Happy Wednesday, everyone!  Hope you had a relaxing long weekend if you celebrated Memorial Day.

So I was really hoping to discuss a more cheery topic this week, but after being set onto this story about the treatment of NFL cheerleaders by a great blog/newsletter I subscribe to called Seth Godin’s blog, I really had to share.

You might have been hearing that sports teams and networks have been vying for female fans.  More cute clothes and gear are available in feminine cuts and colors, and sports teams are marketing in a way that is more friendly to women.  So I was completely shocked by the way that cheerleaders are treated.  Definitely not a good way to get women to support teams – bad business, bad press!

This article describes the claims cheerleaders from several professional teams are bringing against their teams, including being paid below minimum wage, attending time consuming mandatory practice without pay, and being required to attend mandatory events for free.  I highly recommend reading it in full since the details are pretty enraging.

The main story is that cheerleaders from various teams are fighting the treatment they’ve been receiving. One cheerleader, Lacy T. is alleging the Raiders treat cheerleaders unfairly: “Lacy T.’s attorneys filed a lawsuit in Alameda County Superior Court alleging that the Raiders fail to pay their cheerleaders minimum wage for all hours worked, withhold pay until the end of the season, require cheerleaders to cover their own business expenses, don’t provide lunch breaks and impose fines for minor infractions — all of which, according to the suit, constitute violations of the California Labor Code.”

The Raiders cheerleader that filed a lawsuit described the handbook’s rules and the lack of payment for work done for the team.  “All rights to Lacy’s image were surrendered to the Raiders. With fines for everything from forgetting pompoms to gaining weight, the handbook warned that it was entirely possible to “find yourself with no salary at all at the end of the season.””

Several teams’ handbooks for cheerleaders were also leaked displaying the rules cheerleaders have to abide by or risk facing fines or being fired.  It also seems completely insane that they are required to maintain hair and makeup professionally (one manual requires that they never show roots), but that all such expenses are paid by the cheerleaders themselves.

Trips to the salon on your own dime: Being thin and toned is only the tip of the beauty-standard iceberg. Cheerleaders are expected to wear their hair and makeup in very specific ways, but often aren’t reimbursed for the cosmetic products and salon visits it takes to follow the rules. (Check out the Jills beauty and etiquette manual below for specifics.) The Ravens demand that the girls stay tan, keep their nails manicured but not too flashy, and get their hair dyed at least two weeks prior to every game. The Jills buy their own uniforms for $650 apiece, and while in uniform, are required to wear “foundation, blush, three natural eye shadow colors (lid cover, highlighter, definer), eye liner, mascara and red lipstick.””

Surprising that cheerleaders pay for their own uniforms, get fined for getting those pompoms and have to maintain highlights on their own dime - image via
Surprising that cheerleaders pay for their own uniforms, get fined for getting those pompoms and have to maintain highlights on their own dime – image via

The women are also subjected to demeaning treatment like being required not to wear panties under their uniforms, and being weighed once or twice a week in an effort to make sure they “goal weight” is met.  Women can be fired or benched without pay for failing to meet the mandated weight.

The handbooks are written in a condescending level usually used to address naive children, and go well into the womens’ personal lives, for instance by telling women not to use loofahs: “Do not use lufas or sponges.  They hold TONS of germs. Throw them away now!”   They also instruct, ”Wash your hands immediately after blowing your nose.”  Another classic on essential food hygiene instructs the women with some specificity: “Was your feet daily!  This will help control foot odor & keep fungus from developing in toenails.  Cotton socks also help with odor.  Nylons and nylon socks create sweaty feet which creates odor.”  No penalties mentioned for smelly feet!

Seriously, though, am I the only one that finds such a manual not only inappropriately invasive into a woman’s personal life, but also demeaning in that it assumes the women hired don’t know how to properly sneeze, wear a tampon or wash her hands?  Do the male athletes get instructed on sneezing too?  Do they pay for their own uniforms too?  Do they not look “too flashy?”  I think we all know the answer.

I just wonder what it is about sports teams’ management that keeps this kind of treatment of the women they hire going across the board.  If it was just one or two teams, then I would just say it was bad management by old fogeys who haven’t adjusted to the realities of this world.  But what the articles I’ve read and the allegations by cheerleaders from different teams show is that this kind of treatment of women as if they are disposable objects not even worth minimum wage.  Makes me pretty queasy, particularly since teams make it seem like cheerleaders are valued members of the team.

Wonder if that tiger has to weigh in before games... - image via
Wonder if that tiger has to weigh in before games… – image via

I’ve never given much thought to cheerleaders.  I certainly never realized that they spend so much time practicing, the interpersonal skills cheerleaders need to have to talk at charity events, and the dedication it takes to stay on a team.  I hardly think I could gracefully interact with so many strangers, as the handbooks show these women must do.  So, these articles showed me just how much hard work and dedication it takes to make it.  I would have hoped that teams treated them like human beings, not worse than migrant workers in sweatshops.

What do you think?  Am I overreacting, or is this genuinely of concern to you?

Please comment, share your thoughts and let me know what you think. Please help me keep this a positive forum, though. I am so excited for some debate, but let’s respect each other please. I reserve the right to monitor and delete inappropriate posts. Thanks in advance!

Images and gifs via, via and via

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