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Here’s the Ugly Truth About How the NFL Treats its Cheerleaders

Here’s the Ugly Truth About How the NFL Treats its Cheerleaders

For some little girls, professionally cheering for their favorite team is a dream. There’s even been a reality TV show about girls looking to make the Dallas Cowboys cheer team.

Yet, some cheerleaders are taking their hurrahs straight to the legal courts. In 2014 alone, professional cheerleaders from some of America’s most beloved NFL teams have filed five different lawsuits.

In light of the recent UCSB shooting where Elliot Roger wanted to shoot the beautiful women that had never given him a chance, I say we should listen to what some of these glorified beautiful women have to put up with.

Booing Cheerleaders

First, the lawsuits are not a regional thing. As reported in Mother Jones, cheerleaders from the Oakland Raiders, the Cincinnati Bengals, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the New York Jets have all brought up lawsuits.

Here are a few of the problems that some professional cheerleaders reportedly faced:

Money problems: While the job looks glamorous, the pay isn’t so much. The cheerleaders can work as long as 9-hour days with next to nothing pay, sometimes as low as $90 on game day.

The cheerleaders aren’t paid for practices. Even though practice is the heart of the sport and profession, some high-profile teams don’t pay at all. Yet, the cheerleaders are expected to commit between six and 15 hours each week. It’s not just unpaid practices. Between the unpaid games, practices and charity events, the women can expect to work up to 20 hours gratis.

Objectification in the flesh: Recalling infuriating images and language of slavery, one team has the women (dressed in skimpy bikinis) dunked into a body of water. If that wasn’t bad enough, they are then “auctioned off” to “ride around in a golf cart for the rest of the event with the winning bidder” as sexy trophies. And then it gets worse. Considering the small size of golf carts, the cheerleaders usually end up sitting on the bidders’ lap; it’s a cringing display of patriarchy, objectification and sexism.

A beautiful body is non-negotiable, and some teams go to extremes to ensure that their girls are in tip-top shape. This has very little to do with health; it’s more for aesthetic purposes. The players aren’t the only ones who can be benched; an overweight cheerleader can be benched, incur penalties or, worse, let go.

Other teams have “jiggle tests,” where the girls’ bodies are inspected for unpleasing jiggle while they perform jumping jacks. As reported in Mother Jones, one team also tells its cheerleaders to, “Never eat in uniform unless arrangements have been made in advance.” The kicker is that they can’t say that they can’t eat, they just have to politely decline the food. I suppose beautiful women eating would make them look too human; plus, men ogling them don’t want to think about what happens to the food after it’s been digested.

There’s no nice way to put it. Yes, it is a woman’s responsibility and choice to participate. But think about it — considering the already low pay and the competitiveness to participate in the team, do the women really have a choice?

The Sports Industry Is Full of -Isms

While current events have sexism in the forefront of our memory, sports have a long way to go, period. There’s a history of racism that is evident in things like American Indian mascots and logos. There’s heterosexism, too. While it’s great that more gay players are coming out, the media frenzy each time it happens makes it clear that it’s still not fully accepted.

There’s classism in terms of who actually gets to participate in teams to who gets to frequent sporting events; those tickets aren’t cheap. And there’s speciesism underlying everything, from some actual “sports” like hunting to the food served at events and the materials of the equipment.

Why Does it Matter?

Some might like to blow off the complaints as “just sports,” or “just part of the game,” but it’s more than that. As Jan Boxill, from University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, writes, sports are like our moral compass. Sure, they’re aspirational and heroic quests. Yet, they’re also exaggerated “microcosm[s] of society” and an active reflection of our society’s values, [in]tolerances and order.

It’s not just a game, or about the love of the game. We created the sports, and we created the consequences that they actively reflect. One good thing that the whole Donald Sterling racist (and sexist) debacle showed us is: if you don’t like what you see, then demand a change.

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Photo Credit: Matthew Straubmuller

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133 comments

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7:44PM PDT on Oct 11, 2014

I agree that cheerleading is based heavily on the woman being a sexual object, but how about the author writes more on specifics and ditches the "some teams..."

7:13PM PDT on Oct 11, 2014

It may be, as Deborah W., said, that "PERSONAL FREE CHOICE IS STILL ALLOWED," but just what the girls/women may be getting into is something of which they may not be aware, at first, and then it can be harder to get out.
At bottom, i believe, cheer leading is a lot about "tits and ass."

5:14AM PDT on Aug 27, 2014

Why in the world would anyone want to be a cheerleader?? Low or no pay, seen as a sex object, etc. etc. etc...

3:56PM PDT on Jul 19, 2014

I hope they win their lawsuits as well. Football is a patriarchal sport, however, and players get away with sexual harassment as well as rape. Too bad that the girls attracted to this didn't realize that there are better things in life to aspire to than eye candy and a rape reward. I can't stand male sports that continues to promote the female of species as a sex object. Sports hasn't come far from Olympic times in Greece when male athletes were awarded with wealth, general slaves and sex slaves. The only difference is the face on the money and law processes that protect the guilty. Our culture still tries to limit women as second class citizens or less.

10:06AM PDT on Jun 14, 2014

I do not believe that the women who think they want to be professional cheer leaders really understand what will be expected of them, or the disrespectful treatment they will be subject to, and they have every right to sue and I hope they put the whole team owners out of business. And if the players themselve don't have the decency to refuse to treat these women that way, I hope they lose everything too.

2:58AM PDT on Jun 13, 2014

Women choose to go into this degrading profession so personally I say let them and they have no right to sue! I also find the NFL a totally disgusting organization on too many fronts to enumerate in this space. Minneapolis just snagged a Super Bowl and I was blown out of the water the things the NFL DEMANDS from host cities. I would be completely happy if the people woke up and said NO to supporting these greedy BILLIONAIRES in the quest for new stadiums, game day concessions and such. I hate seeing my tax dollars spent on sports. If the Zigy Wilfs of the world want to own teams, have palaces dedicated to their sport I say "put your money where your mouth is!"

1:21PM PDT on Jun 12, 2014

They might actually have to pay their million dollar useless players a tad less if they paid a cheerleader a fair wage. But then again, the NFL is all about objectifying women. That is their only goal of the cheerleader. The teams and owners have proven in their treatment of them that they are not "worthy" of anything more. The teams have them there to be money makers and entertainers especially if their team is losing. Personally, I would like to see the end of the cheerleader era for all pro sports.

6:08PM PDT on Jun 9, 2014

With all the big bucks involved with the NFL, they require UNPAID practices from the cheerleaders? And how cheap can they get with the gameday pay? People are getting filthy rich from the NFL, then they just throw a few (very few) bucks to the cheerleaders. I hope they win all the lawsuits.

6:01PM PDT on Jun 9, 2014

Alan L, how do you know she wouldn't have wanted to go out with you? "Nice" trumps being the male equivalent of an NFL cheerleader any day. You respected her for her intelligence and wit, that counts for a lot.

5:23PM PDT on Jun 9, 2014

pretty bad stuff, but the whole excessive interest and over-indulgence in glorifying athletics in this country is sickening in and of itself...

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