Crossfit-style competition for pro cheerleaders) nor the most talented dancers. Nope. The article was actually just a photo gallery. The byline? “See the NFL’s best-looking cheerleading squads.”

I’m not here to debate the merits of objectifying the women who the NFL pays a pittance (or in some cases, nothing at all) to shake it on the sidelines at home games. Instead, I’d like to know how the NFL season has just started up again, yet it’s not on anyone’s radar that several NFL cheerleaders have recently filed lawsuits against their teams for failing to pay them minimum wage and for less than acceptable working conditions.

NFL cheerleaders are subject to more bullshit than you would expect from a group of such hot girls, who are only getting paid $1000-$2000 at the end of each season. The cheerleaders must attend required practices, photo shoots, fan signings, and nine+ hour shifts at home games. Then there’s the salon visits, makeup, and tanning-all coming out of their own pockets. Not to mention the rights to their images surrendered to the team, fines for anything and everything from getting Sharpie on your uniform to gaining weight, the forced faux-sisterhood and the constant threat that “a million girls would love to be in your position.”

My issue lies with the NFL itself (just like everyone else). It’s a money-printing business; according to Forbes, the average NFL team is worth $1.43 billion. If each team has 40 cheerleaders and let’s just be generous and say 5 people (coaches, choreographers) on staff, and you pay each of them $20,000 a year, that’s $900,000. Less than a million. That’s less than 0.01% of the total valuation of each team. That can’t even be a blip on the radar. $20,000 is about ten times as much as NFL cheerleaders currently make on average (those that do get paid), enough to make it a legitimate part-time job.

The pageantry of the NFL – the lights, the music, the glitz, the fireworks – is part of NFL experience and why it’s such a booming business. It’s worth the price of admission (plus parking, concessions, merch, etc.) to feel like you belong to something. The cheerleaders help to make this experience. They are ever-smiling, bouncing, all big hair and bright white teeth. They have the ability to make 50,000 fans feel like they are at their high school’s football game, and it shouldn’t take legal action for them to be compensated appropriately.

I know that compared to head injuries, inane suspensions, and unfulfilled promises to get “tough” on domestic violence, it feels ridiculous and unnecessary to advocate for NFL cheerleaders’ rights. But, in a corrupt league dominated by men that is led by one who has proven to be wildly inept, doesn’t it seem like the time for someone to start paying attention to the women?


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