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.

8) They are fined for even minor mistakes.

Show up to practice without your pom poms? $25. One pound over the weight limit? $100. Got a smudge on your uniform? $80. No one told me professional cheerleading was actually code for “flashy boot camp.”

9) They rarely get lunch breaks.

“Here’s the plan: practice vigorous cheer routines for nine hours, then attend a local charity ball a few towns over before heading over to the gym for a late-night workout session with the girls. All of these are mandatory and you get no lunch break or resting time. Sound good?” This is how I imagine meetings with sports executives go.

10) They work long hours.

When you add up the three-times-a-week practices, photo shoots and sporting events, cheerleaders practically spend more time at work than they do at home. While many of them can afford such dedication, others have other duties to attend to, like raising their children or having a life. Minor things, really.

11) They are constantly subjected to “outdated notions about women.”

– “First Impressions: …Think about the last time you met someone for the first time. You probably looked at their hair, jewelry, facial expressions, style of clothes, shoes and nails….Keep nail polish pads in your car for emergencies. Smile, shake hands with everyone.”

– [Paraphrased] Cheerleaders are forbidden to attend parties at players’ homes because of the potential for date rape, which could get a cheerleader’s “photo in all the local papers.” (Source)

– “If you don’t like your meal, try a little of everything and strategically move the rest around your plate. Gently unfold your napkin and place it on your lap… If you need to leave the table, place the napkin on your chair, and don’t forget to say, ‘Excuse me.’”

12) Many of them are mothers with masters and bachelors degrees.

By which I mean, many of them could be other things and in fact, have the qualifications to be doing other things but have decided to pursue cheerleading out of their love for the sport. Most of them have families they need to support and bills they need to pay off. For that reason, I hope Lucy wins her settlement against the Raiders and legitimizes professional cheerleading as a sport and not just “some girly hobby.”

Featured image via Shutterstock.