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.
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.
Photo Credit: Matthew Straubmuller