Well, yesterday I quit the NFL. I hope for good.
But I will nonetheless continue to follow the Billionaire Boys Club and their efforts to convince advertisers and fans that football really is superior to, say, cage boxing and ultimate fighting.
One of those elements of superiority that the NFL will be able to point to, of course, is the existence of cheerleaders to root their heroes on. I’m actually guessing here, but my guess is that cage boxing and ultimate fighting don’t have young women on the sidelines working the pompoms.
But most teams in the NFL do.
It should come as no surprise to careful Pink Slippers that being a cheerleader was never high on my list o’ things to do.
My one foray into this activity occurred in 4th or 5th grade when, with my pals Susan and Bernadette, we decided that we were going to cheer on one of the local Little League teams – lucky them – the one, of course, that had the boys we had crushes on. Or was it a collective crush on one boy? I’ve forgotten the full details, but I believe the team was Abdow Scrap Iron, and the colors of the crepe paper swishies we made were navy and white. Other girls in our class were going to do the honors for National Standard. (Red and white crepe paper swishies.)
We practiced a few times, and showed up for a game and cheered for an inning or so.
I’m sure we were dreadful; I know I was embarrassed.
I was probably out a quarter for the crepe paper for the swishies, but lesson learned: I was not cut out to be a cheerleader.
When I was in college, I girl in my class was a cheerleader for the Patriots. This was before cheerleaders were required to be leggy, toothy, and big-hair-y. My classmate was a perfectly pleasant looking girl, but most of what she had going for her was her pep and enthusiasm.
At our all-women’s college, there was little outlet for either, so she went off to cheer for the Pats.
We weren’t friends, and I have no idea how long she kept it up for.
Perky, peppy Peggy would probably not make any of the professional football cheerleading squads these days. Just not the type. And I like to think that she’d be too smart to put in a 20+ hour workweek, for which she got paid little or nothing, for a professional sports team raking in millions of dollars a year.
I’ll have to guess what would motivate someone to become a cheerleader for a professional football team.
I’m guessing that they’re dancers and/or fitness instructors and, even if they get paid zilch or near-zilch to shake boobs and booty, they do it for the exercise or the fun or the camaraderie. Or to use in promotional materials for their dance studios or fitness centers.
I’m guessing that some dream of meeting the man of their dreams. First choice, a high-paid glamor boy like Tom Brady. Second choice, a billionaire owner seeking a trophy wife. Third choice, someone on the practice squad. Fourth choice, a creepy old season’s ticket holder.
Maybe they just like football.
Or, maybe, in the words of Buffalo restaurateur Russell Salvatore, who at one point sponsored the Buffalo Bills cheering squad, the Buffalo Jills:
“They did it from the good of their heart.” (Source: Businsessweek.com)
While Salvatore (of Russell’s Steak, Chops & More fame) backed the Jills, the cheerleaders didn’t get paid. (“They never asked me for pay.”) There were, however, some side benefits. Sort of.
He did write them a song, set to the tune of Volare, to use when they took the field. (“Go Jills, go Buffalo, go Jills, we love you so / You make the game day so bright / Your cheers are sure dynamite.”) The cheerleaders opted not to use it.
While sometimes they’ve earned a little coin, for the most part, Jills just don’t get paid. They sign a contract stating that they’ll show up for practices, games, and mandatory appearances at charity events and the like. And, when there was no sponsor around to back them, they had to pay for their own uniforms. (Other sponsors over the years include the Mighty Taco, which paid the cheerleaders nothing for practice of games, but did fork over “$25 an hour for off-field appearances—only after a cheerleader made 16 unpaid appearances each year.”)
After a year as a volunteer, one Jill, Caitlin Ferrari, decided she’d had enough. Then, after a couple of years of thinking about it, she:
…filed a class action against the Bills for wage theft.
She has company. Other Jills are also heading to court. As are cheerleaders from the Oakland Raiders, Cincinnati Bengals New York Jets, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
In all, 13 current and former NFL cheerleaders in five cities have filed pay cases. In every one, the cheerleaders are claiming that teams violated minimum wage laws.
As the plaintiffs pile on, fans are learning that the most powerful sports league in the U.S., with $9.7 billion in annual revenue, pays its sideline performers worse than the average birthday clown or barista.
The NFL says its up to the teams, and earlier this month, the Raiders tentatively settled, agreeing “to pay $1.25 million in lost wages to cheerleaders who worked for the team over the last four seasons.”
Historically, the Jills seem to have had the least to cheer about when it came to how they were treated.
Among other things, they had to buy 50 team swimsuit calendars. Plus:
Jills also bought and sold tickets—four per cheerleader at $125 each—to an annual golf fundraiser for the squad where, according to the group suit, they sat in dunk tanks, auctioned themselves off to ride on men’s laps in golf carts, and did gymnastic “flips for tips” that were kept by their employers [whatever group was sponsoring them].
The Bills, having outsourced their cheerleading services to team sponsors, knows nothing, etc..
“The Bills organization retains a number of third party vendors to provide ancillary services on game days. These services include, among others, parking services, concessionaire services and cheerleading services.… We are aware of public statements and allegations that have surfaced since the start of the recent litigation which attempt to give the impression that our organization employs cheerleaders. Such statements are inaccurate and misleading.”
While all this is being resolved, the Bills are Jill-less.
The NFL teams can, of course, well afford to pay their cheerleaders at least minimum wage for their services. (Which, in Atlanta this year include visits to the boxes of well-healed season’s ticket holders. Old goat duty must be really fun!) But once you’ve done something for free, it’s kind of hard to go back and cry foul. These weren’t kids or illegal immigrants being exploited. They’re grown women who, if they didn’t know what they were getting into Season One, sure had an inkling by Season Two.
So why go back for more?
Personally, I believe that cheerleaders should get paid. Just like hot dog vendors, parking lot attendants, and ticket-takers do. It’s completely disgusting that, given the wealth of the league and its constituent teams, that they are paid nothing, or a pittance, especially when you add up all those extra-added requirements (e.g., sitting in the lap of the creep in the golf cart).
But if someone’s willing to do this for little or nothing, well…
Is the word “ninny” still in use?
Anyway, the bottom line with the NFL is always the bottom line. But you’d think given all the bad news about treatment of women that has been showing up of late, exploiting the women who dance around and prance around for the fans wouldn’t be an issue they’d want to add into the mix.