Guest Blog by Molly Nash
Football is one of our favorite national past times. Whether it’s Friday night under the lights, Sunday afternoon at a tailgate, or Monday evening curled up next to the fireplace, football defines autumn for many Americans. And you can’t have football without cheerleaders. While little boys grow up dreaming of playing in the NFL, young girls idolize the beautiful smiles, sculpted bodies, and feminine curls that outwardly define the women on the sidelines. Cheering in the NFL is the ultimate pipe dream for millions of girls involved in the sport. Whether you find cheerleading a credible aspiration or not (in reality, it is a pretty demanding combination of gymnastics and dance), you’ll be astonished to know that NFL cheerleaders are routinely paid below minimum wage, if compensated at all. While their male counterparts on the football field are racking up millions, cheerleaders are literally sidelined by the $1,000-2,500 they take home at the end of each season.
This has been the case for decades, but Lacy T, an Oakland Raiders’ cheerleader, is finally bringing change to the crisp autumn air with the lawsuit she filed against the team last January, citing a take home pay of less than minimum wage for the hours she worked. The $1,250 salary initially agreed upon in her contract in no way covered the hours she spent on the field, in practice, or at press events. Furthermore, she was required to maintain nearly perfect hair (dyed and styled with 1.5 inch diameter curls at a team mandated salon!), painted toes and nails, bronzed skin, make up, tights, and a body weight of no more than four pounds over 103 lbs, at all times and on her own dime. The team paid for none of this and her salary, which she received at the end of the season, hardly covered the beauty regime, much less the hours she worked.
Interestingly enough, this is pretty much the status quo for NFL cheerleaders. Teams throughout the league have maintained these practices by framing cheerleading as a sisterhood going back generations; women on the team, it seems, should be privileged just to be included. Cheerleaders are repeatedly reminded that they are dispensable and that thousands of girls will line up to take their place. In a strikingly cult-like manner, cheerleaders remain silent and loyal to the team. Needless to say, Lacy’s lawsuit rattled the Raiders and the entire industry. ESPN wrote a lengthy article about it, entitled ‘Just Cheer, Baby,’ and news media such as The Guardian and The LA Times have followed the case.
Still, the Raiders are doing everything in their power to combat the lawsuit and have shown no signs of remorse. This begs the question: How does such wage inequality still exists in our so-called ‘post feminist’ society. Oh, that’s right. We’re not there yet. Because if we were, it would not be acceptable for a whole industry of women to be paid below minimum wage. Especially when they bring in millions of dollars for the teams they cheer for.
What do we tell young girls who dream of cheering professionally? Did someone say to little Lacy, “Keep at it, and after years of practices, private coaches, competitions, and workouts, you’ll grow up to earn less than a hundredth of what the professional football players make?” Probably not. And while this crazy disparity in salary doesn’t exist in most careers, the young Lacys of the world need to know that women still only make 77 cents for each dollar earned by men. If they knew this, maybe more Lacys would file suit and maybe more of her ‘sisters’ would stand with her.