June 8, 2015
NFL Cheerleaders use PR Pressure for Better Pay
It’s been a dirty little secret that everyone knew but pretty much ignored for years. NFL cheerleaders are paid next to nothing, particularly when their earnings are measured against anyone else wearing the brand and colors of the team they represent. But, that may be about to change.
Last year, a group of Buffalo Bills cheerleaders filed a lawsuit against their team and the NFL. In part, the suit alleges the cheerleaders were not properly compensated for game performances, beyond “free tickets and parking passes.” Nor did they receive anything in exchange for attending practices and many promotional appearances. In fact, according to the suit, the “Buffalo Jills” were paid as little as $100 for an entire season of work, even though they had to buy their costumes and cover personal expenses.
That suit is still pending in state court, but at least one New York lawmaker is not waiting for the outcome. State Assemblywoman Nily Rozic recently introduced a bill that would require NFL teams to officially recognize cheerleaders as employees, pay them at least minimum wage for practice, performances, and professional appearances and offer them required benefits. “Sports teams and owners should not continue to capitalize without providing the most basic workplace protections,” Rozic said.
To date, both the Bills and the NFL are sticking to the story that cheerleaders are both hired by and supervised by an independent contractor, making them subcontractors, not employees. This arrangement is fairly common across most professional sports franchises.
But New York is not the only state considering changing that. California legislators are considering similar legislation. Both the suits and the pending legislations could prove to be the harbinger of changing public opinion on this issue. Long considered little more than pretty mascots, cheerleaders weren’t given much respect or even consideration beyond catcalls, lears and calendar purchases. Since the lawsuit, though, fans are beginning to see things from a different perspective, and the reaction of the teams involved certainly isn’t helping bolster the NFL’s case.
To date, the Bills have suspended the Jills, and may never field a squad again. And, even as the dubious to deplorable working arrangements are brought further into the light, the NFL continues to insist they have no dog in this fight – they’re just subcontractors, anyway, right? Right?
Not so right, it appears. The perception of fatcat billionaire team owners stacked up against an apparent refusal to offer the girls wearing their uniforms a fair wage, has turned public opinion decidedly against the NFL. While it’s not the first PR difficulty the league has weathered, it may not be as easy to sweep under the rug as they apparently believe it to be.