CBS News' headline
, "Why Pro Cheerleading May Be One of America's Worst Jobs," caught my eye not just because it's a bold statement that, at first glance, seems false, but also because the sentiment actually is
true in some ways and this isn't the first time we've heard it. However, the general public that isn't familiar with the cheerleading industry has trouble seeing cheerleading as anything more than a team of pretty and charismatic girls shaking pom poms
and dancing on the sidelines.
In the past year, we've seen several professional cheerleaders and organizations come forward with their stories
on the hard work and dedication required to be on a professional cheer team. I like to think this has made a crack in the public's rose-colored glasses. The latest story to hit the news may help make a bigger dent and it also helps further elucidate on why I made the (possibly) bold statement that pro cheerleading is one of the worst jobs.
Spreading through the sports news like fire, the NFL Oakland Raiders organization is being sued...by its own cheerleaders. Numerous current and former Raiderettes (as they're called) have filed a lawsuit against the Raiders organization, alleging labor abuses and sub-minimum wage pay. What exactly does this include? The most appalling claims are (according to CBS News
) that squad members wait nine months to receive a paycheck, are fined for ridiculous "mistakes" (including forgetting to bring a yoga mat to practice and wearing the wrong workout clothes), and that they are only paid a small fee for home games ($125 each) and not for the many rehearsals and charitable appearances.
The lawsuit explains that, when you add up the number of hours the cheerleaders are required to be at practice, games, and events and factor in the pay), a Raiderette makes the equivalent of $5 an hour -- way below the federal ($7.25/hour) and state ($8/hr) minimum wages. To rub salt in the wound, many football players make several million dollars a year.
This is why I claimed earlier that pro cheerleading is one of the worst jobs. As fun and thrilling as it may be, working as a professional cheerleader is extremely hard work. In America, you can't live on the income of a professional cheerleader. Most of these women have second and third jobs or are attending college. This is hard to balance with cheer practice, events, and games for nine months out of the year.
And if you think the Raiderettes aren't paid much ($1,250 a year), the San Diego Chargers are paid $75 a home game. With only 10 home games a season, their annual salary comes in at $750. The Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders have long secured the spot for highest pay in the NFL, making $150 per home game.
Many people may say that NFL cheerleading will never be a full-time job and that the cheerleaders should be aware of this before signing up. Several organizations defend their low pay by warning potential cheerleaders of the time required and openly listing the pay. But simply warning someone about something unfair doesn't make it any better. The bottom line is that many of these organizations are treating their cheerleaders poorly and without respect. Rather than being treated like trained athletes, cheerleaders are treated like a vase of flowers - pretty, but without any real purpose. For those organizations that do treat their cheerleaders well, we applaud them.
The point of this isn't to bash the NFL and throw a coup. Rather, it's another case against the misconception that professional cheerleading is all glamour. As incredible of an experience as it is, and as much as those cheerleaders love what they do, working as a professional cheerleader isn't for the faint of heart. You'll sweat, cry, scream, and get hurt; but you'll also laugh, travel, give back to the community
, and form life-long friendships.
It will be interesting to see the Oakland Raiderettes' lawsuit evolve. Until then, let this be a reminder that cheerleading isn't always glamorous and that the road to equality in the athletic world is long and winding.