Imagine taking home less in a year than many people take home in a month (and that’s with one minimum wage job), all while you’re committed to your job pretty much 24/7, between practice, working out, travel, public appearances and more. If you’re an Oakland Raiderette, you don’t have to imagine it: the cheerleaders for the Oakland Raiders are experiencing just that, which is why they’re taking to court with a suit to demand some reparations and fair compensation.
According to plaintiff Lacy T. (under team policies, cheerleaders don’t use their last names for security reasons), the team withholds cheerleading paychecks — which clock in at a gobstopping $1,250 per year — until the end of the season, doesn’t pay team members for all of their worked hours, and forces them to absorb many of their cheer-related expenses. Cheerleading uniforms as well as warm-up gear, alternate gear, pom-poms, and other supplies are extremely expensive (and cheerleaders can be fined for having the wrong gear at public appearances), and these costs rack up quickly.
“…someone has to stand up for all of the women of the NFL who work so hard for the fans and the teams,” says Lacy, who loves cheering for the team, enjoys the NFL, and is clearly passionate about her job. Like many other people who have been rising up in recent years to protest unfair working conditions, however, she understands the difference between being passionate about her job and sacrificing everything for it. She believes that the women who cheer NFL teams should receive fair pay and treatment, and it’s not an unreasonable request.
After all, they’re performing needed work — sports teams perform better with a cheering section, and many fans appreciate cheerleaders as well. Cheerleading is also a demanding physical sport that requires immense physical strength, constant physical conditioning and considerable investment in appearance (the team, Lucy notes, controls hair and makeup, forcing the women to spend even more money to get the mandatory look for members of the cheerleading squad).
Furthermore, the teams they’re cheering for include male athletes making millions of dollars in a combination of contracts and endorsements. In 2013, even the lowest salaries on the Raiders’ roster were in the $400,000 range, with headliner Darren McFadden making almost $6 million. The contrast between the salary given to the cheerleaders under their contracts and the amount received by the athletes is glaring and rather shocking — and that’s not even a bone of contention in the suit, filed in the Alameda County Superior Court.
All Lacy wants is compensation in line with minimum wage requirements, reimbursements for expenses incurred in the course of her work and the overtime pay she’s owed. That said, she is hoping her suit attracts attention and leads other cheerleaders to file suits of their own and join a larger labor fight to improve working conditions for NFL cheerleaders, who are just as dedicated to their jobs as the athletes on the field during the game are, but who receive much less compensation.
“I was totally shocked,” attorney Sharon Vinick, who is handling the case, said. “I had no idea that cheerleaders were paid so poorly, and when she shared the written contract, I was outraged. I had never seen a contract that had so many things that were blatantly illegal.”
The Raiderettes aren’t alone. Low pay and poor working conditions are par for the course in the NFL and other professional leagues — even auditioning to get on a team requires a tremendous financial investment. Can Lacy’s suit change the way compensation for cheerleaders is viewed by the NFL, which insists that cheerleading is a “part time job,” despite the fact that it demands full time dedication?
Photo credit: V Smoothe.