Football is the most-watched sport in the US, but many fans are oblivious to the insanely sexist rules NFL cheerleaders have to follow. While these cheerleaders appear on the sidelines and on TV during every football game, none of them are as universally known as the likes of Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers. And so, the stories of the demeaning and illegal conditions the cheerleaders endure remain fairly unreported. More damning than just stories of these sexist mandates is the fact that many NFL cheerleading teams' handbooks have been made public, giving specific insight to ways in which the cheerleaders are expected to behave and appear. Of course, the NFL has been on the wrong side of media reports on more than one occasion, as there have been many stories on the dark side of the Super Bowl, including reported spikes in DUIs, drug use, and prostitution.
While some of the cheerleaders may have a front row seat to the most exiting football games known to man and the greatest Super Bowl shows of all time, it isn’t enough to compensate for the humiliating and sexist ways in which they are treated.
In 2013, the Washington Redskins required their cheerleaders to take a trip to Costa Rica purportedly for a photo shoot. As soon as the cheerleaders arrived, officials collected their passports, making it effectively impossible for the cheerleaders to leave on their own accord. They were then told they had to participate in a 14-hour calendar photo shoot that included mandatory nudity. Male representatives from various Redskins sponsors were allowed to view the shoot up close.
After the shoot, officials gave nine of the cheerleaders a "special assignment." They were essentially forced to act as escorts to a nightclub for several of the male sponsors. Despite the fact several of the chosen women began crying, they were forced to go through with the task for the sake of keeping their job. While the cheerleaders were not forced to have sex, they all felt incredibly disrespected and uncomfortable with the situation.
The reason many lawsuits are brought against specific franchises is because the cheerleaders make so little that it is illegal. In some reported cases, cheerleaders make as little as $5 per hour. Teams have seemingly gotten away with his practice by paying cheerleaders per event. Cheerleaders will make somewhere between $90 - $125 for appearing at a football game. Cheerleaders will also make money for paid events, though they are required to also attend charity events for which they aren’t compensated.
On top of that, cheerleaders are often fined for sexist reasons. One team installed "2 Piece Tuesdays," during which all cheerleaders must show their belly button at Tuesday practices. The handbook explains:
“You must wear a 2 piece outfit consisting of a sports bra-type top and shorts. The top must fit like a sports bra to reveal the body from under the bust line and form-fitting shorts (not jazz pants rolled up, basketball shorts, cutoff sweats or colored tights under the shorts) worn to reveal your belly button. Failure to do so results in a $10 fine.”
With the abysmal base pay and the additional fines, cheerleaders can walk away with just a $1,250 check for the entire season. In comparison, mascots make somewhere between $25,000 and $60,000 per year. When also considering there are estimates that cheerleaders bring in as much as $1 million in profit for their teams, it’s clear that cheerleaders are getting a raw deal.
The lawsuit brought by the Buffalo Jills detailed a specific golf tournament that was pretty problematic. At the Jills Annual Golf Tournament, certain cheerleaders were required to wear bikinis and sit in a dunk tank, where participants could then dunk them. Other cheerleaders were auctioned off to the highest bidder, at which point they had to escort the winner around. Cheerleaders reported that the auction winners said sexual comments and touched them inappropriately. Cheerleaders were also forced to sit on the laps of golfers, as there was not enough room in the golf carts.
While this may have been a one-time event that was mishandled, it goes to show much demeaning and sexist behavior with which cheerleaders had to put up.
All of the cheerleading teams seem to dictate that the cheerleaders's bodies look a certain way, but all teams have different ways of measuring this. The Buffalo Jills method of making sure their cheerleaders had the ideal body type included subjecting cheerleaders to weekly "jiggle tests." During these “physique evaluations,” cheerleaders did jumping jacks while coaches judged their stomachs, butts, and limbs based on how much they jiggled. This jiggle test would determine whether each cheerleader was fit enough to appear at the upcoming football game. Cheerleaders who were deemed too jiggly failed the jiggle test and were benched for the game, suspended, and even dismissed.