The smiles, the glamor – the exciting lives most women can only dream of. Beneath the glamorous life in the public eye, however, not all is wine and roses. In fact, there is much more to NFL cheerleaders and their secret lives than most people would suspect.
Their contributions to the NFL teams they represent can be measured in more than visual excitement. They can be measured more precisely in dollars and cents. One source estimates that the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders, the most famous of the lot, bring in an estimated one million dollars for their team each year. Cheerleaders for most NFL teams earn not just money for their teams, but goodwill; for the appearances they make at charity events and in posing for calendars.
Their efforts help make the National Football League an unqualified financial success. Time Magazine reported two years ago that the Oakland Raiders organization was valued at $825 million, with a yearly take of $229 million. As a whole, the tax-exempt NFL takes in some $9 billion each year.
In spite of their efforts, most NFL cheerleaders see very little of that wealth returned in the form of monetary compensation. For one thing, they work not as employees of their teams, but as free agents. As such, they are not subject to earn minimum wage. In fact, most do not. That, however, is just scratching the surface of the secret lives of NFL cheerleaders.
There are three lawsuits currently filed against NFL teams by cheerleaders on their squads. The Oakland Raiders, Cincinnati Bengals and Buffalo Bills organizations are all heading for court. While the accusations vary, most have to do with financial concerns. The lawsuits cite contracts that do not guarantee minimum wage and workers who are greatly underpaid. They also claim cheerleaders are not reimbursed for equipment they are required to purchase, practices they have to attend and community appearances they are obligated to make. The suits go on to list the exacting hair, makeup, dress code and physical fitness standards that must be followed.
Alexa Brenneman, a former cheerleader for the Cincinnati Bengals told Time she had earned about $90 for each game and worked 10 games during the season. She also earned $75 for an appearance on behalf of the team. Alexa said, however, that counting practices and other events, she had worked more than 300 hours that year, but was paid just $855 – about $2.85 per hour.
The humiliation can go beyond just poor pay; take the Buffalo Jills, the cheerleading squad of the Buffalo Bills. Women there complained of being subjected to a “jiggle test.” That is, they were required to do various calisthenics such as jumping jacks, while their supervisors stood by with clipboards, watching for any body part that jiggled when it should not. They were also subjected to other rigorous physical requirements and issued a rulebook that instructed them on the washing of “intimate areas” and how to properly insert a tampon.
Some team officials have been quoted saying that, if current cheerleaders do not like the wages or requirements, there are others who would gladly take their places. Considering the present situation, however, that thought seems little compensation for NFL cheerleaders and the secret lives they are forced to live.
Commentary by B. David Warner