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All The Sexist Rules NFL Cheerleaders Have To Follow

Updated August 30, 2021 489.2k votes 77.3k voters 2.4m views16 items

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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.

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    'Slouching Breasts' And Wearing Underwear Are Forbidden

    Photo: Doug Wertman / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 2.0

    Cincinnati Bengals cheerleader Alexa Brenneman filed a class-action lawsuit against the franchise for violating employment laws. Because of the case, the handbook for Ben-Gal Cheerleaders was made public, revealing shockingly specific instructions. One such instruction was, “No panties are to be worn under practice clothes or uniform, not even thong panties.” This rule seems extremely intrusive, and even more so because the athletic benefit of being panty-free remains to be seen.

    While Ben-Gals are instructed to go without underwear, the handbook dictated that bras are a must. It states, “No slouching breasts. Support as needed. Black or nude seamless bra mandatory for games. No lace.” The handbook goes on to dictate that cheerleaders wear pantyhose, but not of the control top variety.

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    The Rulebooks Reminds The Cheerleaders Just How Unimportant They Are, Despite All The Hoops They Have To Jump Through

    Photo: Lance Cpl. Robert C. Medina / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Likely to avoid lawsuits, handbooks remind cheerleaders just how unimportant and expendable they are. This way, cheerleaders will be discouraged from asking for raises, demanding better conditions, or taking legal actions, as they are aware that the franchise doesn’t need them. One handbook reads:

    “Remember, as important as you are to our organization, football is the name of the game. Fans would come to see the games whether or not we had cheerleaders. There are some great teams who do not have cheerleaders, such as the 2010 Champion Green Bay Packers. They are sold out every Sunday. Some teams who previously had cheerleaders do not now have them (Chicago Bears). Because of morality problems with their squads they decided cheerleaders were too much trouble to deal with.”

    What’s odd is that these handbooks ask for endless commitment from the cheerleaders, then also tell the cheerleaders they aren’t important to the franchise.

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    Cheerleaders Are Required To Follow A Strict Dress Code - Even While Off The Field

    Unlike most jobs, cheerleader dress code requirements do not end when the work day is over. Many teams have strict rules regarding how cheerleaders can dress even while off the field. In 2018, a New Orleans Saints cheerleader was terminated for a number of violations, one of which included posting a photo of herself on Instagram wearing a lacy body suit. The outfit was deemed to fall under the classification "nude, semi-nude, or lingerie," forbidden in the cheerleader handbook. This is just one rule regarding how cheerleaders can appear in public and online. Some teams strictly regulate the kinds of piercings and nail polish are appropriate, and wearing sweatpants in public is outright forbidden in some handbooks. 

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    Some Teams Have Twice-A-Week Weigh-Ins For The Cheerleaders

    The Ben-Gals have weigh-ins twice a week and each cheerleader is given a three pound leniency. This means that if a cheerleader’s goal weight is 115 lbs, weighing in at 118 wouldn’t be considered overweight. If a cheerleader does pass the 3 lb leniency, she is required to stay after practice for extra conditioning. She could also be suspended or dismissed.

    However, this obsession with a baseline number can be counterproductive. One Ravens cheerleader recounted that a senior cheerleader came into the season 5 lbs lighter than she normally was. Throughout the season, she gained weight and was benched for said weight gain. However, she was still lighter than she had been during previous seasons when she was allowed to cheer. It was the fact that she weighed more than she had at the start of this particular season that got her benched. Another Ravens cheerleader claimed she was left out of the Super Bowl because of “a little bit of a weight gain.”

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