Football is the most-watched sport in the US, but many fans are oblivious to the insanely sexist rules NFL cheerleaders have to follow. While these cheerleaders appear on the sidelines and on TV during every football game, none of them are as universally known as the likes of Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers. And so, the stories of the demeaning and illegal conditions the cheerleaders endure remain fairly unreported. More damning than just stories of these sexist mandates is the fact that many NFL cheerleading teams’ handbooks have been made public, giving specific insight to ways in which the cheerleaders are expected to behave and appear. Of course, the NFL has been on the wrong side of media reports on more than one occasion, as there have been many stories on the dark side of the Super Bowl, including reported spikes in DUIs, drug use, and prostitution.
While some of the cheerleaders may have a front row seat to the most exiting football games known to man and the greatest Super Bowl shows of all time, it isn’t enough to compensate for the humiliating and sexist ways in which they are treated.
Cheerleaders Are Forced On Weekend Long “Photo Shoot” That Requires They Pose Topless And Act As Escorts
In 2013, the Washington Redskins required their cheerleaders to take a trip to Costa Rica purportedly for a photo shoot. As soon as the cheerleaders arrived, officials collected their passports, making it effectively impossible for the cheerleaders to leave on their own accord. They were then told they had to participate in a 14-hour calendar photo shoot that included mandatory nudity. Male representatives from various Redskins sponsors were allowed to view the shoot up close.
After the shoot, officials gave nine of the cheerleaders a “special assignment.” They were essentially forced to act as escorts to a nightclub for several of the male sponsors. Despite the fact several of the chosen women began crying, they were forced to go through with the task for the sake of keeping their job. While the cheerleaders were not forced to have sex, they all felt incredibly disrespected and uncomfortable with the situation.
After Following All Of These Rules, Cheerleaders Are Compensated With As Little As $5 Per Hour
The reason many lawsuits are brought against specific franchises is because the cheerleaders make so little that it is illegal. In some reported cases, cheerleaders make as little as $5 per hour. Teams have seemingly gotten away with his practice by paying cheerleaders per event. Cheerleaders will make somewhere between $90 – $125 for appearing at a football game. Cheerleaders will also make money for paid events, though they are required to also attend charity events for which they aren’t compensated.
On top of that, cheerleaders are often fined for sexist reasons. One team installed “2 Piece Tuesdays,”during which all cheerleaders must show their belly button at Tuesday practices. The handbook explains:
“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. In comparison, mascots make somewhere between $25,000 and $60,000 per year. When also considering there are estimates that cheerleaders bring in as much as $1 million in profit for their teams, it’s clear that cheerleaders are getting a raw deal.
Cheerleaders Are Required To Attend Events In Which They Wear Bikinis And Are Auctioned Off
The lawsuit brought by the Buffalo Jills detailed a specific golf tournament that was pretty problematic. At the Jills Annual Golf Tournament, certain cheerleaders were required to wear bikinis and sit in a dunk tank, where participants could then dunk them. Other cheerleaders were auctioned off to the highest bidder, at which point they had to escort the winner around. Cheerleaders reported that the auction winners said sexual comments and touched them inappropriately. Cheerleaders were also forced to sit on the laps of golfers, as there was not enough room in the golf carts.
While this may have been a one-time event that was mishandled, it goes to show much demeaning and sexist behavior with which cheerleaders had to put up.
They Are Put Through A ‘Jiggle Test’ Before Games
All of the cheerleading teams seem to dictate that the cheerleaders’s bodies look a certain way, but all teams have different ways of measuring this. The Buffalo Jills method of making sure their cheerleaders had the ideal body type included subjecting cheerleaders to weekly “jiggle tests.” During these “physique evaluations,” cheerleaders did jumping jacks while coaches judged their stomachs, butts, and limbs based on how much they jiggled. This jiggle test would determine whether each cheerleader was fit enough to appear at the upcoming football game. Cheerleaders who were deemed too jiggly failed the jiggle test and were benched for the game, suspended, and even dismissed.
‘Slouching Breasts’ And Wearing Underwear Are Forbidden
Cincinnati Bengals cheerleader Alexa Brenneman filed a class-action lawsuit against the franchise for violating employment laws. Because of the case, the handbook for Ben-Gal Cheerleaders was made public, revealing shockingly specific instructions. One such instruction was, “No panties are to be worn under practice clothes or uniform, not even thong panties.” This rule seems extremely intrusive, and even more so because the athletic benefit of being panty-free remains to be seen.
While Ben-Gals are instructed to go without underwear, the handbook dictated that bras are a must. It states, “No slouching breasts. Support as needed. Black or nude seamless bra mandatory for games. No lace.” The handbook goes on to dictate that cheerleaders wear pantyhose, but not of the control top variety.
The Rulebooks Reminds The Cheerleaders Just How Unimportant They Are, Despite All The Hoops They Have To Jump Through
Likely to avoid lawsuits, handbooks remind cheerleaders just how unimportant and expendable they are. This way, cheerleaders will be discouraged from asking for raises, demanding better conditions, or taking legal actions, as they are aware that the franchise doesn’t need them. One handbook reads:
“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.”
What’s odd is that these handbooks ask for endless commitment from the cheerleaders, then also tell the cheerleaders they aren’t important to the franchise.
Cheerleaders Are Required To Follow A Strict Dress Code – Even While Off The Field
Unlike most jobs, cheerleader dress code requirements do not end when the work day is over. Many teams have strict rules regarding how cheerleaders can dress even while off the field. 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 body suit. The outfit was deemed to fall under the classification “nude, semi-nude, or lingerie,” forbidden in the cheerleader handbook. This is just one rule regarding how cheerleaders can appear in public and online. Some teams strictly regulate the kinds of piercings and nail polish are appropriate, and wearing sweatpants in public is outright forbidden in some handbooks.
Some Teams Have Twice-A-Week Weigh-Ins For The Cheerleaders
The Ben-Gals have weigh-ins twice a week and each cheerleader is given a three pound leniency. This means that if a cheerleader’s goal weight is 115 lbs, weighing in at 118 wouldn’t be considered overweight. If a cheerleader does pass the 3 lb leniency, she is required to stay after practice for extra conditioning. She could also be suspended or dismissed.
However, this obsession with a baseline number can be counterproductive. One Ravens cheerleader recounted that a senior cheerleader came into the season 5 lbs lighter than she normally was. Throughout the season, she gained weight and was benched for said weight gain. However, she was still lighter than she had been during previous seasons when she was allowed to cheer. It was the fact that she weighed more than she had at the start of this particular season that got her benched. Another Ravens cheerleader claimed she was left out of the Super Bowl because of “a little bit of a weight gain.”
Handbooks Warn Cheerleaders To Avoid Assault And Rape, As It May Ruin Their Reputation
Across the board, handbooks discourage cheerleaders from fraternizing with football players. However, the Raiderette’s handbook takes it one step further by explaining:
“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 basically discourages cheerleaders from socializing with players because they could be assaulted and/or raped, thus ruining their reputation. The logic is obviously very backwards and very dated.
The Cheerleaders Are Required To Buy The Team Calendar And Then Sell It For Profit
One of the strangest revelations about how cheerleaders are treated involves the annual calendar. The Ravens cheerleading team is the only co-ed team in the league. While all the female cheerleaders appear in the calendar, the male cheerleaders do not. However, the male cheerleaders are welcome to attend the swimsuit shoot if they pay their own way, which many of them do since it’s basically a vacation.
When the calendars are printed, cheerleaders are required to by them. The female cheerleaders must purchase 100, while the male cheerleaders are only required to purchase 20. Bought at $12 apiece, the cheerleaders then sell the calendars for $15 apiece to turn a profit. This is much like the Mary Kay or LuLaRoe business scheme, with the added twist that the women have to sell five times as many calendars as the men.
There Are Extremely Detailed Instructions On Physical Appearance
It seems every cheerleading team’s handbook provides some serious instructions about their 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 Bills cheerleading team – named the Buffalo Jills – are instructed that their nails “must be maintained with a French manicure or natural polish.” The Buffalo Jills are also instructed that, “A full curled or slightly bent, free-flowing style is required. Short hair must be worn full and fabulous!”
The Raven’s cheerleaders are told they “must have a warm skin color tone for every gameday.” In order to achieve this look, tanning vouchers, along with gym memberships and teeth whitenings are given to the cheerleaders. The only catch is that there are a limited number, so these perks go to senior cheerleaders. Newbies who don’t receive discounted for free tanning appointments or teeth whitenings are expect to get these services and pay for it out of their own pocket.
The Cheerleaders Are Never Off The Clock, Even When They Are Going To Sleep
For NFL cheerleaders, there is no such thing as off the clock. One handbook actually 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!”
So, cheerleaders have to be camera-ready literally all the time. On top of that, some handbooks mandate that all cheerleaders wash off their makeup before bed.This is recommended by pretty much all dermatologists, but putting it in a handbook makes it part of the job, which is invasive.
Handbooks Provide Instructions On How To Properly Speak
The handbook for the Buffalo Jills gives very specific instructions on how a cheerleader should speak. The cheerleaders are instructed to never use the words/phases like I seen it, you’s guys, dude, them guys, ain’t, and pee. They are to avoid the topics of religion, politics, sexual references, and talking about the previous night. The instructions also dictate that they should use the phrase ‘oh my goodness’ instead of ‘oh my god’. There are even rules for speaking when no one is around: “Always say ‘excuse me’ when you burp, sneeze or cough. Even if you think there isn’t anyone around.”
Overall, these rules seem to provide conversational instructions modeled after an antiquated idea of femininity.
There Are Literally Instructions On How To Use Feminine Products
Perhaps the strangest, most invasive instructions of all is the Buffalo Jills’s instructions for menstruating. Yes, seriously. The handbook says:
“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.”
The same handbook also provides instructions for shaving and warns cheerleaders to wash their feet daily. To be clear, some of these hygiene rules are valuable. It’s the fact that they are put in an employee handbook that makes them problematic.
‘Negative Facial Expressions’ Are Prohibited
Cheerleaders are generally portrayed in a positive, smiling manner, but the extent to which the handbooks dictate this positive, smiling manner is outlandish. The Raiderette’s handbook instructs, “Crude language, innuendos, slang and negative facial expressions are strictly VERBOTEN!”
The Ben-Gal’s handbook actually says, “ABSOLUTELY NO ARGUING OR QUESTIONING THE PERSON IN AUTHORITY!!!”
Finally, 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? Yes, cheerleaders supposed to be smiling, positive, and enthused, but the extent to which these handbooks tells their cheerleaders to be happy is reminiscent of The Stepford Wives.
If A Cheerleader Wants To Date A Player, It’s Her Responsibility To Find Out If He’s Married
The Raiderette’s handbook further discourages relationships or even being friendly with football players with, “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 also provides some instruction in the event that a cheerleader does inadvisably hit it off with a football player: “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 marital status and I encourage you to do so. Again, he will not tell you he’s married!”
Essentially, it’s up to the cheerleader to make sure a football player, presumably pursuing said cheerleader, isn’t married.