Over the course of about half a year, Alexa Brenneman put in roughly 300 hours of work. Her compensation? A mere $855 or approximately $2.85 per hour. You might be surprised to learn that Brenneman does not live in some foreign, developing country with low wages. Instead, she was exploited by a multi-billion dollar American industry, the National Football League (NFL). A former NFL cheerleader for the Cincinnati Bengals, Brenneman is now suing her recent employer under the claim that she was paid about $5 less than Ohio’s minimum wage of $7.85. According to SportingNews.com, the Bengals are one of five NFL teams to be sued this year by cheerleaders over their criminally low paychecks. While the recent trend of lawsuits is encouraging, there are still many NFL teams that are getting away with mistreating their cheerleaders. NFL cheerleaders must continue to break through this unsettling tradition and not cease until they get the fair and legal wages they have earned.
Lacy T., whose full name has not been disclosed to the public, is the former Oakland Raider cheerleader who jump-started this fight for fair pay. John Breech of CBS Sports describes that back in January, 2014, Lacy T. filed a lawsuit against the Raiders, claiming that the team only paid its cheerleaders $5 per hour ($3 under the state minimum). The Raiders’ cheerleaders allegedly had to pay for all of their expenses, such as travel and mandated “beautification” processes like fake tans and rigid exercise programs. Additionally, the cheerleaders were required to attend dozens of unpaid practices and various public appearances. As if all of that wasn’t bad enough, the Raiders’ cheerleaders had to wait to receive their measly paychecks until the season was completely over (over 6 months from the start). Lacy T. quickly received support from her fellow NFL cheerleaders who had suffered the same cruel treatment from their wealthy employers. On top of the Oakland Raiders and the Cincinnati Bengals, cheerleaders have also filed lawsuits this year against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, New York Jets, and Buffalo Bills. The number of teams in legal trouble over their unlawful hourly wages for cheerleaders will only increase as the outrage over the issue continues to rise.
While it may seem apparent that cheerleaders deserve to make at least minimum wage, some people feel that NFL cheerleaders do not need to be paid more. They argue that these cheerleaders receive extreme benefits, such as regularly being on television, being semi-famous, receiving ample amounts of attention, and having the chance to interact with and potentially marry famous, wealthy NFL football stars. Furthermore, they claim that NFL cheerleaders should not expect a technically part-time job to cover living expenses.
Frankly, none of these arguments make any sense to me. For starters, while being on television on a somewhat regular basis must be fun, it does not provide cheerleaders with enough money to buy groceries or rent an apartment. Fame is certainly appealing, but in order for it to be fully enjoyed, basic human necessities must be met first. More importantly, while NFL cheerleaders may only be paid for part-time hours, they can only keep their jobs if they treat them like full-time ones. According to the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders website, “perfection is the common goal.” Sarah Thomas of the Huffington Post writes about NFL cheerleaders, “Not only does the time commitment prevent them from holding down a regular job, but the sky-high body and beauty expectations are a constant reminder that they could be dismissed at the slightest jiggle.” Cheerleaders must undergo year-round (and largely unpaid) conditioning that leaves them in unnaturally pristine shape. Between their 24/7 requirement to make their bodies perfect and their dozens of unpaid cheerleading hours, how can NFL teams honestly expect their cheerleaders to pick up other jobs to pay their bills?
According to Forbes.com, the average NFL team is worth $1.17 billion and generates $286 million in revenue per year. NFL players are paid tens of millions of dollars each year and The Guardian reports that even team mascots make a minimum of $23,000 per season. With all of this excess money floating around, NFL teams could easily pay their cheerleaders minimum wage at the very least, but sadly, most do not or at least that’s how it used to be. The recent lawsuits have started enacting changes in NFL cheerleading practices. ESPN reported that in September of 2014, 8 months after the lawsuit was filed, the Oakland Raiders reached a $1.2 million settlement with its current and former cheerleaders, covering unpaid expenses and minimum wages to all Raiders’ cheerleaders who worked from 2010-2013.
This huge success has paved the way for underpaid NFL cheerleaders to go through the courts and receive their deserved wages. Cheerleaders should not be paid less than the hot dog vendor or the person who collects your ticket as you make your way into your favorite team’s stadium on Sunday afternoon. Lacy T., the cheerleader who started this movement, was quoted by The Atlantic as saying, “I love the Raiders… but someone has to stand up for all of the women of the NFL who work so hard for the fans and the teams.” Whether you like the NFL or not, you should stand with Lacy T. and all the other NFL cheerleaders who just want their legal right to a minimum wage. After all, sometimes traditions need to be broken.