This is my Tuesday column.
The NFL treats cheerleaders like indentured servants. Geishas come to mind, Japanese hostesses who danced and sang for rich samurai soldiers.
Cheerleaders currently are suing five NFL teams – the Bengals, the Bills, the Buccaneers, the Jets and the Raiders. HBO is airing a 15-minute documentary about the lawsuit tonight.
If you don’t subscribe to HBO, this is what you will miss:
NFL teams pay cheerleaders $125 per home game. That’s it. They don’t get paid for anything else. And they have to pay for their uniforms and for their own expenses. After expenses, the cheerleaders earn about $2 an hour.
NFL mascots earn between $35,000 and $65,000 a season.
Cheerleaders have to attend mandatory unpaid events, like golf parties for the team executives. The cheerleaders pose for pictures with men, sit on men’s laps, do back flips for tips they don’t get to keep and get dunked into water tanks.
Cheerleaders have to do “jiggle tests.” They do 10 jumping jacks, and they can’t perform if any part of their body jiggles in their uniform.
Starting next season, fans at certain stadiums will be able to instruct cheerleaders via text message to come up to their section of the stands.
Free geishas for everybody!
Why don’t NFL cheerleaders just quit? During the HBO documentary, Andrea Kremer asked that question to Maria, a former Buffalo Bills cheerleader. They’re called “Buffalo Jills.” Seriously.
Maria said, “For the love of cheering.”
Cheerleaders consider themselves dancers, a noble profession. But there also is an element of narcissism in cheerleading that Maria didn’t talk about and Kremer didn’t ask about. Cheerleaders get validation for being pretty. They get to stand on the field. They get to be around famous athletes and wealthy executives. Quite the allure.
The NFL understands that and is working that angle to exploit young women.
At one point during the documentary, Kremer asked the former manager of the Buffalo Jills, Stephanie Mateczun, why the cheerleaders must endure such demeaning conditions.
“They are told right up front what is expected of them,” said Mateczun. “If you think it’s going to be too much, then you don’t have to do it.”
In other words, go ahead and quit. Someone else will replace you – that’s the threat. We pay and treat cheerleaders the way we do because so many young women accept it. That’s just reality.
So, no whining, ladies. So says rule No.14 of the Buffalo Jills handbook. I’m not making that up.
The NFL doesn’t have Mateczun’s courage to speak the truth. The NFL, the Bills and the Raiders did not accept interview requests from HBO. When I asked the Raiders for an official statement on the lawsuit, a Raiders’ media relations representative informed me that they do not have a comment at this time.
It is shameful that these teams and the league have nothing to say about the cheerleaders’ lawsuit. They can do better than to hide behind “No comment.”
NFL teams earn too much money to cut corners and pay cheerleaders so little. If teams can pay the mascots and the cotton-candy vendors, they can pay the cheerleaders at least minimum wage.
The NFL should promote cheerleaders the way the NFL promotes its violent sport. The NFL encourages parents to let their boys play football despite the violence by saying that football develops discipline and teamwork.
The NFL should be able to say things like that for cheerleaders, too. Something like, “We are proud to be able to give not only young men, but also young women the opportunity to earn a living. Cheerleading is a skilled profession we value and respect. Fathers, your daughter should strive to be an NFL cheerleader. She’ll be in a professional work environment and she will learn life skills that will set her up to have a successful future.”
Instead, the NFL treats cheerleading like an internship that leads to nothing, except maybe the promise of marriage. You could land an athlete!
Unseemly and unfair.
Until something changes, would you want your daughter to be a cheerleader in the NFL? I wouldn’t.
And if I were a woman, I’d rather be a stripper than an NFL cheerleader. At least strippers earn money and get to keep their tips.
Grant Cohn writes sports columns and the “Inside the 49ers” blog for The Press Democrat’s website. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.