By Mirna Rodriguez
The football stadium is deafening. It is a mixture of passionate screaming and songs melting together. In the midst of all this, keeping the pep alive, are the cheerleaders. Clothed in sparkling costumes and tossing impeccable show hair, they are a single unit, acting as one: dancing, smiling, enduring. They are on top of the world, inspiring countless little girls. With all the lights and glamour, it’s hard to imagine that the beautiful costumes, the iconic pompoms and all the hard work often add up to a paycheck lower than the wages of someone working at McDonald’s.
The reality is that the women who labor tirelessly to keep the game lively are at the bottom of the NFL hierarchy—they’re often paid less than minimum wage. It is a disheartening truth that finally came to light in 2014, when ex-Oakland Raiders cheerleader Lacy T. broke the silence on the outrageous treatment of NFL cheerleaders.
Lacy filed a lawsuit against the team, claiming to have been paid less than four dollars an hour. Her actions began a string of lawsuits by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Cincinnati Bengals and New York Jets cheerleaders. All said they were being paid far less than minimum wage.
For years, NFL teams have categorized cheerleaders as “independent contractors” rather than employees—a loophole that released teams from the responsibility to pay cheerleaders fairly. But recently in California, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill requiring football teams to pay their cheerleaders the minimum wage. The bill was the first in the nation to seek to amend the NFL’s wrongs. So far, no other state has adopted a similar measure.
NFL teams themselves still have to own up to their actions and change their policies, rather than simply settling lawsuits. These settlements do not make up for the exploitation of cheerleaders, nor do they constitute a victory. They are merely an attempt to silence the outcry, and it’s outrageous. It appears that the amount of hard work does not equal an appropriate paycheck in the NFL. Annually, cheerleaders bring the NFL an average of a million dollars through promotions and photoshoots. They deserve their fair share.