No cheer for NFL cheerleaders


Tribune News Service

New Orleans Saints’ cheerleaders cheer at a football game between the New Orleans Saints and the Carolina Panthers in Louisiana. (Jeff Siner/Charlotte Observer/MCT)

Samantha Durham, Opinion Editor

Editor’s Note: Samantha Durham is a senior at UNCW studying sociology. She is the Opinion Editor for The Seahawk and enjoys concentrating her work on social issues. All opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. Samantha may be found on Twitter @Durham_Sam. All suggestions and inquiries may be sent via email to [email protected].

Sexism is alive and well. It manifests in the world around us in more ways than people notice. Many companies have made a valiant effort to shatter the glass ceiling and provide workplaces where women can feel respected and valued, but the National Football League is not one of those companies and I refuse to support an organization that cannot live in the 21st century.

The NFL has had it rough recently. With debates swirling around kneeling for the National Anthem, it seems the NFL can be supportive of their male players and their freedom of expression, but not their female cheerleaders.

According to The New York Times, former New Orleans Saints cheerleader Bailey Davis filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission after she was fired for a post on Instagram in January.

However, this post was not anything scandalous whatsoever. Davis posted a photo to her private Instagram account of herself in a one-piece outfit. However, The New York Times reported that Davis was accused by Saints officials of “breaking the rules that prohibit cheerleaders from appearing nude, seminude or in lingerie.”

Her complaint that was filed with the EEOC raises the real question of equality within the NFL. The New York Times reported that Davis claims the Saints have two sets of rules: one for players and another for the team’s cheerleaders.

Now, to really understand why this screams sexism to me, one has to understand the rules these women are expected to follow once they are hired. For one, the Saints require their social media pages to be private. However, my real frustration was with the other “rules” that Saints’ cheerleaders are expected to follow.

The New York Times reported that “the Saints have an anti-fraternization policy that requires cheerleaders to avoid contact with players, in person or online, even though players are not penalized for pursuing such engagement with cheerleaders.”

So, if I understand correctly, the cheerleaders have to have private accounts while the male players do not and they are not allowed to speak or interact at any level with the players, even if the men initiate the interaction.

These “rules,” which should be called tools for oppression, only seem to get worse. The New York Times also reported that the cheerleaders are told to not dine in the same restaurants as the football players or speak to them in any capacity. If a cheerleader walks into a restaurant and a player comes in afterward, she is required to leave.

But wait, there’s more: the same article explained that Saints cheerleaders “must block players from following them on social media and cannot post photos of themselves in Saints gear, denying them the chance to market themselves.” The male players do not have to follow any of those rules.

Players also have no limit on who can follow them on social media while the cheerleaders are left with the challenge of weeding out all the players and blocking them from their already private accounts.

While it is unclear if the other NFL cheerleaders outside of the Saints team must follow similar rules, past incidents suggest that it is likely.

According to The New York Times, before the disbandment of the Buffalo Bills cheerleaders over a wage lawsuit, they were told to do jumping jacks during tryouts to “see if their flesh jiggled.”

Similar stories include a wage suit from the Oakland Raiders cheer squad, while other teams like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the New York Jets and Cincinnati Bengals were sued for poor pay and lack of reimbursement for makeup, uniforms and transportation.

According to a Time article, NFL cheerleaders are not expected to make cheerleading their full-time job. Time stated, “cheerleaders required to have other jobs or be students in college.” However, while they are expected to have other forms of income, they still must dedicate most of their time to the sport. One cheerleader, Time reported, would often work “30 to 40 hours a week after rehearsals, workouts, games and special appearances were added up.”

While the NFL does honorably consider motherhood as a full-time job, the compensation for these women is utterly disgusting. The same Time article reported that one San Francisco 49ers cheerleader earned a total of $1,250 for a single season. After some math, that comes out to roughly $2.75 per hour.

According to Time, another NFL cheerleader claimed she was paid $3,000 during the 2006 season. However, after considering the non-reimbursed expenses, she only walked away with $300.

However, it is not uncommon for a cheerleader in the NFL to make roughly $10 dollars an hour now due to new laws in certain states and wage lawsuits. So, while the cheerleaders seem to barely scrape by, the male players average about $2.1 million annually as of the 2015 season, according to Forbes.

Many may question the vast large difference in pay. An ESPN article mentioned that the NFL, along with the National Basketball Association, has “historically taken the position that cheerleaders are independent contractors.”

While many of the women claimed to cheer due to passion and enjoyment, the lack of compensation is still a big indicator of the value the NFL places on its cheerleaders.

On top of the low pay and the sexist rules, body shaming also seems to be a typical part of being an NFL cheerleader. Time reported that in some cases, cheerleaders are benched for gaining weight during the seasons and can often be fined for wearing the incorrect outfit to practice.

Time also reported, “One team even required that all cheerleaders have straight hair.” From what this sounds like to me, NFL cheerleaders must really love cheerleading because these work conditions are incredibly disappointing, especially for a highly popular organization.

I cannot fathom working for a company that simply does not value me as an employee. Unfortunately, it seems that is how the NFL feels about its cheerleaders.

These rules are incredibly one-sided, not to mention ironic. If you have ever watched an NFL football game, there are no rules against showing skin. To me, it sounds like these women are being used for their bodies and appearances. However, they aren’t allowed to benefit from that themselves, which is even more wrong than just profiting on their sex appeal.

Clearly, the players are of the utmost importance while the women are expected to be Barbie dolls. They lose their right to freedom of expression and their own bodies. They are not allowed to market themselves, which means they cannot use their own association with the Saints to better themselves or their careers.

This is far too controlling and is nothing but sexist. It would be different if the men were expected to follow the same absurd rules, but evidently, they have much more autonomy than any cheerleader does.

If a company gets to profit off my sex appeal, then I should see something in return. It is my body and while I am sure that these cheerleaders are aware they are being sexualized for views, they deserve to make something from it.

Models face similar issues but at least they can benefit much more from their efforts. They can make careers out of modeling, they get paid much more and can market themselves. These cheerleaders should not be treated any differently.

Overall, the sexism is repulsive. Certain rules should not just apply to women and they also should not be treated like a commodity. While they have every choice to be a cheerleader, the NFL should be held accountable for these outlandish restrictions. It would be one thing if these women were treated the same way the players were, but that is clearly not the case.

Davis is completely right to bring this to the attention of others. It’s absurd that she cannot express herself on her own social media accounts, especially when she wears far less for games. To me, it seems the NFL is paying for the body, not the woman. They are paying for her to shake “what her mama gave her,” but only when they say so.

At the end of the day, these women deserve more. The money aspect of this is disappointing, but it speaks to the overall sexism of this situation. These cheerleaders are simply a way for the NFL to make more money and that is all. While I understand this is the nature of large companies, they should at least provide an environment for these women to feel respected and valued. Otherwise, this only proves that the world sees women for what they have to offer rather than what they have to contribute.