In 2014, the cheerleaders revolted. This January, rookie NFL cheerleader Lacy T. kicked things off when she filed a class action lawsuit against the Oakland Raiders, alleging that the team fails to pay its Raiderettes minimum wage, withholds their pay until the end of the season, imposes illegal fines for minor infractions (like gaining 5 pounds), and forces cheerleaders to pay their own business expenses (everything from false eyelashes to monthly salon visits). Within a month, Cincinnati Bengals cheerleader Alexa Brenneman had filed a similar suit against her team, claiming that the Ben-Gals are paid just $2.85 an hour for their work on the sidelines.
And Tuesday, five former Buffalo Bills cheerleaders filed suit against their own team, alleging that the Buffalo Jills were required to perform unpaid work for the team for about 20 hours a week. Unpaid activities included: submitting to a weekly “jiggle test” (where cheer coaches “scrutinized the women’s stomach, arms, legs, hips, and butt while she does jumping jacks”); parading around casinos in bikinis “for the gratification of the predominantly male crowd”; and offering themselves up as prizes at a golf tournament, where they were required to sit on men’s laps on the golf carts, submerge themselves in a dunk tank, and perform backflips for tips (which they did not receive). The Buffalo Jills cheerleaders take home just $105 to $1,800 for an entire season on the job.
Alyssa cannot recall the precise moment she realized her dream gig as a Buffalo Bills cheerleader had turned into a nightmare.
Each week held so many indignities.
Supervisors ordered the cheerleaders, known as the Buffalo Jills, to warm up in a frigid, grubby stadium storeroom that smelled of gasoline. They demanded that cheerleaders pay $650 for uniforms. They told the cheerleaders to do jumping jacks to see if flesh jiggled.
The Jills were required to attend a golf tournament for sponsors. The high rollers paid cash — “Flips for Tips” — to watch bikini-clad cheerleaders do back flips. Afterward, the men placed bids on which women would ride around in their golf carts.
A not-incidental detail: The carts had no extra seats. Women clung to the back or, much more to the point, were invited to sit in the men’s laps.
For these and more humiliations, and for hundreds of hours of work and practices, Alyssa and her fellow cheerleaders on the Buffalo Jills received not a penny of wages, not from the subcontractor and certainly not from the Buffalo Bills, a team that each year makes revenue in excess of $200 million.
We will monitor everything you do, the women were told.
The team’s contractor handed the women a contract and a personnel code, and told them to sign on the spot. The team dictated everything from the color of their hair to how they handled their menstrual cycle.
The contractor required they visit a sponsor who was a plastic surgeon. He offered a small discount if they opted for breast augmentation and other services. Larger breasts, however, were not a condition of nonpaid employment.
The Buffalo Bills football team makes a revenue of over $200 million a year, yet their cheerleaders, the Buffalo Jills, are allegedly paid next to nothing. How can that be? According to the cheerleaders, they were not only underpaid – making far below minimum wage – but mistreated, forced to warm up in a frigid stadium storeroom and do jumping jacks to see if flesh jiggled.
“People really thought we had it good, that we were paid well and had this luxurious lifestyle,” said Alyssa, a cheerleader on the Buffalo Jills. Alyssa pointed out that the cheerleaders, who at first were excited to make it to such a competitive cheerleading squad, were quickly disillusioned, once subjected to poor treatment and unacceptably low wages.
Immediately a great highlight of Last Week Tonight, John Oliver’s HBO news show, tackling the fact the NFL pretty much treats their cheerleaders like shit. Hope there will be more great moments in the future.
Though cheerleading is one of the most dangerous sports a person could practise, it is also the one that pays the least. Out of the 32 teams in the US National Football League, 26 of them also have a cheerleading team. But while paying the football players around $6 million a year, their cheerleaders make less than minimum wage, earning between $50- $70 per game.
Unpaid practise time and ridiculous wages for the games are only a small part of the demeaning working conditions for a NFL cheerleader. Other include:
1. Having their Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts monitored. Selfies and pictures of them partying are forbidden.
2. Regulations on physical appearence, which also applies to their spare time. From the Baltimore Ravens’ rulebook:
"All fair-skinned cheerleaders must have a warm skin colour tone for every game day. This is provided through tanning and/or spray tanning.“
Discounts for the required beauty treatments are provided, but the cheerleaders must pay for this themselves. The Buffalo Jills claim that they were forced to use the sponsor services, with discount, rather than seek out a cheaper alternative.
3. Rules about personal care and etiquette: such as how to eat soup, how much bread to eat at a meal, what female hygiene product to use while menstruating and what conversational topics to avoid.
4. Having to buy the calendars they pose for and then sell them on. The cheerleaders keep whatever they make after they cover the costs of the calendar. If they don’t manage to sell them, they don’t get a refund from the NFL management.
5. Attend charity events where they might be auctioned off or asked to wear a bikini during the whole function. While NFL management are compensated for their participation at these events, cheerleaders are often not.
“One week prior to the game, we were to dress in our uniforms and stand before our coach, who had a clipboard in her hand, and we had to face forward, turn around, face back to the front and do about 10 jumping jacks. And from there, she would write down on her notepad what parts of our bodies jiggled,” said one of the Buffalo Jills to the Huffington Post.
The Jiggle test determines who will and who won’t cheer during the following game.
Many cheerleaders are now suing the NFL in order to improve their working conditions.
Cheating cheerleaders out of a living wage is an American tradition almost as old as football itself. The dual exploitation of cheerleaders—you’ll perform our jiggle test, and you’ll do it for pocket change!—is nothing new. When I reported on the long hours and low pay of the Washington, D.C. football team’s cheerleaders in 2011, nobody seemed too upset about the fact that the cheerleaders made just $75 a game while working for a team that brings in $76 million a year—especially not the squad members themselves, who told me they appreciated the opportunity to cheer, regardless of the monetary benefits.