The NFL Treats Its Cheerleaders Terribly
It probably won't surprise anyone to learn that a form of entertainment that uses scantily clad ladies to make men horny enough to buy warm beer has some problematic elements. To borrow a famous quote, though, we expected nothing from this industry, and we were still let down.
Each of the cheerleading squads attached to NFL teams have a handbook listing the rules and regulations that each cheerleader has to follow. Some of these rules are bad in an expected way, such as how each one has to maintain an "ideal body weight" and be subjected to regular weigh-ins, as well as avoid piercings and tattoos.
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And then there are the unexpectedly awful rules that some teams enforce.
Many teams classify cheerleaders as part-time workers, meaning that they don't get most (if any) standard benefits, or indeed, a decent paycheck at the end of the season. Despite this, however, a lot of teams have rules governing how cheerleaders have to conduct themselves in their everyday lives. When using social media, for instance, many can't post pictures of themselves, disclose who they work for, or follow players of the team that employs them. If a player follows them, the cheerleader has to block them immediately or risk being fired.
The handbook for the New Orleans Saints takes this no-contact rule even further, and dictates that "if a cheerleader enters a restaurant and a player is already there, she must leave ... if a cheerleader is in a restaurant and a player arrives afterward, she must leave." Holding cheerleaders accountable for the actions of players who approach them might seem like the peak of ridiculousness, but this is a team that recently fired a cheerleader for posting a lingerie picture to her private, locked Instagram account.
The handbook for the Buffalo Jills used to advise cheerleaders about the correct way to wash their "intimate areas," saying that they should "never use a deodorant or chemically enhanced product ... simple, non-deodorant soap will help maintain the right PH balance." Between this, the manual about how to use tampons, and the fact that the team used to send cheerleaders into the stands during halftime to sell calendars to drunken horny uncles -- which terrified them, for reasons that should be obvious -- it's little wonder that the Jills filed suit against the team in 2014, alleging mistreatment. Which resulted in ... the squad being disbanded.
Other cheerleading squads have sued over this kind of treatment by their teams. In 2017, the San Francisco 49ers and the Oakland Raiders were hit with a class-action lawsuit by several cheerleaders alleging that the teams had "manipulated the market in order to pay the cheerleaders wages below market value," alongside several allegations of mistreatment. The Raiders can't say that they weren't warned about this, though, considering that they were sued in several other years for paying their cheerleaders sub-minimum wage and forcing them to attend unpaid rehearsals. (This lawsuit ended with a $1.25 million settlement and a squad-wide pay increase of $9 per hour.)