12 Facts That Will Change How You Think About Pro Cheerleaders

On the outside, professional cheerleading may seem like nothing more than a “girly hobby”, but as recent news stories have shown, it is much, much more than that. Lacy T., a cheerleader for the Oakland Raiders, recently filed a lawsuit against the team, claiming that the working conditions and wages are blatantly illegal and need to be re-evaluated. In an interview with ESPN, Lacy revealed the demanding and often discriminatory nature of professional cheerleading, and how difficult the unrecognized sport can be.

1) Cheerleaders make below minimum wage. Way, way below.

Despite long hours and strict working conditions, professional cheerleaders make, on average, about $75 per game. At the end of her season, Lacy had only earned around $1,250 dollars total. For an entire year. A grand is barely enough to sustain a suburban mom’s iced coffee habit for a month. I can’t imagine how a young woman could be expected to survive a whole year on that kind of a salary.

2) On top of that, they pay for most of their own expenses.

List of things professional cheerleaders are contractually obligated to have:
–       Transportation to and from charity events (including airfare if it’s in another state).
–       A collection of beauty products on hand in case of a fashion/beauty emergency.
–       Appropriate dress for every occasion.
–       Constantly manicured nails and toenails.
–       Year-round tan and toned muscles.

List of contractually obligated items funded by team or manager:

And therein lies the problem.

3) They must meet a quota for charity functions and suffer the consequences if they fail to do so.

Cheerleaders for the Raiders are required to attend 10 charity functions annually (usually without compensation). If they fail to reach this goal, they are required to make up the loss. One woman was asked to report to work “in jeans and full makeup to rearrange furniture in the Raiders’ office” as punishment for not reaching the “big 10.”

4) They have monthly weigh-ins and “body image” check-ups.

According to Lacy, after every practice, women on the squad were weighed and examined to ensure they had remained below their group’s weight requirement (for Lacy, this was 103 pounds). If they were found to be above this value, they were fined and benched until they had remedied the problem.

5) Monthly socials with the others girls are not just encouraged, they’re mandatory.

As a young mom struggling with a 2-year-old child, Lacy was already short on time when she signed up for the Raiders cheer squad. However, the organized “bar outings” and socials intended to create bonding opportunities for the women on the team ate away at Lacy’s remaining family time. Such outings were mandatory and unpaid, a common trend among cheer teams across the country.

6) They are weighed down with unhealthy pressure from managers.

It’s hard to complain about your job when there are millions of people waiting to take your place. This fact is not lost on cheerleaders, especially when they’re being constantly reminded by managers that they’re replaceable.

7) They are required to maintain impeccable beauty standards at all times.

Really. It’s in the contract. The muscular, tan women we see on the field do not resemble Greek goddesses just because they want to; when they sign up for the team, they are instructed to maintain perfectly manicured nails and toenails at all times, along with other ridiculous demands noted in the team’s “etiquette books.” Lacy points out that, when she arrived on the job, she was handed a picture of Rachel McAdams and told to imitate her hair style exactly.

Granted, her hair is pretty nice.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=543484337 Melody Beuzelin

    Tyler is a really talented writer! I read all of her pieces and think she’s great! I agree with the majority of the enlightening points in this article. The fact that cheerleaders are massively underpaid, WOAH I had no idea, and that is totally unacceptable! Those girls work themselves into the ground to achieve an impeccable routine. Seriously. Also, that they are required to cover their own expenses? Not cool at all, I was always under the impression that professional cheerleaders break the bank and really get taken care of. I applaud Lacy in her efforts — I don’t think anyone outside of the profession, including myself has any idea how physically and mentally demanding this career path is.

    On that note though, there are some things I disagree with. When you sign a contract, it’s your responsibility to look over it thoroughly and counter-dispute any discrepancies…but I feel like it is common sense that cheerleaders are held to much higher beauty standards. Is it morally sound? Not at all, but the young woman did choose this profession, so she had to realize what she was getting into, especially since she has the talent to land the spot on the team, she must have been cheering for quite some time for years prior. The same goes for being fined for small mistakes. That must be a part of the contract. We’re human and its normal to have an off day. A smudge on a uniform seems diminutive in the big picture, but I could understand the consequences that would follow as a result; another good reason professional cheerleaders should be paid more. Working long hours as well — that’s understandable, as an athlete and face in the public image, it seems that naturally this profession would be demanding of time.

    Fascinating article, I really hope one of the main issues taken into consideration is higher compensation. And the suggestions from the cheerleaders’ handbook are WAY outdated and need to be addressed. Come on guys, it’s 2014, if a lady feels the need to leave the table for whatever reason, she owes no one a dialogue to address it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=512104932 Annie Primeau

    Well, maybe you shouldnt be a cheerleader if you have young kids! I don’t think this is a profession.. it’s a hobby.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1329675422 Samantha Roberts

      people need to realize this is a sport and because its overlooked these good people are put throught the ringer everyday, they dare to do something they love

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1461920160 Riki V. Bair-Johnson

      You don’t think it’s a profession…obviously it is if they are being paid. Get off your high horse and realize not everyone chooses the careers you deem “acceptable” and some people choose their jobs because they love what they do, not for the money.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1351920796 Rafe Lepre

        you would be completely right, if she did not have kids. When one has kids they have a responsibility to provide for them. If your job is only worth $75 a week to society then thats not a profession for someone with a family to support.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=513536490 Tom Hatfield

    I don’t know what this cheerleader’s name is. Lacy or Lucy. Probably just a typo, and I apologise to Tyler for pointing that out, but if we’re trying to inspire respect for these ladies, at least spell their names correctly.

    I also agree with Rafe; the career of a cheerleader clearly deserves to be paid more, but that does not mean you should take the post expecting to be paid more. The women in this business are athletes. They train as athletes, they perform as athletes, and as such, being expected to present themselves with decorum and with impeccable personal appearance is unsurprising. They should be respected and appreciated for this reason, but also understand that their salaries come largely from sponsorship money, and sponsors absolutely rely on being presented well to get across their image.

    As for the ladies being ‘constantly subjected to “outdated notions about women.”’ I think this is probably true, but the snippets given in this article do not demonstrate that: every person, man or woman, should endeavour to present themselves well and give a good first impression. It is therefore very important to pay particular attention to one’s personal appearance and hygiene. The second point is, this reader feels, a disgustingly true and necessary comment on today’s society and whilst this article phrases it patronisingly (with a source that also does not contain original wording), I feel this is more a depressing comment on the current attitude of some men, rather than a patronising piece of advice for a woman incapable of defending herself and making her own decisions. It should not need to be said, but unfortunately, that does not mean that it does not have to be said. The final point of these handbook recommendations is the only one I truly find to be patronising and offensive towards the ladies involved (though I feel the same about the weight regulations). However, in an industry where image is literally everything, it is an unfortunate consequence that the weight of the employees be monitored, as inappropriate as that may be in any other circumstance.

    This article brings to light a good few points about the injustice of employment in this industry, and that the women should be treated as the intelligent, equal beings they are, but unfortunately, also ignores the fact that for as long as ladies apply in great numbers to be cheerleaders in such teams, the teams can impose as strict guidelines as they please, particularly in terms of image in an industry where slim, tanned bodies are vital. Ideally, the industry wouldn’t be this way, but that is a cultural change that needs to happen, rather than complaining merely about a job to which women apply knowing of the hard work ahead of them. There are plenty of highly qualified cheerleaders, of that I have no doubt, but if we could all get paid well for doing something we love, I would earn a living from lying in bed eating chocolate. Unfortunately for these women, that career is not well paid, and if money is an issue, then they are in the wrong profession.

    I don’t know why I have written this essay, and I’m sure many will see me as sexist for posting it, but I think the realities of the commercial world are fairly undeniable and set in stone at the moment. If we can change that, that would be great, but unfortunately, as it is, entering a career one knows not to be rewarding financially, and one that still holds certain prejudices against women, I feel is just a bad idea; not one that is inspiring and intelligent. Let’s not campaign for higher wages for cheerleaders, let’s campaign for cheerleaders as sportspeople: athletes who deserve athletes’ pay, and athletes’ privileges and the respect that athletes deserve.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=531965536 Christine Rose Infanger

    Making less than minimum wage and then paying out of pocket to stand on the sidelines dressed like Barbie dolls to cheer while the big, strong men play the real sports is supposed to make us think we’ve misunderstood cheerleading? Why not participate in a game or sport and get due credit for your efforts? While I don’t doubt for a moment that these women sacrifice time with family, as well as other career opportunities, it seems they do so to go into debt and not get respect in the end. It evident these women are talented dancers and gymnasts, I should think those talents can be utilized in forums which would allow them due credit and respect for their effort and hard work. While some claim that cheerleaders get the crowd and players excited about the game, there are a lot of people who find them to be little more than a nuisance and treat them with disrespect, leering, and inappropriate comments. While it’s fantastic that these women are involved in charity events in their communities, so are female soccer players, female softball players, female swimmers, female track and cross country runners, female tennis players, female surfers, female martial artists, etc. Perhaps I’m being narrow minded, but I will never understand why anyone would encourage their daughter to participate in a “sport” in which she has to stand around and wait for a man to do something exciting so she can jump up and down for him. And yes, I do know there are male cheerleaders, and yes, I feel the same way about them, though they aren’t quite as sexualized as the women are. Don’t wait around for someone to cheer for; play the game yourself.

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