NFL cheerleaders rebelling [Commentary]

Women dance for almost nothing, suits say

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NFL cheerleaders file lawsuit over low pay, humiliating rules

If you'd told me that a woman would be favored to win the White House and we would still have NFL cheerleaders, I'd have laughed at you.

I'd have told you that there was no way the country would be ready for a woman president in my lifetime, but surely the nation's school-boy obsession with grown women leading cheers while wearing not much of anything would eventually be politically incorrect.

And I would have been wrong.

Those NFL cheerleaders may be going the way of go-go boots, but it is not because football fans have lost their appetite for them. The cheerleaders are rebelling.

The New York Jets were the latest to be slapped with a lawsuit when, earlier this month, a member of the so-called Flight Crew accused the team of paying her less than minimum wage for her hours of practice, performance, travel, camps and clinics.

Not only that, Krystal C said in the suit, her out-of-pocket expenses included $45 a week for professional hair-straightening sessions required by the team to preserve the uniform look on the squad.

(Generally, NFL cheerleaders are identified by only a first name or a first name and initial. It is for their own safety, the teams say. What a charming culture.)

This suit follows one filed by members of the Buffalo Jills, which included many of the same complaints about low hourly pay and personal expenses required by the team.

The Jills, which are not officially part of the Bills organization, were immediately disbanded. Job security is clearly not guaranteed for NFL cheerleaders who break ranks.

In February, the U.S. Justice Department ruled against a similar suit filed by the Oakland Raiderettes, calling them "seasonal entertainment" and therefore not subject to federal law. The suit is now headed for arbitration. Cincinnati's Ben-Gals also filed suit.

Cheerleaders earn about $150 a game, but only if they "start." Those on the squad who ride the bench usually don't get paid, although some teams require them to be there for game day anyway, and that can last up to about eight hours.

They are generally paid about $100 for outside appearances, and sometimes they get transportation costs, but not always. They are not only required to appear in swimsuit calendars if the team decides to create one, they can also be asked to sell a quota of the calendars, with all the proceeds going to the team.

The cheerleaders are often told how to wash their hands, apply deodorant, eat and to avoid slang and chewing gum. Some teams also instruct them on feminine hygiene.

In addition, the cheerleaders are generally governed by a morals clause that forbids them from endorsing alcohol products or posing nude, but that doesn't stop the Jills from being required by the outside company that managed them to appear at an "auction" in bathing suits.

The winning buyer would then parade the cheerleader around a golf course in his cart while he played a round with buddies. Really. This happened.

(Historical note: Though the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders are arguably the most famous, the Baltimore Colts cheerleaders might technically have been the first. In 1954, they were members of the Colts Marching Band.)

The Baltimore Ravens re-examined compensation for their cheerleaders a couple of years ago and the team says they are now paid an hourly rate for games, practices and meetings. It is more than minimum wage, but the team would not say how much more. They are also paid $50 an hour and mileage for community appearances and each cheerleader receives a game ticket, practice gear and discounts from Under Armour.

The cheerleader rules have been edited to remove "fair-skinned" from instructions to look tan for game days. The team says it considers spray tans "make-up." In addition, the team just finished shooting its annual cheerleader calendar.

Whatever a young woman's reasons for competing for a spot on a National Football League cheerleading squad — future modeling gigs, movies or television, or a place on George Clooney's arm — that is no substitute for wages.

The suits charge that the women were earning between $3 and $5 an hour, and those paychecks were often reduced further by random fines for tardiness, grooming or uniform infractions.

This from the NFL, which will divvy up about $7 billion in TV revenue alone this season — before any tickets are sold. That's about $200 million a team, according to Forbes magazine.

Yet some of these teams don't pay the young women who are a face of the team on game day and in the community enough to keep them in make-up, manicures and gas money. The guys selling hot dogs probably earn more.

Either cheerleaders are volunteers who do it for fun, or they are a part of the public relations arm of the team and as such should get paid a significant wage.

Only NFL owners would think they were within their rights to have partially clad women dancing in front of them for just about free.

Susan Reimer's column appears on Mondays and Thursdays. She can be reached at sreimer@baltsun.com and @SusanReimer on Twitter.com.

 


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