Written by an NFL cheerleader anonymously on Reddit. Interesting points.
NFL cheerleaders (and NBA dancers) occupy a realm that a lot of people outright ignore, obsess with, or wish to have abolished entirely. If you’ve ever wondered what being invisible and visible at the same time feels like, ask a current or former cheerleader. For example, I found it amusing how shocked people were at how little clothing JLo and Shakira were wearing during the Super Bowl halftime show without bringing any of the same outrage to the cheerleaders who wore similarly skimpy outfits standing on the field for the whole game.
When I had the privilege to take my parents to their first regular season game to watch me perform, one of the many things we discussed on the car ride home was the topic of my compensation. I asked my parents what they thought I was paid hourly and without hesitation my mom said $50. Thankfully I was sitting in the back seat of the car so she didn’t see the look of shock on my face. Spoiler alert: NFL cheerleaders are NOT paid $50 an hour, but it would be nice if my mom was in charge of things.
As a former NFL cheerleader myself, it truly grinds my gears to see all the arguments against why cheerleaders are pointless, why we don’t deserve to be paid anything, why we aren’t important. Here are my responses to popular arguments against our worth that can hopefully give a better picture of why we are more than deserving of proper compensation for our time and service to the NFL.
But I’m not there to watch the cheerleaders, I’m there to watch the game!
Maybe on TV you’re just focused on the game. But for a few hundred bucks, a lot of fans want more from attending the stadium in person, and franchises know that. I agree that when you go to a football game you’re probably not going to be super concerned with people on the sidelines shaking poms. But we are a part of the game day experience. Football is theater. Every game is a production executed by hundreds of people. Yes, there is a game going on, but during game day there are multiple sponsored challenges, special advertised food at the food court, and yes, dancing by attractive women. Perhaps you really are there to watch the game, but when the game is paused (which in football, there are a lot of pauses), there’s gotta be other stuff to make it worthwhile and keep your attention.
But not everybody gets to go to games or even watch them. Perhaps money, health, being stationed overseas, or some other reason keeps them away from experiencing game day in person. Cheerleaders are also community ambassadors and attend a variety of local events, hospitals, and charitable organizations in the team’s local area. We even travel to army bases to remind military members of home. For some people, meeting an NFL cheerleader is the closest they will get to meeting a member of their favorite NFL franchise. That means a lot to fans. As ambassadors of a franchise, our pay should reflect the value of the time we put into being present for fans in the community on behalf of the franchise while players are busy traveling or resting in off season.
Football players are professional athletes. They deserve that salary.
NFL cheerleaders are contractually obligated to attend strenuous rehearsals and learn a large amount of choreography for months leading up to preseason and all throughout regular season for games and potential outside events, maintain physical fitness and their appearance at a professional level, and perform to near perfection on a professional stage in a professional sporting league. If that’s doesn’t make us professional athletes I don’t know what does. I don’t speak for all cheerleaders, but I have spent more than a decade of my life in dance training. I worked hard to get to this point and to make it to this level of dance. Unfortunately, we aren’t protected in the ways athletes are protected, with health insurance, dietitians, and injury prevention. That is a whole other argument, but it stands to reason that objectively cheerleaders at the NFL level are professional athletes. When you think of what a professional athlete earns and the typical salary of an NFL cheerleader, it doesn’t add up in a major way.
Nobody cares about the cheerleaders, why bother paying them more or even having them?
Being an NFL cheerleader is a position of prestige, status, and notoriety. If nobody cares about NFL cheerleaders, why is it considered impressive to date one? There is a public and cultural perception of NFL cheerleaders that we should be able to capitalize on, since others have. If anything ever happens to me that enters the news cycle, I’m certain the headline will include something about me being an NFL cheerleader in order to generate more clicks. More clicks = more money. That’s how status works. In addition, thousands of women (and now some men) have tried out to be a cheerleader and few make it onto the squad. Whether you like it or not, it’s something that people still aspire to do, and for good reason! The rush of game day, getting a front row seat to the action, it’s truly an amazing opportunity. But, it’s also a ton of hard work to make it to the sidelines of one of the most valuable sport franchises in the world. Maybe you don’t care personally about cheerleaders, but there are a ton of people that do. Just like how minor league baseball players don’t make as much as major league players, our salaries should be reflective of the prestige and status we’ve worked to earn.
They don’t care about the money, they’re there because they want to be there. They auditioned, it’s a willing choice.
You chose to be at your job, right? You decided to interview and you got the job and now you’re at your desk, so should you not get paid? Does liking a job render it unable to generate income? Does standing in the drastic heat or cold (depending on it your stadium is open or not), performing and making memories for thousands of high paying fans and having fun while doing it make us ineligible to be paid appropriately? As you can tell, I don’t like this argument because it assumes we aren’t aware of what we’re getting ourselves into. Yes, we know we aren’t paid as much and we still try out. That doesn’t mean we don’t deserve to be fairly compensated and voice our concerns about it.
Perhaps the optics of cheerleaders demanding more pay will change now that men are joining our ranks, but the fact that I even have to say that is a problem. As an industry that is dominated by millennial and Gen X women, we deserve more pay. We work hard, we are worth so much, and we’re not going anywhere.
Edit: Appreciate the responses, going to try my best to reply to the ones that address similar points only once so I’m not repeating myself. If anything, I hope I gave some more insight into what goes into the job!
Edit again: Saw a lot of comments rightfully point out that without including my pay, it’s hard to know whether or not we should get more, so I’m adding it here for more people to see. For my team, we were paid hourly, slightly above minimum wage. You got a dollar additional on that rate depending on your tenure and also if you were a captain or some other position above others on the team that season. Practices were paid (bi weekly for my team), promos paid, games paid. Any travel was covered. All uniforms were free but you had to pay to replace them and wash on your own (I have heard that some teams make their cheerleaders pay for their uniforms so this isn’t industry wide). Sponsors offset some of the beauty costs, but not much. For my team, we had gym memberships covered, discounted salon costs (hair, nails), some discounts on select makeup brands. Apparently this is rare in the league so most cheerleaders aren’t even getting these benefits while having to use them to maintain their appearance.