NFL Cheerleaders Deserve Fair Wages Too
Originally published on Slant.
This weekend, millions of people will prep their pregame snacks, don their lucky jerseys, and gather to cheer on their favorite teams as the NFL enters Week 2 of the regular season.
While many fans want to just focus on the game, it's difficult to ignore the numerous distractions occurring off the field. Commissioner Roger Goodell has a hearty serving of scandal on his plate in recent years: several domestic abuse cases, a team whose name is an ethnic slur, a questionable record of player safety when it comes to head trauma, and, lest we forget, Deflategate.
But one issue that hasn't received nearly enough attention has nothing to do with the players. It has do with a group of women who work hard, bring in revenue for their teams, and rarely, if ever, get the fair treatment, wages and respect that they deserve.
We're talking about NFL cheerleaders.
It's no secret that the NFL is swimming in cash. The value of all 32 franchises in the league totals $63 billion, with even the least valuable franchise, the St. Louis Rams, being worth $900 million. The league's commissioner, makes at least $44.2 million, the most recent salary figure that's publicly available. And with millions of more dollars rolling in via sponsorships and TV deals, the NFL, an organization that has been operating tax-free for most of its history, has cemented itself as a bonafide money-making machine.
And while we regularly see blockbuster deals for players and massive stadiums receiving taxpayer assistance, cheerleaders are often paid less than minimum wage and work without most of the basic protections American workers have come to take for granted.
On the heels of several lawsuits brought upon by cheerleaders against their respective teams, lawmakers are beginning to step up and demand that the NFL guarantee fair treatment for cheerleaders.
Nily Rozic, a New York State Assemblywoman, is championing the issue, not just to help cheerleaders, but to make a larger point about women in the workforce.
"This is an issue that is all about economic and social equity for women," said Rozic. "Anyone who supports wages for cheerleaders and employee benefits for cheerleaders also supports economic justice and social equality."
At the core of this issue, Rozic explains, is the concept of misclassification. The reason that cheerleaders can be exploited is that they are classified as independent contractors, and not as employees. Thus, they aren't entitled to the rights and benefits that many of us take for granted when we go to work.
Many cheerleaders work hundreds of hours just to make less than $1000 per season. They're required to attend promotional events, show up to 8 home games and 2 preseason games, and potentially playoff games. Cheerleaders have reported having their weight monitored, their menstrual cycles tracked, and deductions taken from their measly pay for minor infractions like forgetting to bring pom poms to practice.
Meanwhile, cheerleaders are rarely compensated for their travel expenses, and many have to purchase their own uniforms. Cheerleaders often don't receive basic workers' rights, like meal breaks, paid sick leave or workers' compensation.
An average practice squad player in the NFL, someone who will most likely never see actual playing time, makes about $100,000 per season. An NFL mascot makes somewhere between $23,000 and $65,000 per year. That cheerleaders are paid so much less is not only unfair, but it's extremely insulting.
What might be most upsetting, however, is that the NFL could easily solve this problem. Paying cheerleaders even minimum wage would be a drop in the bucket when it comes to NFL franchises' operating budgets.
For example, considering New York's minimum wage, it would cost the Buffalo Bills $235,000 annually to pay each of its Buffalo Jill cheerleaders minimum wages for 20 hours a week, for 42 weeks a year. That's less than one-thousandth of the Bills estimated annual revenue.
While some may look at cheerleaders as a mere side show to the actual game, cheerleaders are crucially important to their franchises. Cheerleaders are marketed at live events, host dance camps for young fans, and are often featured on merchandise, like calendars, that yield millions of dollars revenue for their teams. Cheerleaders see none of that money.
And while women account for 45% of the NFL's fan base, the league is sending an explicit message by not acting on cheerleader pay equity.
That message? Women don't matter.
The NFL has attempted to put a happy face on its disgusting record of domestic violence, but it seems to be following the league's standard operating procedure of administrative inertia and media silence when it comes to the issue of fairly treating its cheerleaders.
There are some reasons for cheerleaders to be hopeful. Several of the suits have resulted in settlements. This year, Gov. Jerry Brown of California signed into law a bill that designates cheerleaders as employees rather than independent contractors. In addition to legislation, Assemblywoman Rozic, along with a coalition of legislators from eight states, recently a letter to Goodell asking him to do the right thing when it comes to fair treatment for cheerleaders.
"Women shouldn’t have to sue for their rights," said Rozic.
Rather than leading from the front, Roger Goodell and the NFL, yet again, are behind the times and on the wrong side of history.
Cover photo: Getty