Maybe you received an email petition from change.org in the weeks before the 2014 Super Bowl demanding that the owners of its team participants -- Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos -- commit to pay their cheerleaders a living wage.
And they didn’t. Commit, that is.
In our present economic ethical freakshow engineered by predatory sociopathic corporate capitalists injustice is becoming more and more gobsmackingly rampant and extreme. You’ve heard the latest statistic of how there are 85 human beings who have as much wealth as the bottom half of humanity. 3.5 billion people.
Sometimes the worst victims of the avaricious ruling rich are from groups one would not readily assume. Like the professional NFL cheerleaders, as an example of one relatively small but unlikely high profile group. It was the professional cheerleading ranks from which the likes of singer Paula Abdul (LA Lakers) and actress Teri Hatcher (SF 49ers) emerged.
NFL football is a multi-billion dollar enterprise. Tony Romo, a Dallas Cowboys quarterback, reportedly earned a base salary in 2013 of $11.5 million.
Sarah Thomas in “Is it Right to Pay NFL Cheerleaders in Drool Alone” [what a great title!] points out that most NFL cheerleaders make less in a year than the cost of one Super Bowl ticket ($1700). This is in contrast to the football players who earn “demi-god status through blood, sweat and concussions” and receive obscene salaries writes Thomas. Last year Joe Flacco raked in $35.9 million not including endorsement deals. He showed up as number four on the Forbes list. Thomas posits that even if one conceded players should make as much as 1000 times the salaries of the cheerleaders, we’re talking 40,000 times more!
Lynn Stuart Parramore in “Professional Cheerleaders Face Exploitation, Low Pay and No Benefits” cites Gregg Easterbrook in ESPN.com on what he calls this “gross economic unfairness”:
“It is…objectionable if everyone involved in an NFL contest is making buckets of money, except for the cheerleaders. That's the case, and that is a form of exploitation. The NFL will have about $8 billion in revenue this season, and Green Bay, the one team that discloses financial information (the Packers are publicly owned), showed a profit of $20 million last year. There's plenty of money in professional football. But only crumbs go to the cheerleaders. NFL teams are believed to pay cheerleaders approximately $100 per game. .... Some throw in two game tickets. Don't spend it all in the same place!”Parramore goes on to write:
... Like so many other workers in America, whose productivity gains since the '70s go almost entirely to management, cheerleaders get the crumbs from a very rich pie. Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders rake in an estimated $1 million per season to the franchise through everything from annual swimsuit calendars to pricey training camps for aspiring cheerleaders. But the women make only a pittance — $150 per game.Parramore explains that cheerleader payment varies but it can be as little as $50 a game. It is very possible to make less than $1000 a year as a professional cheerleader. Parramore reminds that the NFL is a tax exempt organization, subsidized by us taxpayers. She adds that even though some of the elite cheerleaders may get from $200 to $1000 a month, they are rarely compensated for publicity appearances.
There’s no pay for practices. None for photo shoots. No insurance to cover you if you get injured. No job security. A cheerleader can get axed from the squad for anything from failure to meet body fat requirements to “morality” issues, like a too-revealing selfie on Facebook or not immediately leaving a bar if a player shows up, because, you know….
According to Parramore, even the NFL mascots are much better compensated than the cheerleaders. Their salaries range from $23,000 to $65,000 a year, not including benefits. If their team makes it to the Super Bowl they receive a $10,000 bonus.
Parramore reveals that most cheerleaders are in their 20s but there are still 40-year old cheerleaders. Sometimes the women are pressured to get breast implants or threatened with “fat camp” if their weight goes up. Their rigorous performances can cause sprains and pulled hamstrings, low back injuries, and even catastrophic injuries during highly dramatic stunts. Again, they do not receive health care benefits from the NFL franchises. They are expected to endure freezing temperatures while wearing skimpy uniforms. Some even are expected to pay their own way to the Super Bowl.
Christopher Zara in “NFL Cheerleader Pay: Fearing Retribution ...” explains that the journey for NFL cheerleaders begins with competing with maybe 500 talented, athletic and ambitious young women. If you make the top 32 of the “elite” squad you are promised a short-lived, high-maintenance, grossly underpaid, and precarious career. Asserting for improved conditions will get you fired and blacklisted.
Anna North in “The Underpaid Life of a Professional Cheerleader” quotes some of the extensive research by Amanda Hess on this subject. One Redskins' cheerleader disclosed she gets paid $75 a game. That a day’s game worth of duties can last up to 12 hours. Practices can last for six hours. Choreography must be learned on their own time, cosmetic investments such as tanning, hairstyling and makeup application from their own dollars. The Redskins’ cheerleaders have no control over the “use of their images.” The owners do not even pay a basic licensing fee on the women’s promotional photos. Players and coaches, on the other hand, receive compensation for the use of their images
Sarah Thomas writes:
Of course, cheerleaders enjoy -- or endure, potentially -- the attention of a vast male audience, whether it is the body-painted masses at the games or the millions of viewers at home. They have the privilege of being desired -- and objectified. The NFL would have us think that's payment enough. But let's consider for a moment what is expected of these women: to be at every game of a sixteen game season, to attend regular practices and to maintain a rigid physical standard, as documented on the terrifyingly competitive show "Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders: Making the Team."Parramore explains that professional cheerleading has existed since the 1960s when the National Football League began to organize pro squads. The most famous of the early squads was the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders with their “iconic bedazzled blue outfits”. In 1983 ESPN began broadcasting national high school cheerleading competitions. Advocates of cheerleading would like to see it become an Olympic sport. Mireya Mayor started with the Dolphins in the early 1990s. She was paid $25 a game.
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. For example, the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders' militantly perky website states that "perfection is the common goal" and that the women "subject themselves to rigorous physical conditioning, an exhaustive year-round rehearsal schedule and stringent rules and regulations that govern their part-time life."
Today there are only six major teams that don’t have cheerleading squads: Pittsburgh Steelers, Green Bay Packers, Chicago Bears, Cleveland Browns, Detroit Lions, and the New York Giants
The Denver Nuggets now have a co-ed stunt team, Parramore reports. The Dallas Cowboys are today regarded as an “elite dance team.” Thousands are said to compete for membership in that squad.
Sarah Thomas reports that very recently Oakland’s “Raiderettes” squad filed a lawsuit in Alameda County Superior Court on behalf of current and former cheerleaders demanding back wages and reimbursement for business expenses. The Raiderettes are said currently to earn only $1,250 a year, breaking down to less than $5 an hour.
Christopher Zara reveals that since word of the lawsuit has broken out, current cheerleaders have been sternly warned not to speak to the media.
Parramore writes of an organized protest in the mid-90s when Buffalo Bills cheerleaders (the “Jills”) organized to protest their status as independent contractors without benefits. They were forced to pay for their own shoes and boots, tickets for the Super Bowl, etc. They became the first professional squad to appeal to the NLRB to form a union. They were attacked by management and ultimately forced to disband.
Cheerleaders are certainly not the typical “poster women” for feminist issues, in this case “unequal pay” for women, but their circumstances cry out for the support of all of us in the increasingly besieged 99%.
The more and more colossally callous and rabid rat bastards of industry deserve a wake up call. They deserve to FEEL some kind of serious mass consumer pushback to their exploitation of American workers.
Here is the link to that above-mentioned change.org petition. It has over 100,000 signers thus far. Please consider joining in. Also consider passing along the truth about this particular exploitation by the overlords of the NFL, of their blatant disrespect for this committed, hardworking and loyal group of their working community.
Exploiting workers is not just bad for the people doing the jobs, it’s bad for the company, too. When companies, including football franchises, pay their employees fairly and treat them well, they tend to get better performance and loyalty, which, in the case of an institution like football, can reap benefits long after the job is done. Companies that play fair may also enjoy a better reputation with the public, which is particularly important in sports. Customers, or fans, in the case of football, are buying into the all-American image projected by football teams, and if they become aware of the exploitation of one of the sport’s most visible symbols, they might get turned off. This could be particularly true of female fans, recently courted aggressively by the NFL. Who wants to think about the single mom cheerleader who can’t afford medicine for her kid? What’s good for Bangladeshi dressmakers, in fact, is good for Americans: It’s time some of the crusaders for better working conditions abroad turned their attention here.
“If you can get away with stiffing people -- to the cruelest degree possible -- then do it” seems to be the code of the present corporate, amoral, dog eat dog -- or even dog eat puppy, profits totally over people jungle. A paradigm shift to humanism's cooperation and partnership from that rotting patriarchal one of win/lose, competition and control is way past due!
Let's do this!
[cross-posted on open salon and correntewire]