Football is the most-watched sport in the United States and it brings in the revenue to prove it. The players have multi-million dollar contracts and while many of them get away with some pretty horrible stuff, the cheerleaders are lets behind and make measly salaries. NFL cheerleader rules are much more strict than anything the actual players have to endure.
If this makes you say “it’s their choice to be cheerleaders,” or “they knew what they were signing up for,” or any of that nonsense, you should know that this is the highest cheerleading job someone can have. These women (and occasionally men) dedicate their lives to this craft. People should be paid for their talents and that definitely includes NFL cheerleaders.
1. They were forced to pose topless for a “photoshoot.”
In 2013, the Washington Redskins required their cheerleaders to take a trip to Costa Rica for a photo shoot. The team officials gathered their passports, making it possible for the cheerleaders to leave. They were required to participate in a nude photoshoot where the executives were allowed to watch the shoot up close.
After the shoot, officials gave nine of the cheerleaders were forced to be nightclub escorts for male sponsors. Several of the women cried and participated in order to keep their jobs.
2. They are compensated as little as $5 an hour.
Teams get away with paying their cheerleaders so little because they are “paid per event.” The cheerleaders make anywhere between $90-$125 per game. Cheerleaders also have paid events and can be fined for violating their dress code at practice:
“You must wear a 2 piece outfit consisting of a sports bra-type top and shorts. The top must fit like a sports bra to reveal the body from under the bust line and form-fitting shorts (not jazz pants rolled up, basketball shorts, cutoff sweats or colored tights under the shorts) worn to reveal your belly button. Failure to do so results in a $10 fine.”
With the abysmal base pay and the additional fines, cheerleaders can walk away with just a $1,250 check for the entire season. Mascots make somewhere between $25,000 and $60,000 per year.
3. Some events auction cheerleaders off.
At the Buffalo Jill’s annual Golf Tournament, the cheerleaders were placed above dunk tanks in bikinis for participants to dunk into water. Other women were auctioned off to bidders. The cheerleaders reported that the auction winners made sexual comments, touched them inappropriately, and made them uncomfortable. Cheerleaders were also forced to sit on the laps of golfers, as there was not enough room in the golf carts.
4. Cheerleaders must do a “Jiggle Test” before games.
Every cheerleading team has requirements for how their bodies should look in their handbook. The Buffalo Jill’s have the cheerleaders do “physique evaluations” where they do a “jiggle test,” making the women do jumping jacks while the coaches judged how they looked. If the cheerleader was not in good enough shape, they were not allowed to participate in the next game or even dismissed from the team.
5. They cannot have “slouching breasts” or wear underwear.
Cincinnati Bengals cheerleader Alexa Brenneman filed a class-action lawsuit against the franchise for violating employment laws. The case made the Ben-Gal handbook public and revealed instructions like “No panties are to be worn under practice clothes or uniform, not even thong panties.” The handbook also added that wearing a bra is required, saying: “No slouching breasts. Support as needed. Black or nude seamless bra mandatory for games. No lace.”
6. The rulebooks remind them how unimportant the cheerleaders are.
With all of these horrible laws, you might wonder why the cheerleaders don’t stand up for themselves or sue. The handbooks specifically discourage the women from doing this by saying:
“Remember, as important as you are to our organization, football is the name of the game. Fans would come to see the games whether or not we had cheerleaders. There are some great teams who do not have cheerleaders, such as the 2010 Champion Green Bay Packers. They are sold out every Sunday. Some teams who previously had cheerleaders do not now have them (Chicago Bears). Because of morality problems with their squads they decided cheerleaders were too much trouble to deal with.”
7. They have to follow a strict dress code off the field.
Being an NFL cheerleader means changing your life to be camera-ready at all times. many teams do not allow their squad to wear sweatpants in public. Some teams even dictate which kinds of piercings and nail polish colors are acceptable.
In 2018, a New Orleans Saints cheerleader was terminated for a number of violations, one of which included posting a photo of herself on Instagram wearing a lacy bodysuit. The outfit was decided to fall under the classification “nude, semi-nude, or lingerie,” forbidden in the cheerleader handbook.
8. Some teams have twice a week weigh-ins.
The Ben-Gals have weigh-ins twice a week and each cheerleader is given a three-pound leniency. Cheerleaders are not allowed to gain more than 3 pounds. Exceeding this means they must stay after practice for more conditioning. If they exceed the 3 pound mark, they can be dismissed.
9. Handbooks warn them to avoid assault and rape.
Handbook’s discourage the cheerleaders from associating with football players. The Raiderette’s handbook even says:
“There have been a few relationships between the two groups that have resulted in a few happy marriages and lovely children. However, we have also had more situations where, quite frankly, the Raider organization and the Raiderettes narrowly escaped ruined reputations.
One such example concerns a player who gave Halloween parties every year and many of the Raiderettes attended. The same player was suspended from the team for drug use, but also arrested for date rape. For you on the squad who have attended those parties, just think how narrowly you missed having your photo in all the local papers and/or being assaulted!”
The handbook discourages spending time with the players as they might be raped. Maybe they should focus on teaching players to not rape people?
10. They have to sell calendars for profit.
NFL cheerleaders are required to participate in and sell the team calendars. The Ravens are the only NFL team with male cheerleaders, but they do not appear in the team calendar. The female cheerleaders are required to buy 100 calendars and the males must buy 20 for $12 apiece. They are then instructed to sell them for $15 each, for a profit of $3. Sort of like an NFL cheerleader pyramid scheme.
11. Cheerleaders have tons of instructions on their physical appearance.
Every handbook has specific requirements for physical appearance. The handbook for the Ben-Gals states, “Stay away from frosted lipsticks and eye shadows. Management will determine your proper color analysis.” It also adds, “Glamour is a priority!”
The Buffalo Jills are told that their nails must be in a french manicure or in a natural polish color. For hair, they are instructed that “A full curled or slightly bent, free-flowing style is required. Short hair must be worn full and fabulous!”
Ravens cheerleaders are expected to tan and whiten their teeth and attend a gym. They have a few complimentary memberships that go only to the senior cheerleaders. The newbies must pay out of pocket.
12. They are never off the clock, even when they sleep.
For NFL cheerleaders are never off the clock. One handbook reads:
“Even when you are not working in your capacity as a Raiderette, you are still representing the Oakland Raiders. It is imperative that whenever you leave your home you look ‘put-together’ so when someone recognizes you (and they will) they can say, ‘Raiderettes always look fabulous.’ We’ve all seen the stars in the tabloids that don’t look their best. Cell phone cameras are everywhere — be camera-ready!”
13. Cheerleaders have instructions on how to speak.
The Buffalo Jills are given instructions on how they should speak. They cannot use phrases like: I seen it, you’s guys, dude, them guys, ain’t, and pee. Cheerleaders cannot talk about religion, politics, or sex. They must replace “oh my god” with “oh my goodness,” and even when no one is around, they are instructed to say “excuse me” when they burp, sneeze, or cough.
14. They have rules about which feminine products to use.
The most invasive guideline comes once again from the Buffalo Jills handbook, which instructs how to menstruate. It reads:
“When menstruating, use a product that is right for your menstrual flow. A tampon too big can irritate and develop fungus. A product left in too long can cause bacteria or fungus build up. Products can be changed at least every four hours. Except when sleeping, they can be left in for the night.”
This handbook also has instructions for shaving and reminds the cheerleaders to wash their feet daily. These hygiene rules are good to follow, but should not be allowed in an employee handbook.
15. You can’t make “negative facial expressions.”
Cheerleaders are, of course, expected to be “cheery.” but the Raiderette’s handbook goes a little too far to say, “Crude language, innuendos, slang, and negative facial expressions are strictly VERBOTEN!”
The Ben-Gal’s handbook says, “ABSOLUTELY NO ARGUING OR QUESTIONING THE PERSON IN AUTHORITY!!!”
The Buffalo Jills’s handbook says, “Do not be overly opinionated about anything. Do not complain about anything- ever hang out with a whiner? It’s exhausting and boring.”
So, smile all the time, don’t be a whiner, and never question authority.
16. It’s the cheerleader’s responsibility to find out if a player is married.
The Raiderette’s handbook discourages relationships with football players, saying “At events where Raider players are present, NEVER go up and gush all over a player, ask for an autograph or hang on his arm for a photograph.” The handbook adds, “You want to avoid putting yourself into an embarrassing situation or become an embarrassment to the squad because of inappropriate actions on your part.”
However, the handbook adds that sometimes cheerleaders and players will hit it off and adds, “Make a point to find out if a player is married. In most cases, he won’t tell you! You can call the Raider office with questions as to the marital status and I encourage you to do so. Again, he will not tell you he’s married!”
So basically, it’s up to the cheerleader to make sure a football player isn’t married. Nice.